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Public Water, Private Land: Origins of the Acreage Limitation Controversy, 1933-1953

Koppes, Clayton R. (1978) Public Water, Private Land: Origins of the Acreage Limitation Controversy, 1933-1953. Social Science Working Paper, 215. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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In 1976 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sent a series of shock waves along clearly defined fault lines of California agriculture. The court ruled that the federal reclamation laws dating to 1902 mean what they say: Heavily subsidized irrigation water can be distributed only to 160acres per individual landowner, and anyone holding more than a quarter section must dispose of the excess land if he wishes to receive reclamation water. The ruling occasioned surprise and consternation in some quarters, for it seemed to presage major alterations in the land-tenure pattern of the Central Valley of California, and potentially on reclamation projects throughout the West. The only real occasion for surprise, however, was that the issue should have required recourse to the courts at all. The acreage limitation policy was clearly established legally, had been praised by both political parties, and seemed an equitable principle for distributing the benefits of public spending. The Ninth Circuit's ruling raised three questions of historical significance. Why was the 160-acre law only erratically enforced for three quarters of a century? Why did the issue arise in particular in the Central Valley, where the land-tenure pyramid presented the very problem the reclamation laws were designed to avoid? Why, indeed, did a liberal administration in power when the Central Valley Project began operation not only fail to enforce the excess land law, but raise the most serious threat to the redistributive principle of reclamation?

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
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Additional Information:Presented at the annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch American Historical Association, San Francisco, August 19, 1978. Published as Koppes, Clayton R. "Public Water, Private Land: Origins of the Acreage Limitation Controversy, 1933-1953." Pacific Historical Review 47.4 (1978): 607-636.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Subject Keywords:Family farms, Agricultural land, Land reclamation, Public land, Liberalism, Attorneys, Water reclamation, Farm economics, Landowners, Private land
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:215
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20171020-151330058
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:82550
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:20 Oct 2017 22:43
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:55

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