1982 Scorecard Vote
Final Passage of the Reclamation Act Amendments (H.R. 5539). The 1902 Reclamation Act provided extremely cheap water to small western farmers, in order to settle the West and turn its arid lands into productive family farms. But the 320 acre per couple limit on water from federal dam projects was abused, with the federal government paying up to 94% of the costs of providing irrigation water for big corporations like oil companies and railroads and foreign investors. Total federal irrigation subsidies are estimated to reach over $15 billion over the next five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Unrealistically low prices for federal water invite waste we can ill afford when water tables are dropping dangerously. A General Accounting Office study found that over half our irrigation water is wasted.
In 1976 a federal court ruled against use of reclamation water by farms larger than 320 acres and the law began to be enforced. In 1982, however, heavy lobbying and big campaign contributions by western agribusinesses paid off when they convinced Congress to remove the acre limits. Environmentalists wanted to keep the limits both to encourage water conservation and to help small resident farmers compete with agribusiness. It is ironic that Congress and the Administration delivered this subsidy bonanza to some of the biggest and wealthiest wheat and cotton growers in the country at the same time that they cut farm supports and urged reduced plantings as a way to cut surpluses and boost prices. Bill adopted 228-117; May 6, 1982. NO is the pro-environmental vote. (This bill, with minor changes, was enacted into law in the closing days of 1982.)