Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
In 1951 the Bureau of Reclamation completed construction on Cedar Bluff Dam and Reservoir located in Trego County, Kansas. Although the dam was built as a multi-purpose unit, it was built primarily to provide irrigation in a small portion of Trego County and a larger portion of Ellis County, Kansas. However, before the dam was completed, Cedar Bluff became immersed in a controversy of conflicting views between the Bureau, pro-irrigation forces, and anti-irrigation forces. From this controversy three distinct views of irrigation emerged. The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) considered the Cedar Bluff Irrigation project as another component of its larger Missouri River Basin project. The BOR hoped that Cedar Bluff would stabilize agriculture in the area. Pro-irrigation forces also saw irrigation as a stabilizing factor. However, local irrigation supporters never fully embraced the basin wide view held by the Bureau. Instead, they saw irrigation as an opportunity for localized success. Anti-irrigation forces rejected irrigation as a stabilizing factor. Instead they saw irrigation as financially risky and culturally corrosive. These divergent views generated controversy throughout the creation of Cedar Bluff. The BOR entered Ellis and Trego counties expecting to find dry land and eager farmers. Instead local farmers attacked them. Rather than crumble under federal pressure, anti-irrigation forces sue in the Office of the Chief Engineer of the Kansas State Department of Agriculture, Division of Water Resources. The Chief Engineer of Kansas and the District Court rejected anti-irrigation arguments. When the courts failed to provide the solution that anti-irrigation supporters sought, they turned to political pressure and the threat of violence. The result of this protracted conflict was that the Cedar Bluff Irrigation District took 10 years to form and another 4 years to begin drawing substantial amounts of water from Cedar Bluff. Even though the District formed, all of those involved felt the sting of defeat. For the BOR, the Cedar Bluff project proved timely and costly. For irrigation supporters, the district was only half of the original proposal and water for that district ran out by 1978. For anti - irrigation forces, the BOR and pro-irrigation forces proved too powerful to defeat completely. In the end, the Cedar Bluff controversy proved that the history of water resource development in the American West is a complicated process that defies generalizations.
Copyright 2001 Chris Vancil
Vancil, Chris, "Battling the Bureau: The Struggle for Irrigation in Ellis County, Kansas, 1920-1962" (2001). Master's Theses. 2833.