Nebraska Blueprint (December 1933)


Irrigation in Nebraska


Irrigation is such a live topic in Nebraska today that it seems to me it would be timely to tell a bit about its local history. There is a very significant story back of all this, which interested me greatly as I picked it up from old magazines and records.

To be sure. we didn't invent the idea. That occurred to the ancient Chinese and Egyptians so long ago that no one knows how to date it. But as western land was settled in the States, more and more immigrants cast their fortunes with good land poorly watered. This "Great American Desert" was a puzzle to them.  Such promising soil! Why shouldn't it produce marvels?
And streams were tapped by shovels, and water ran out upon fields by bucketfuls.

Our late Senator Howell. sometime first State Engineer; wrote in 1895 (Irrig. Age). "The first considerable canal was run in 1883 in Lincoln county, in the vicinity of North Plattc. . . . Little water was used until 1889-1890."

But by 1894 there were 689 miles of canals in the state.

The first filing for water for irrigation in Nebraska was in the name of the Farmers' Canal Company, of Cheyenne county. It was presented by W. R. Akers, Pres., and G. W. Ford. Sec'y. It was dated Sept. 16, 1887, and was filed Sept. 19. 1887, at 9:00 A. M.

And in the midst of all this came the year 1890 with only a thimbleful of rain. Kansas and Nebraska were described in the east as destitute. Relief meetings were held in Boston and New York. A great sign hung in Times Square, New York, to the effect that our farmers were naked and starving. (The east was beginning to worry about our dryness!)

But there existed no state or constructive national policy governing or promoting- irrigation. And here is where Nebraska enters the national picture.

In the winter of 1890-91, after the year of drouth and suffering, about twenty men of western Nebraska with a few others from the eastern end of the state, held a conference in Omaha to consider the idea of promoting irrigation along organized lines instead of straight charity. A state-wide meeting was called at Ogallala in 1890 and more impetus developed. Several county conventions were held.

A state convention was held in Lincoln in 1891. with delegates appointed to represent the counties and towns. In succession, an Interstate convention was held in Kansas; a National Congress in Salt Lake City an International Congress in Los Angeles.
There resulted a public consciousness of the significance of irrigation to not only the farmer but to his community and the state and nation.

This led to both state and federal consideration of the needs and opportunities. A national policy was born which has given us some of the most intensely productive areas in the world.

Thus has Nebraska played her part in the development of a national policy. In fact, the Sixth National Irrigation Congress met in Lincoln in 1897.

Permit me to go back into the eighties again for a moment.

In January 1888, Professor Lewis E. Hicks of the Agricultural Experiment Station. University of Nebraska, gave a report upon his thorough investigation of western Nebraska from the standpoint of irrigation. He proved that it was a necessity. for there was insufficient rainfall. He proved that irrigation was practicable although his data were meager compared to what we have available now. And then he outlined methods to be used. Probably this study was one of the great factors in arousing the public.

The Nebraska State Irrigation Association had its beginning during those trying times also. Moved by the many meetings, at a convention in North Platte in 1S93. K. B. Howell presented a plan of organization which was adopted and the work of this group of men became an important influence in the state.

Even in those days disputes arose over interstate waters and the present problem of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska claiming the same water was under discussion.

And now I would advise you to look up a map and see what areas are irrigated in Nebraska:; look up trade and produce statistics and learn the agricultural outputs of these areas; look up bank statistics and find the financial significance of irrigation in Nebraska even in such times as we are now passing through.

Is it any wonder that we still promote irrigation in Nebraska, and even fight for it