Congress established the reclamation program in 1902, and the hundreds of federal water projects built in the 20th century helped shape the West. Today, the Bureau of Reclamation plays an enormously important role in managing these projects. But with no big new dams to build, the Bureau has been forced to revise its mission to address today’s water management challenges, such as stretching finite water supplies and restoring aquatic ecosystems. Through both site-specific enactments and programmatic statutes, Congress in recent years has given the Bureau new authority and direction to address these modern challenges. But Congress has left a significant gap in the Bureau’s statutory powers by failing to provide general authority for restoration of ecosystems impaired by reclamation projects. This article reviews Congress’ expressed priorities for the reclamation program since 2002, identifies programmatic statutes intended to help the Bureau address the water issues of today’s West, examines the absence of general environmental restoration authority, and concludes with options for Congress to provide such authority.
Date posted: June 7, 2010
; Last revised: June 15, 2014
Benson, Reed D., New Adventures of the Old Bureau: Modern-Day Reclamation Statutes and Congress’ Unfinished Environmental Business. Harvard Journal on Legislation, Vol. 48, p. 137, 2011. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1621758