The study detailing the life and policy contributions of Francis G. Newlands, one of the most important historical figures in the development of water use in the western United States, is now available for download.
Countless legends shape our image of the American West: Buffalo Bill, Jesse James, Billy the Kid. But many people who most deeply impacted the West are lost to popular memory.
One such shaper was Francis G. Newlands, a larger-than-life political figure who crafted the early 20th century federal law that initiated the vast irrigation system that waters the western United States to this day.
Today, with the region’s water issues once again front and center, Newlands’ life and legacy are getting renewed attention. One leading example is “The System of the River,” an exploration by the historian William Lilley III of how Newland shrewdly engineered a solution to water management that offers important lessons for modern-day policymakers.
“Media reporting on today’s water scarcity has the flavor of ‘discovering a new crisis,’ but the issues are the same as they were during Newlands’ time,” says Lilley, a member of the advisory council at the Bill Lane Center for the American West since its founding in 2005.
According to Lilley, Newlands’ combination of innovative thinking, tenacity and savvy politicking paved the way for a national effort to harness the interstate rivers of the American West. That signature achievement, the National Reclamation Act of 1902, is considered one of the most significant government policies enabling settlement of the arid west. It was also notable for giving power over water management to the federal government.
“By the time his career had run its course,” writes Lilley in his study, “the West would be changed forever.”
Scholars can now access the entire project as a single PDF for their use. The Bill Lane Center is looking forward to seeing the new research that comes as a result of the publication of the Newlands study.