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Letter to the Speaker Concerning Irrigation in the Grand Prairie Area of Arkansas.

August 22, 1949

My dear Mr. Speaker:

I understand that the House may soon consider H.R. 5472, a bill to authorize the Corps of Engineers, Department of the Army, to undertake various river and harbor and flood control projects.

One project in this bill, that for Grand Prairie Region and Bayou Meto Basin, Arkansas, raises certain questions of national policy which I should like to bring to the attention of the House.

This project consists of two distinct parts, the first being flood control and major drainage in the Bayou Meto area, at an estimated cost of about $6,000,000, and the second being the provision of a supplemental water supply for farming in the Grand Prairie area, at an estimated cost of about $19,000,000.

In its present form, the bill would authorize both parts of the project for construction, but would authorize the appropriation of funds only for the flood control and major drainage feature.

There is general agreement that the flood control and major drainage features of the project are needed and should be authorized for construction by the Corps of Engineers, under the basic policies of the flood control laws.

There is also general agreement that there is need for the development of supplemental irrigation works in the Grand Prairie region, since the existing agricultural land use is dependent upon pumping from an underground water supply which is gradually diminishing. Supplemental water supplies are needed in order to maintain and expand local farming operations.

However, the recommendations in the report of the Chief of Engineers for a pumping plant and canals to furnish needed supplemental water supplies raise important questions of national policy. These questions include the extent to which the cost of the irrigation works should be repaid to the Federal Government by the farmers to be benefited, the method of repayment, and the extent of individual landholdings which should benefit.

These matters are covered by the reclamation laws, and other Federal legislation concerning the furnishing of water supplies, in States where those laws have been applied. But this project will be located in Arkansas, where those laws have not been applied.

Therefore the policies established in connection with this project will be extremely important. They will be precedents for other water supply projects which may be constructed in the future in other States where present legislation has not been applied. They also involve the question of the Government treating equitably farmers with similar problems but who live in different areas.

Because of the complex nature of the problems involved, they should have the most careful study before this project is authorized, in order to make sure that the policies established for this one project are indeed equitable and form a desirable precedent for future work of a similar nature.

The House Committee on Public Works, in reporting this bill, recognized some of these difficulties, and limited the funds authorized for initiating the project to those needed for flood control and major drainage. This means that, although the irrigation development would be authorized by this bill, the appropriation of funds for that purpose would not be authorized. Consequently, further authorizations would be necessary before funds could be made available for the irrigation development and construction started.

As a practical matter, therefore, work on the irrigation development, under this bill, could not be started at the earliest until late next year. Under these circumstances, it is apparent that there is time for more careful study of the matter. I recommend, therefore, that H.R. 5472 be amended so as to eliminate, at this time, the authorization for undertaking the irrigation part of the project. I am having the various policy questions investigated further within the Executive Branch, and expect to submit fully considered recommendations to the next session of the Congress.

At that time, I believe that legislation can be enacted which will provide needed assistance to the farmers of the Grand Prairie area as rapidly as would be accomplished under H.R. 5472 as now written, but without doing violence to the principle of a uniform and equitable national irrigation policy.

Very sincerely yours,


[The Honorable Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives]

Note: An identical letter to the Honorable Dennis Chavez, chairman of the Committee of Public Works, United States Senate, was released on August 25.

On May 17, 1950, the President signed H.R. 5472, the River and Harbor Act of 1950 (Public Law 516, 64 Stat. 163).

Public Law 516 contains the following provision: "The project for Grand Prairie Region and Bayou Meto Basin, Arkansas, is hereby authorized substantially in accordance with the recommendations of the Chief of Engineers in House Document Numbered 255, Eighty-first Congress, first session, and there is authorized to be appropriated the sum of $6,000,000 for partial accomplishment of the work: Provided, That the project will be constructed with such modifications as in the discretion of the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Engineers may be advisable: Provided further, That payments made by local interests to the United States shall not be made in agricultural products, but shall be made in cash" (64 Stat. 174).

Harry S Truman, Letter to the Speaker Concerning Irrigation in the Grand Prairie Area of Arkansas. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/229858

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