Remarks in Denver, Colorado

May 04, 1903

Mr. Governor, Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow citizens:

Colorado has certain special interests which it shares with the group of States immediately around it. To my mind one of the best pieces of legislation put upon the statute books of the National Government of recent years was the irrigation act; an act under which we declare it to be the national policy that exactly as care is to be taken of the harbors and the lower courses of the rivers, so in their upper courses care is to be taken by the Nation of the irrigation work to be done in connection with them.

Under that act a beginning has been made in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, and the Territory of Arizona. There is bound to be disappointment here and there, where people have built hopes without a quite sufficient warranty of fact behind. But good will surely come at once and well nigh immeasurable good in the future from the policy which has thus been begun. In Colorado two-thirds of your products come from irrigated farms, and four years ago those products already surpassed fifteen million dollars. With the aid of the government far more can be done in the future even than has been done in the past. The object of the law is to provide small irrigated farms to actual settlers, to actual home-makers; the land is given away ultimately in small tracts under the terms of the homestead act, the settlers repaying the cost of bringing water to their lands in ten annual payments; and lands now in private ownership can be watered in small tracts by similar payments, but the law forbids the furnishing of water to large tracts, and the aim of the government is rigidly to prevent the acquisition of large rights for speculative purposes. The purpose of the law was, and that purpose is being absolutely carried out, to promote settlement and cultivation of small farms carefully tilled. Water made available under the terms of this law becomes appurtenant, under the law, to the land, and cannot be disposed of without it, and thus monopoly and speculation in this vitally important commodity are prevented, or at least their evil effects minimized so far as the law or the administration of the law can bring about that end. This is the great factor in future success. The policy is a policy of encouragement to the home-maker, to the man who comes to establish his home, to bring up his children here as a citizen of the commonwealth, and his welfare is guarded by the union of the water and the land.

The government cannot deal with large numbers individually. We have encouraged the formation of associations of water users, of cultivators of the soil in small tracts. The ultimate ownership and control of the irrigation works will pass away from the government into the hands of those users, those home-makers, who through their officers do the necessary business of their associations. The aim of the government is to give locally the ultimate control of water distributed and to leave neighborhood disputes to be settled locally; and that should be so as far as it is possible. The law protects vested rights; it prevents conflict with established laws or institutions; but of course it is important that the legislatures of the States should co-operate with the National Government. When the works are constructed to utilize the waters now wasted, happy and prosperous homes will flourish where twenty years ago it would have seemed impossible that a man could live. It is a great national measure of benefit, and while, as I say, it is primarily to benefit the people of the mountain States and of the great plains, yet it will ultimately benefit the whole community. For, my fellow-countrymen, you can never afford to forget for one moment that in the long run anything that is of benefit to one part of our Republic is of necessity of benefit to all the Republic. The creation of new homes upon desert lands means greater prosperity for Colorado and the Rocky Mountain States, and inevitably their greater prosperity means greater prosperity for Eastern manufacturers, for South ern cotton growers, for all our people throughout the Union.

Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks in Denver, Colorado Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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