Harry S. Truman photo

Veto of Bill for the Construction and Operation of the Vermejo Reclamation Project, New Mexico.

August 23, 1949

To the House of Representatives:

I am returning without my approval H.R. 3788, "To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to construct, operate and maintain the Vermejo reclamation project, New Mexico."

The bill would authorize the Secretary of the Interior, through the Bureau of Reclamation, to construct, operate and maintain the Vermejo reclamation project for the purposes of irrigation approximately 7,200 acres of semi-arid land in Colfax County, New Mexico; controlling floods; providing for the preservation and propagation of fish and wildlife; and providing recreational facilities.

The total cost of this project is estimated to be $2,959,000 with tentative allocations as follows:


Irrigation $1,788,080


Sediment control 222,000

Fish and wildlife 718,590

Recreation 134,880

Flood control 95,450

The project report shows the benefit-cost to be 1.76 to 1. It is estimated that the reimbursable costs would be repaid by the water users without interest in sixty-seven years (plus a sevenyear development period). This estimate is based upon an economic analysis which indicates that the water users will be able to meet annual water charges of $6.30 per acre. Of this amount $2.61 per acre will be required for operation and maintenance, thus leaving $3.69 per acre available for application against construction charges.

These estimates of the ability of the water users to repay the costs allocated to irrigation were not officially reviewed by the Department of Agriculture in the usual manner before the Congress took action on this bill. Time has not permitted such review to be made within the period allowed for Presidential action on enrolled bills. Therefore, I am unable to report to the Congress whether the conclusions reached by the Bureau of Reclamation with regard to the agricultural and economic feasibility of the proposed plan are concurred in by the Department of Agriculture.

While I consider this to be a serious deficiency, I am more concerned about the fact that there are included in the $1,170,920, proposed to be charged off against nonreimbursable benefits, classes of such benefits not now permitted under Federally constructed irrigation projects. Neither sediment control nor recreation is currently authorized as a benefit against which nonreimbursable allocations of costs may be made. It seems to me highly questionable to approve the inclusion of such benefits with respect to this one project before the Congress has reviewed the desirability of making charges to such benefits generally possible under basic reclamation law.

Furthermore, it is proposed to allocate $718,590 for fish and wildlife. While such nonreimbursable allocations are permitted in water resources development projects, they are usually restricted in scope to the prevention of loss of and damage to wildlife. In this project, about one-half of the allocation is proposed as a benefit from the creation of a wildlife management and development area of 5,200 acres not required for operation of the irrigation project or for protection of existing wildlife resources of this specific area. There are instances where water fowl eventually discover and use some of the backwater areas of Federally owned reservoirs where no allocation of cost is assigned for wildlife benefits. If such use develops into substantial proportions, an appropriate area may later be established as a refuge for such water fowl without in any manner affecting cost allocations. Such areas are then operated and maintained by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The creation of new wildlife areas is normally a part of the regular program of the Fish and Wildlife Service. In this instance, because the area is made up of low-lying land in the district and since it is located along an important fly-way, the establishment of resting and nesting areas for water fowl has been included in the project. It seems to me this establishes a dangerous precedent for charging off an appreciable amount of the actual project costs.

The costs allocated to flood control are relatively small and permitted under reclamation law. However, they have been differently computed by the Secretary of the Army. His letter of May 19, 1949 to the Secretary of the Interior points out that assuming a fifty-year useful project life and a 3% interest rate, the annual flood control benefits are considered to justify flood control costs of only $72,800 as compared with the $95,450 figure computed by the Bureau of Reclamation. The relationship between this allocation and that for sediment control which was inserted by the Congress, is not apparent.

I wish also to point out to the Congress that H.R. 3788 deals with another issue which I believe should be first considered in basic law. I refer to the authorized period of repayment. There has been a tendency during our some forty-five years of experience under the reclamation laws to increase the 'period of repayment of construction costs. Despite this trend I believe the matter of further extensions to periods greatly in excess of the forty years (plus, in some cases, a ten-year development period) now generally authorized, is a matter of such vital concern to the nation as a whole that it should be carefully reviewed as a principle of general application. It is not a matter to be treated in piecemeal and isolated consideration on the basis of apparent needs of one or another small project to which no need for urgent action is attached.

The policy with respect to the repayment period for rehabilitation and betterment of Federally constructed reclamation projects has not yet been established although two measures dealing with this problem are now pending (H.R. 1694 and S. 1239). There seems to be no reason why rehabilitation and betterment of a single non-Federally constructed reclamation project should receive treatment which may be different from that finally authorized for Federal projects.

On July 29, 1949, when I approved the bill authorizing the Federal Government to take over the Fort Sumner irrigation project, I indicated that my action was in recognition of an emergency created by the unsafe condition of the dam, which is threatened with destruction if a flood should occur. I further pointed out that approval of that bill did not constitute a precedent for the approval in the future of other bills authorizing Federal assistance for individual projects where no emergency exists. None of the facts before me supports the conclusion of emergency in connection with the Vermejo project.

The Vermejo project can no longer be self-sustaining because the financial resources of the land owners are insufficient to accomplish the needed rehabilitation. Similar conditions undoubtedly prevail in other irrigation districts. I believe that an equitable and just basis for granting Federal aid to any irrigation district which is in financial distress should be established by enactment or legislation similar to that under which the Federal Government formerly carried on a program for extending assistance to non-Federal irrigation districts.

The records indicate that there are 86 land owners and 45 farm operators within the Vermejo district. I sympathize fully with the situation in which they find themselves, and I recognize that in disapproving H.R. 3788 I am taking an action which they may at first find it difficult to understand. Nevertheless, I believe that they will accept my action as an indication of the need for basic legislation under which all projects requiring Federal assistance will be treated alike. Recommendations for such legislation are being developed for presentation to the next session of the Congress. If the Congress acts upon them promptly, little time will have been lost and there will be established principles for Federal aid which can be equitably administered over the years as needs arise.


Harry S. Truman, Veto of Bill for the Construction and Operation of the Vermejo Reclamation Project, New Mexico. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/229890

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