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Veto of Bill Relating to the Greenfields Division of the Sun River Irrigation Project, Montana.

April 08, 1952

To the House of Representatives:

I am returning, without my approval, H.R. 3144 "Relating to certain construction cost adjustments in connection with the Greenfields Division of the Sun River irrigation project, Montana."

This bill would empower and direct the Secretary of the Interior to make certain cost adjustments on the Greenfields Division of the Sun River irrigation project. Specifically, there would be deducted from the obligation of the Greenfields Irrigation District the amount of $297,752 representing certain construction costs on an abandoned section of the original irrigation canal.

The facts in this case are as follows. Construction of the Greenfields Division of the Sun River irrigation project was undertaken in 1913. Irrigation water was first made available in 1920. After some years of unsuccessful attempts to prevent seepage in one section of the canal, a new by-pass canal (the Spring Valley canal) was completed in 1930, and part of the old canal was abandoned.

The Greenfields Irrigation District contracted to reimburse the United States for the cost of the irrigation works, including the cost of the Spring Valley canal. The amount of the repayment contract was set at not to exceed $9,500,000. Responsibility for operating and maintaining the irrigation facilities was transferred by the United States to the district on January 1, 1931. To date, about $740,000 has been returned on the repayment contract. The argument presented for now reducing the amount of the repayment contract has a surface plausibility. The argument is that the district should not have to pay for a section of the canal which was abandoned because of faulty engineering--a section, moreover, which some of the local people had predicted would fail when the original canal was being built.

However, the fact is that the original engineering designs and construction plans were approved, after examination by a special board of consultants which took into account local objections, as in accord with the then accepted engineering standards for irrigation projects. If this bill were enacted into law, it would establish the principle that the Government is obliged to give a complete guarantee as to the engineering adequacy of all construction work on irrigation projects-and to include in the guarantee any advances in technology that may be later devised. I believe this would be an unsound principle. The Government's proper obligation is to make sure in any case that the design and construction work on any project is done well and competently, in accordance with the best engineering standards of the time. That obligation was fully met in this case.

As a matter of fact, the building of the Spring Valley canal, in 1930, resulted in substantially improving the irrigation facilities from the district's standpoint. Abandonment of the old section of the canal did not result in elimination of irrigation water delivery to lands previously served. On the contrary, the new Spring Valley canal brought water to an additional 4,400 acres of land not previously served. The building of the new canal, therefore, resulted in a betterment of the district's existing irrigation facilities. Under legislation enacted by the Eighty-first Congress, the cost of such rehabilitation and betterment work is added to the repayment obligation of the irrigation district involved, without any write-off of the costs of the original facilities. I see no reason for different treatment in the case of the Greenfields District.

It is true that the Federal Government has a policy of writing off reimbursable construction costs on irrigation projects where it is found that project acreage is not susceptible to irrigation, either because of soil conditions or because of a deficiency of water supply. Neither condition holds in this case. As pointed out above, the building of the new canal resulted in enlarging, not diminishing, the project acreage.

In reaching the decision to veto this bill, I have considered the repayment problems that face the farmers in the district. The maximum amount of $9,500,000, to be repaid without interest, will come from assessments made against all the irrigable lands in the district. The district's per acre construction cost obligation was not increased by reason of the partial abandonment of the Greenfields canal and by the cost of construction of the Spring Valley canal. The 4,400 acres of additional lands, which were brought into the district's service area by reason of the change in plan, enlarged the repayment base, and actually enhanced the district's ability to meet its annual obligations under its contract with the United States. The total repayment contract of the Greenfields District amounts to a construction cost obligation of about $115 per acre, and this amount is repayable under the contract over a long period of years. I believe that these arrangements are fair and equitable, and that they are consistent with the Federal policy of not placing undue financial burdens on the water users.

For these reasons, I have concluded that the present repayment contract is not unfair, and that this bill would establish an unfortunate precedent by reducing the repayment obligation of the Green fields District on insufficient grounds. Accordingly, I am returning the bill without my approval.


Harry S Truman, Veto of Bill Relating to the Greenfields Division of the Sun River Irrigation Project, Montana. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231630

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