I take strong issue with The Post's Feb. 19 editorial "Reclamation Ripoffs." The editorial made no attempt to present or consider the other side's viewpoint. Not only is The Post's position uninformed; it borders on the negligent. Obviously, The Post has remained closed except to those voices it wants to hear.
The reclamation program has been a life- saver for the West in every sense of the word, and it remains that to this day. The absolute constant throughout the arid West is the need for water, not less but more. The migration to the West continues unabated, and more people means the need for more water for homes and cities. In addition, there is the impending need for more water for the development of energy.
Where will this water come from? As a partial solution, we have been engaged in promoting conservation. But regardless of how effective the conservation techniques are, they will fall far short of meeting the growing demand. The only remaining solution is the creation of additional storage and distribution systems.
The benefits of the reclamation program--and repayment of those benefits-- far surpass those generally attributed to it by the ill-informed. The Post limits its view to that portion of water project costs (nearly $2 billion) repaid to the U.S. Treasury by direct users and fails to recognize that indirect beneficiaries of the reclamation program have returned vast sums to the Treasury since the program's inception in 1902.
Irrigation farmers alone cannot pay back the federal dollars invested in project facilities. However, approximately 85 percent of construction costs are repaid through the sale of hydropower and water for purposes other than farming. Moreover, a stiffer pricing policy is now being developed to increase the government's return on its investment.
The Post's editorial stance is highly critical of policy on the "corporate farm." These large holdings came about over many years for many reasons. To rectify the situation, the Interior Department and members of Congress have come forth with reform bills to update the Reclamation Act of 1902 and resolve the acreage limitation issue. We are seeking a new law that will be fair not only to those involved in the reclamation program, but to the nation as a whole.
The original concept of the Reclamation Act of 1902, as The Post pointed out, was to open the West for development. And it did. But the West continues to grow at an astonishing rate, and the demand for water will increase proportionately. Would The Post suggest that, due to limited water supplies, nobody else can move West?
The reclamation program continues to contribute substantially to the economic foundation of the West. Moreover, a healthy western economy supports the nation's economy; the power generated by reclamation projects contributes to our energy independence; the food and fiber produced are a constant, year-round supply for the nation and the world.
Attacks on the reclamation program, such as The Post's editorials, have a divisive ring to them. Lashing out at the West for what The Post believes to be "favored treatment" is contradictory to its support of a subsidized program here in its own backyard that is a drain on federal funds. That is the Metro subway system.
As of today, some $8.2 billion has been invested in the Metro system with the final cost probably exceeding $10 billion. And Metro funding is strictly a one-way street. Metro is in the red, and it is obvious to all that the 80 percent subsidy by the federal government will never be repaid.
On an annual basis, the Bureau of Reclamation's activities generate over $1 billion in state and local taxes and nearly $3 billion in federal revenues, quite an accomplishment for an agency with a budget of less than $1 billion. The 23 percent increase in the reclamation budget, which apparently prompted The Post's editorial, will increase state and federal revenues by the same 4:1 ratio. I don't see how anyone can call that "pork barrel."
As a great newspaper that prides itself on its national perspective, The Post's views on water appear to be quite parochial. The Post might be far removed from the West and presently can afford the luxury of an ill-informed and cavalier point of view. But what will its position be when the crisis comes to Washington?