June 12, 1913: What Is the Matter with Irrigation?

0612 IrrigationJune 12, 1913: Engineering News editorial. “What Is the Matter with Irrigation? As those of our readers familiar with the conditions of engineering work in the far West are only too well aware, irrigation enterprises are, comparatively speaking, at a standstill. This is not because of lack of opportunity. There are still plenty of places where, by the construction of reservoirs that could store the spring floods, land which is now worthless desert could be converted into fertile and profitable fields.

But when the enthusiast who sees the possibilities of such a situation goes to a banking house in the East and asks it to finance the work, he is met with a reception compared to which a journey of polar exploration would be tropical. It will not do to blame the banker

for this, because he knows by experience that irrigation bonds are today practically unsalable. Not a few banking houses have suffered in purse and in reputation because

of the irrigation enterprises which they have financed in the past. It is worth while asking, therefore, why irrigation is unprofitable. It is true that many irrigation projects have been run by irresponsible men who have sought merely to sell stocks and bonds with little care whether the purchasers ever received any return or not. This, however, is only a part of the explanation why irrigation securities are shunned by investors. Wild-cat mining stocks innumerable have been sold in all parts of the country; but a valuable mine or valuable mining stock is not thereby rendered impossible of sale.

The trouble with irrigation enterprises is that even when they have been honestly and intelligently financed and managed, the final result has usually been either a loss to the investors or a return too small on the whole to pay for the risk and trouble. There are, of course, a few notable exceptions to this general rule. We are speaking in a large way now, and dealing not with particular enterprises but with the general run of well managed irrigation projects under private enterprise.”

Commentary: The inability to privately finance large irrigation projects in the West ultimately led the federal government to lead the way in this effort.

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