Perry Arrasmith

Perry Arrasmith

2019 Undergraduate Fellow
History

Thesis title and description:
"A More Western Union: Irrigation, Federal Power, and the United States Senate Select Committee on the Irrigation and Reclamation of the Arid Lands"


At the close of the nineteenth century, the United States Senate convened a special committee dominated by lawmakers from several Western states, many of which had only been admitted into the Union in the decades following the end of the American Civil War. Many of these lawmakers, fearful of losing control over the destiny of their emerging polities to the fledgling agencies of Federal Government, convened the United States Senate Select Committee on the Irrigation and Reclamation of Arid Lands for the purpose of investigating irrigation as a vehicle for western growth. Like the framers of the American Constitution, the Senate Select Committee set out to secure a new vision for a new portion of the American Union, one with a foundation for future expansion driven by the irrigation of its limited water resources on an unprecedented scale. The management of the west’s water resources, especially when taken in the context of the region’s persistent water shortages and policy discussions about adaptation to climate change, requires a nuanced historical understanding if the United States expects to weather the environmental change likely to confront the country over the twenty-first century. The rhetoric of the committee, whose political conclusions created a foundation for the present political-economic structures of the American west,offers a new avenue to understand the long-term implications of historical decision-making.