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Control of the Water

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On February 21, during the second hearing on what was to become the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934, Representative J.S. Scrugham of Nevada offered an amendment to Section 3 linking grazing rights to water rights with the following statement:

"It is not the grass on the range that controls its use, it is the water. The control of the water is absolutely in the jurisdiction of the State. This point should be clearly understood because it has a very important bearing on matters of range control. In the arid western States the law separates water use and land use in a manner different from the custom in areas of ample rainfall. The old riparian doctrine of water rights was found absolutely unsuitable to the needs of the people of the arid west. Therefore, there grew up a doctrine entirely different from that which is accepted under the old English common law in the older parts of the country. This new concept is called the 'doctrine of beneficial use.' No matter where the water may be situated, he who beneficially use[s] water can have the continued usufruct as long as beneficial use is continued. This bill proposes to take absolute control over grazing on the public domain, and admittedly the control of the water is the governing factor.

"The water is legally controlled in the State of Nevada by what is known as the stockwatering acts. He who has used the water beneficially is entitled under the police powers of the State, to continue the beneficial use and be protected from the transient newcomer. Federal grazing control might be in direct conflict with State control of stock water.

"Forage on the public not worth anything whatever unless related to other factors in State or private control...Now the fallacy is wide-spread that the western range user is getting something for nothing, that he is obtaining the free use of something for which he is not paying, something that belongs to the people. The idea is utterly erroneous. The present system is based on the customs and use developed by a hardy, self-reliant, pioneer people who are wresting a living from the land which would deny existence to farmers untrained to its adversities...[T]he controlling factor in grazing is not the number of stock allowed on the range but the beneficent Diety who brings the rain that falls over the surface of this ground and brings out the grass." (House hearing record pp.124-5 as cited in Frederick W. Obermiller, "Did Congress Intend To Recognize Grazing Rights? An Alternative Perspective on the Taylor Grazing Act," The Grazer, No. 185, December, 1995, Extension Service, Corvallis, Oregon.)

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