Water ResourcesPeople and Issues
A: We had had some prior experience with this kind of an exercise. It's
interesting that back in 1937 the National Resources Committee had been the
instrument through which the first effort at environmental impact assessment
was made, as far as I know. That was at a time when many of the technical
people in federal agencies and many state people were gravely concerned
about the way in which small reservoir projects were being built around the
country and the way in which land drainage of wetlands was being carried out
with public funds. This concern became so acute that the director of the Fish
and Wildlife group [Ding Darling] asked the Water Resources Committee to
look into the problem and see what could be suggested by way of reducing the
number of ill-conceived and poorly managed drainage projects and water-
storage projects around the country.
I served as a staffing man for the group. It soon was apparent that the files
were full of horror stories of reservoirs that leaked, dams that failed, dams
that didn't serve their purpose, drainage projects that destroyed large areas of
wildlife habitat without proportionate gains in economic production. In the
opinion of the group that reviewed this situation--it was an interagency
groupagencies that were involved in undertaking new projects should at
least notify the other agencies about what they were planning to do before
they started. The notion was that this would give other agencies an
opportunity to study possible conflicts and deleterious effects, and raise
questions with the sponsoring agency.
The group recommended to the President that he issue an executive
memorandum telling all agencies that before they started a new water-storage
project or a new land-drainage project they should let the other ones know.
This was done. A system of regular reporting was established. Subsequent
experience showed that the agencies could wait until they were about ready
to launch a project and then inform the others. It then became very difficult
for the others to have much influence on the proposed development.
Q: Of course, by this time you've got a relatively new agency on the block,
too--Soil Conservation Service.
A: Oh, yes. The whole history of the little waters movement and the small dams
activity which Morris Cooke had promoted with Hugh Bennett is a fascinating
record of conflict of thinking about effects of water management. After they
left the Resources Board, Cooke and Person promoted the publication Little
Waters, which became very popular. People who remained on the Water