Water Resources People and Issues
Similarly, in the natural hazards field we've had a few people who have
looked at responses to earlier stresses as a result of extreme events.
Historians haven't been very much interested. We've been more successful
in getting anthropologists to pay some attention to it. For example, we have
a group here at the University of Colorado that's gone back and looked at
what has appeared to be the consequence of great volcanic eruptions in
Central America in the fourth century A.D. Not the historians.
Q: I want to go back and pick up a few odds and ends that I either omitted
asking you about before or else I saved purposely until the end. One of the
things that I did omit asking you about is your work on the Great Plains
Committee, back in the 1930s. Can you explain what that committee was all
A: In the mid-thirties there were two great drought years during a longer period
of drought: 1934 and 1936. The drought was probably unprecedented in
recorded history, and there was severe social economic distress. Along with
the drought there were new government agencies that were concerned with the
public welfare and there was an economic depression. These three combined
to produce not only widespread human suffering but an extraordinary effort
on the part of the national government to deal with that suffering and to
alleviate it. In 1934 widespread drought relief measures were undertaken in
the United States through the Public Works Administration, the Works
Progress Administration, and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.
The Mississippi Valley Committee report commented on problems of drought,
and the National Resources Board the following year had a special section I
wrote about the Great Drought of 1934.
Then came a period of relaxation and an even more severe drought in '36.
At that stage, under the instigation of a whole array of New Deal agencies,
there was a unified effort to ask what we could do now that would prevent
this from happening again. The President set up an emergency drought
committee in the early summer of '36 and then it presented a brief report
commenting on various positive actions that could be taken. He appointed a
full-fledged committee under Morris L. Cooke in the summer of '36 to report
by the end of the year on a long-term program. The report, which Cooke
shepherded, brought together the work of many federal agencies, principally
the Land Division in the Department of Agriculture. I was on the sidelines
because I was involved in water resources at that time. And we made