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Irrigation in Utah

There are few big farms in Utah upon which diversified crops are grown. There are large farms which grow nothing but grain, but these are known as dry or arid farms. Those farms which are under irrigation are necessarily small farms, for the product is extraordinarily large. Three crops of alfalfa are harvested. One acre of ground will return a net profit of $100 if sugar beets are raised. Eighteen hundred bushels of onions are produced to one acre of ground. Eight hundred bushels of potatoes have been grown on an acre. Fruit growers get returns of one thousand bushels of peaches, that is, twenty-five hundred boxes from an acre, other fruits in like proportion. All this is due to irrigation.

Utah is the mother of irrigation. The first irrigating canals were constructed in Utah, more than 50 years ago. One that carries water a distance of 40 miles from Utah Lake to Salt Lake City, built more than 40 years ago, still furnishes water for irrigation for Salt Lake City. Originally, irrigation plants were constructed in Utah by private individuals. The projects at the end of the year 1909 under construction in the State will reclaim 700,000 acres of land.

The total cultivable acreage of land in Utah has been estimated at twenty millions. Of this 2,114,634 acres are under cultivation, while the remainder of acres irrigated is two and a half millions. And the produce from the cultivated lands in 1908 aggregated over eighteen and a half million dollars, and this upon 22,000 farms.

These figures in brief give some idea of what irrigation has done for Utah. The report of the State Board of Land Commissioners for the year 1908, the last available report, shows that applications have been made to borrow money for reservoir projects to an aggregate amount of a half a million dollars beyond that which the board has money to supply.

The predominating influence upon home life in the irrigated districts is that contentment which comes with the assurance of success. Hopes materialize here, and ambitions are satisfied. To properly work an irrigated farm does not require toil from sunup in the morning until sundown at night, and then an hour or two of evening chores. To the young man, irrigation farming offers a wide field for his energies. The rewards are certain and commensurate with his ambitions. To the men who have reached middle age and see approaching the leisure time of life, it offers the opportunity to enjoy old age in a sunny climate, in a quiet, fertile valley, where the fields smile in their abundance and the lofty mountain peaks in the distance give inspiration to the mind and uplift to the hopes that spring eternal in the human soul.

The quest for gold lured men into the desert, but they never dreamed of the wealth those barren deserts would produce. Those early Argonauts thought the desert would yield nothing except nuggets washed from the sands, or quartz torn by the pick from fissures of rock. To-day, a small desert valley will in a short time yield more wealth than a whole mining camp will' produce.

Utah can never overproduce itself in farm products. Only eleven per cent, of its entire area is available for cultivation; eight per cent, is now under cultivation, and there remains only three per cent, to be placed under cultivation. Mining, manufacturing, and other industries are still in their infancy, but they already consume far more than this eight per cent, of producing land can furnish. The product of the remaining three per cent., when it conies upon the market, will make no change in the relations of a short supply against a demand which sustains the market prices upon all farm products at the highest figures.

Utah Best Crops

In Utah, conditions surrounding irrigation differ in many respects from other sections of the arid region, the difference being in the physical features. The average Utah farm is about twenty-five acres. One cubic foot of water has supplied seventy-five acres of land, while the cost of water is less per acre to the Utah farmer than elsewhere in the arid region, ranging from twenty-five to sixty cents per acre. In a few instances it has cost $3 per acre, but it seldom reaches a dollar.

At present the Government has but one project; that, the Strawberry Valley. There are several big reservoir schemes the Hatchtown, one which will cost $100,000, and which will bring under cultivation five thousand acres of land in Garfield County; and the Piute reservoir project, which will bring under cultivation twenty thousand acres.

When the scientific Western farmer first turned his attention to irrigation, with the whole of the Western lands to pick from, and with the most favorable tracts lying adjacent to deep rivers, the pioneer irrigator could bring his land under the irrigating ditch at a surprisingly low cost; but as the water supply was taken up, and the lands lying in favorable location became harder and harder to secure, the cost of putting water on the lands has constantly risen, and irrigated lands will always increase in value, for the reason that they are yearly in demand and the supply is limited.

Later on land will be placed on the market by irrigation companies at $500, and even $1,000 per acre, for already many Utah irrigated farms are held at these figures, and find ready purchasers. In some instances it has been possible to put water on the land and place the same on the market at $50 per acre, while the bare cost of watering other lands would be ten times as much, so one can readily see where the reserve supply of lands is coming from, and what the cost will be. Future irrigation plans will include immense reservoirs in the mountains, great water storages which will be built at fabulous cost, and these water systems will water high-priced lands.

On January 1, 1908, there were 180,000,000 of acres of land unsettled in the United States. These figures are staggering to the unthinking man, and seem enough for farms for the whole world for years to come, but the thing to really stagger one is that in 1907 the demand was for 20,000,000 acres more land than was cultivated in 1906, so at this rate the entire 180,000,000 of acres will easily be settled within the next nine years. Many authorities believe that the entire amount of lands now held open to settlers will be exhausted within the next five years, and with the great trend of Western immigration, and the marvelous growth of Western cities, and the unprecedented demand for irrigated farms, five years seems a fair estimate of time to place on the final limit when public lands will no longer be open to the settler.

Utah, which was the pioneer of irrigation, has been made to blossom as the rose. Sage-brush plains have become fertile fields, all due to the conservation of the waters, impounding of the water in great reservoirs, and, when needed, a scientific distribution made. This is what has made Utah and what ultimately, with the great treasures stored in the mountain forests, will make it one of the greatest States in the Union.


Source: Sketches of the Inter-Mountain States, Utah, Idaho and Nevada, Published by The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1909 



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