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The Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 created federal funding for irrigation projects in the southwestern United States.

Every spring, large amounts of water from snow melt on mountains in the western United States flows into rivers that course through arid regions.  Before the extensive array of dams that exist today were built, water would continue flowing into the ocean.  In the late 1800s, it was considered a waste and seen as a potential resource that could be harnessed to turn arid desert lands into productive agricultural areas.  So they did.