While its roots go back to the 1890's, the National Water Resources Association was established as a formal association (the National Reclamation Association) on December 6, 1932, at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah. In conjunction with a meeting of Western governors, Governor George Henry Dern of Utah and Governor Julius L. Meier of Oregon convened a meeting of the western water leaders for the sole purpose of establishing a formal organization to bring irrigation and reclamation to the arid and semi-arid West. Fifteen states collectively sent over 90 delegates, led by Utah with 27 and Idaho with 17, to participate in this historic conference.

On December 5, Dr. Elwood Mead, Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, delivered a brief overview of the financial crisis faced by Reclamation and the need for a change in policy to facilitate future development. Spurred on my Mead's clarion call and the strong support of western governors, the delegates unanimously voted to establish the National Reclamation Association (NRA) to promote federal financing for water reclamation projects throughout the West.

Governor Dern next called for the nomination and election of Marshall N. Dana, Associate Editor of The Oregon Journal, Portland, Oregon to serve as the Association's President. After the election of officers, certification of delegates, and establishment of the rules of the Association, the National Reclamation Association was up and running.

The National Reclamation Association was established at a time when Reclamation was at its lowest ebb. In fact, many were fearful that without the united efforts of all of the West, the entire reclamation program would be lost.

Despite a devastating nation-wide depression throughout the 1930's and World War II, state delegates of the Association have met every year to pursue legislation and policies promoting irrigation in the West.

In 1948, in an effort to better promote its irrigation development agenda with Congress, the Association hired its first chief executive officer, Donald McBride, for the sole purpose of establishing a Washington, D.C. office. Once established, the Association selected William E. Welsh as Secretary/Manager to promote its goals and objectives with Congress and the Administration. Welsh served as chief executive officer until his retirement in 1965.

Strongly supported by a united western membership in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Association's influence in Congress and with both Democrat and Republican Administrations grew significantly. In the late 1940's and early 50's, the leadership of the Association met personally with both President Truman and President Eisenhower. Before the mid 1960's, authorizing committees in the House and Senate periodically held hearings specifically to address the concerns and recommendations of the Association.


As the construction of major reclamation projects ebbed in the late 1960's, the Association's future mission lacked focus and direction. Up to this point in time, the National Reclamation Association's mission was clear and concise - promote the authorization and construction of reclamation projects throughout the West. However, the Association's members were increasingly becoming more concerned with water policy issues relating to water quality, acreage limitation, environmental protection, national water policy proposals and water rights disputes than in a myopic agenda focused solely on new development. A majority of the leadership of the Association felt it was time to project a more national perspective on water policy and development. Subsequently, believing that the name was no longer attuned to the times, the delegates to the 38th annual convention meeting in November, 1969 in Spokane, Washington voted to change the name to the National Water Resources Association.

Speaker after speaker at the convention addressed the waning influence of national, and in some cases, western support for unfettered construction of irrigation projects. Congressman Wayne Aspinall, a staunch supporter of reclamation, observed that supporters of competing programs talk in terms of broadening their support while reclamation talks of reducing the opposition. However, despite the warnings, the Association's leadership continued, for the most part, to pursue goals focused almost exclusively on new water development. The Association's President told the delegates, "…if we do not convince the Nation's leaders to look ahead to more water resources development, we have doomed to failure many of the best opportunities for the better life of all of the people of America."

For most of the 1970's and into the early 80's, the Association's leadership struggled to address the competing interests of its broad-based membership. States still awaiting the promise of reclamation projects pushed for additional project authorizations and increased federal funding for irrigation facilities. Other western water leaders urged the Association to take a more active role in the formulation of legislation and regulations impacting water deliveries and water and environmental policy initiatives being debated in Congress.

Out of the 1980's emerged an organization clearly focused upon those policy issues that posed major concerns for the supply of municipal and irrigation water in the West. The leadership and staff of the Association were actively involved in the promulgation of rules and regulations implementing the Reclamation Reform Act of 1982, efforts to reauthorize the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as a myriad of legislation and regulations impacting water quality and quantity.

Today, the National Water Resources Association is a strong federation of state associations and caucuses representing a broad spectrum of water supply interests. It is the oldest and most active national association concerned with water resources policy and development. Its strength is a reflection of the tremendous "grassroots" participation it has generated on virtually every national issue affecting western water conservation, management, and development.

You can find historical documents maintained by Colorado State University HERE.