Lassen County Desert Land Act

The Belfast District, 1898. It was to be the center piece of Merrill’s reclamation project.

In the early 1870s, when Captain Charles A. Merrill proposed to tap Eagle Lake, he found it necessary to have Congress pass a homestead act that focused on arid lands, as nothing existed. Thus, on March 3, 1875, Congress approved the Lassen County Desert Land Act.  Under the Act, an individual could claim up to 640 acres of government land. They had two years to reclaim the land by irrigation, and then could purchase the land from the government for $1.25 per acre. Residence on the land was not a requirement. It proved so popular that in 1877, Congress approved the Desert Land Act, which covered all arid lands in the western United States. The latter Act has had a lasting impact, and is still one of very few homestead acts in existence. In the 1980s when Franklin Jeans proposed his water export scheme of the groundwater on the Nevada side of the Honey Lake Valley, he used the Desert Land Act to increase his holdings and to put more wells to accomplish that goal.


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