Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960

The Reservoir Salvage Act was signed into law on June 27, 1960. The Act is a salvage law. It directs federal agencies conducting reservoir projects to conduct archeological survey and recovery in areas to be impacted by dam construction and in areas to be flooded.

Why was the Reservoir Salvage Act passed?
The Flood Control Act of 1944 authorized the construction of numerous dams, and modifications to previously existing dams, across the United States to create reservoirs for water uses and energy. Dam construction and the flooding, however, destroyed archeological resources in their path. Archeologists worked with Congress to pass the Reservoir Salvage Act to ensure that archeological data would be salvaged before it was lost.

What was the significance and impact of the Reservoir Salvage Act?
The Act specifies the preservation of data (including artifacts) from areas impacted by construction of dams and reservoirs and requires archeological survey in the area proposed to be flooded. If the area does include significant data worthy of being collected and preserved, and it is feasible to collect the data, the Secretary of the Interior may require work to collect and preserve it. The Act also authorized the Secretary to enter into contracts or cooperative agreements with federal and state agencies, educational or scientific institutions, or other qualified institutions or individuals to carry out the work.

The limitations of the law resulted in some of its greatest impact, because it focused on one set of construction projects by a few federal agencies. Many other federal agencies funded and licensed construction projects that destroyed archeological resources, as well. Archeologists advocated to Congress for a law to hold all federal agencies responsible for salvaging archeological data ahead of projects that might impact them. The result was the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974.

The law also had implications for the National Park Service as we know it today. The Missouri Basin Project (MBP), the major program of the River Basin Surveys (RBS), was established in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1946. The MBP was responsible for the survey and recovery of archeological remains threatened by over one hundred dam projects in the Missouri River Basin. In 1969, the RBS ended. The MBP transferred to NPS and was renamed the Midwest Archeological Center. From 1969 through 1974-1975, the Center continued the archeological salvage mission in reservoir areas throughout the ten states of the Service's then-Midwest Region. Today, MWAC serves the parks of the Midwest Region of the United States.

What are the citations for the Reservoir Salvage Act?
The Reservoir Salvage Act was originally located in public law at P.L. 86-523, 74 Stat. 220 and in the U.S. Code at 16 U.S.C. § 469. The Act was amended six times. The impetus for the amendments was the destruction, funded or otherwise supported by federal agencies, of archeological sites throughout the country that were not covered by the original Reservoir Salvage Act legislation. With the broadening amendments, the Act became known as the Archeological and Historic Preservation Act (AHPA), also the Moss-Bennett Act. In 2014, the Act was incorporated into 54 U.S.C. §§ 312504-312506.

Last updated: January 12, 2023