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IRRIGATION

or fall in droughts more than 4 or 5 ft. below it, and their water is at all seasons very free from silt or mud. Irrigation cannot be practised in more favourable circumstances than these. The great lakes of Central Africa, Victoria and Albert Nyanza, and the vast swamp tract of the Sudan, do for the Nile on a gigantic scale what Lakes Maggiore and Como do for the rivers Ticino and Adda. But for these great reservoirs the Nile would decrease in summer to quite an insignificant stream. India possesses no great lakes from which to draw rivers and canals, but through the plains of northern India flow rivers which are fed from the glaciers of the Himalaya; and the Ganges, the Indus, and their tributaries are thus prevented from diminishing very much in volume. The greater the heat, the more rapidly melts the ice, and the larger the quantity of water available for irrigation. The canal system of northern India is the most perfect the world has yet seen, and contains works of hydraulic engineering which can be equalled in no other country. In the deltas of southern India irrigation is only practised during the monsoon season. The Godaveri, Kistna and Kaveri all take their rise on the Western Ghats, a region where the rainfall is never known to fail in the monsoon season. Across the apex of the deltas are built great weirs (that of the Godaveri being 21/2 m. long), at the ends and centre of which is a system of sluices feeding a network of canals. For this monsoon irrigation there is always abundance of water, and so long as the canals and sluices are kept in repair, there is little trouble in distributing it over the fields. Similar in character was the ancient irrigation of Egypt practised merely during the Nile flood—a system which still prevails in part of Upper Egypt. A detailed description of it will be found below.

Where irrigation is carried on throughout the whole year, even when the supply of the river is at its lowest, the distribution of the water becomes a very delicate operation. It is generally considered sufficient in such cases if during Distribution of the water. any one crop one-third of the area that can be commanded is actually supplied with water. This encourages a rotation of crops and enables the precious liquid to be carried over a larger area than could be done otherwise. It becomes then the duty of the engineer in charge to use every effort to get its full value out of every cubic foot of water. Some crops of course require water much oftener than others, and much depends on the temperature at the time of irrigation. During the winter months in northern India magnificent wheat crops can be produced that have been watered only twice or thrice. But to keep sugar-cane, or indigo, or cotton alive in summer before the monsoon sets in in India or the Nile rises in Egypt the field should be watered every ten days or fortnight, while rice requires a constant supply of water passing over it.

Experience in these sub-tropical countries shows the absolute necessity of having, for successful irrigation, also a system of thorough drainage. It was some time before this was discovered in India, and the result has been the deterioration of much good land.

In Egypt, prior to the British occupation in 1883, no attempt had been made to take the water off the land. The first impression of a great alluvial plain is that it is absolutely flat, with no drainage at all. Closer examination, however, shows that if the prevailing slopes are not more than a few inches in the mile, yet they do exist, and scientific irrigation requires that the canals should be taken along the crests and drains along the hollows. In the diagram (fig. 1) is shown to the right of the river a system of canals branching out and afterwards rejoining one another so as to allow of no means for the water that passes off the field to escape into the sea. Hence it must either evaporate or sink into the soil. Now nearly all rivers contain some small percentage of salt, which forms a distinct ingredient in alluvial plains. The result of this drainless irrigation is an efflorescence of salt on the surface of the field. The spring level rises, so that water can be reached by digging only a few feet, and the land, soured and water-logged, relapses into barrenness. Of this description was the irrigation of Lower Egypt previous to 1883. To the left of the diagram is shown (by firm lines) a system of canals laid out scientifically, and of drains (by dotted lines) flowing between them. It is the effort of the British engineers in Egypt to remodel the surface of the fields to this type.

Further information may be found in Sir C. C. Scott-Moncrieff, Irrigation in Southern Europe (London, 1868); Moncrieff, “Lectures on Irrigation in Egypt,” Professional Papers of the Corps of Royal Engineers, vol. xix. (London, 1893); W. Willcocks, Egyptian Irrigation (2nd ed., London, 1899).

II. Water Meadows.—Nowhere in England can it be said that irrigation is necessary to ordinary agriculture, but it is occasionally employed in stimulating the growth of grass and meadow herbage in what are known as water-meadows. These are in some instances of very early origin. On the Avon in Wiltshire and the Churn in Gloucestershire they may be traced back to Roman times. This irrigation is not practised in the drought of summer, but in the coldest and wettest months of the year, the water employed being warmer than the natural moisture of the soil and proving a valuable protection against frost.

EB1911 - Irrigation - Fig. 1.—Irrigation and Drainage.jpg
Fig. 1.—Diagram showing irrigation properly combined with drainage
(to left), and laid out regardless of drainage required later (to right).

Before the systematic conversion of a tract into water-meadows can be safely determined on, care must be taken to have good drainage, natural or artificial, a sufficient supply of water, and water of good quality. It might indeed have been thought that thorough drainage would be unnecessary, but it must be noted that porous subsoils or efficient drains do not act merely by carrying away stagnant water which would otherwise cool the earth, incrust the surface, and retard plant growth. They cause the soil to perform the office of a filter. Thus the earth and the roots of grasses absorb the useful matters not only from the water that passes over it, but from that which passes through it. These fertilizing materials are found stored up in the soil ready for the use of the roots of the plants. Stagnation of water is inimical to the action of the roots, and does away with the advantageous processes of flowing and percolating currents. Some of the best water-meadows in England have but a thin soil resting on gravel and flints, this constituting a most effectual system of natural drainage. The fall of the water supply must suffice for a fairly rapid current, say 10 in. or 1 ft. in from 100 to