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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/555

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A PREHISTORIC WATER-SYSTEM.

A PREHISTORIC WATER-SYSTEM.
By M. A. L√úDERS.

THE canton of Valais, though not so much frequented by travelers as some of the others, is really one of the most attractive cantons of Switzerland, and possesses, in its Alpine heights and its temperate valleys, many beauties peculiarly its own. There are also many features worthy of notice in the customs and the economical devices of its population. One of the most interesting features of the latter class is its system of conduits for watering the pasturage and tillage lands. This canton, in fact, possesses the model system of water-supply in the Alps. The people have maintained it from primitive times, and have by it, during the whole period of their history, drawn the water from the glaciers and mountain-springs, to be applied directly to every part of their farms and garden-plots. Without such watering as it makes practicable, the production of the district would fall off one half. This was exemplified in the experience of some of the towns during the building of the Simplon road in 1802, when their canals were interrupted and their water-supply was cut off. The grass-crop was so greatly diminished that the number of cattle fell off to one fourth of what it had been, and the former productiveness of the fields was not restored till new canals were made in 1810. In the little town of Zenegger, also, the springs were dried up, in consequence of an earthquake in 1855, and the number of cattle that could be maintained was reduced from two hundred to fifty. New conduits had to be made for this place also, with much labor and at great expense.

The maintenance of the water-system of the Canton Valais is intimately associated with the communal and family life of the people. The water is brought down in wooden flumes, that have to cross precipitous clefts at hundreds of metres above the bottom. A watchman has to go over them daily, and sometimes at night. His pay is very small, and his office is rather one of honor, full of dangers, to which some fall victims in nearly every year. By an ancient prescription, no one can hold a public office till he has served for some time as a guard of the aqueducts. It is not unusual, when repairs are to be made in particularly dangerous places, to send a priest along with the workmen, so that, if any of them meet with an accident, they may be provided with the consolations of religion.

The water is drawn from glaciers, lakes, or reservoirs, springs, and melted snow. Glacier-water is best esteemed, and is preferred if it is turbid, for then it holds valuable mineral constituents; lake or reservoir water contains less of such matters, for they have settled. Spring-water is least in favor, because it is most deficient in mineral substances, and because the time it occupies in running down the conduits