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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/307

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303
OUR INLAND WATERWAYS

its own bigness yield the van of progress to lesser contemporaries. The cost of relief will be large, as the nation is broad and its productions opulent; yet from the standpoint of traffic alone the game will be worth far more than the candle. In addition, the prevention of soil-wash and the purification and clarification of the streams will, as the value of water increases with multiplied population by natural growth and orderly development, more than balance the entire cost; if the works be planned to utilize the incidental water-power, it alone will (with a moderate working capital) not only pay the entire current cost but replace our rapidly decreasing mineral fuels as a source of energy; and a dozen incidental advantages and values clamor to be entered on the credit side of the ledger. Eventually, if not to-day, the nation must take stock not merely of its land but of the 150,000,000,000,000 or 200,000,000,000,000 cubic feet of water annually falling from the heavens on the 2,000,000,000 acres of that land and giving it value—must conserve and control the boon in such manner as to minimize destruction and loss and maximize benefits for citizens and country: and any present step should take the right direction. Other resources, too, demand conservation—especially the timber and coal and oil and iron supplies already largely gone. The sole obstacle to-day is precisely that which confronted Washington and his contemporaries in the earlier waterway agitation—the doubt as to who should act in the public interest. The obstacle was overcome one hundred and twenty years ago: Can its present phase then deter the nation made great by the infant effort? That is the question to be weighed by the executives of states and nation in joint conference in the White House next May.

Fortunately the later statesmen hold a point of vantage; for America has become a nation of science. The sum of knowledge has gained a hundred per cent. and knowledge of the country and its resources has grown a hundred fold since 1787. The lands have been explored and surveyed; the mines have been opened and tested; the rainfall and rivers have been measured; several of the sciences have taken form and placed facts and principles at command; and under the stimulus of a far-sighted patent law invention has harnessed natural forces in a manner inconceivable even a century ago. The early ideas were of extension and diffusion; the present needs are for intensive development and conservation. And while the later stress may be less than the earlier it is attended by wider experience and surer modes of thinking, so that action ought to be easier and safer. Certainly the stress will increase until relieved; and there are those who feel that the present issues and the prospective conference may well mark another epoch in national policy and national growth.