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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/23

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THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER PROBLEM

niable that what is happening along the river to-day is a true sample of what the river may be expected to do every day as long as the existing conditions prevail. A fourteen-foot channel presupposes important movements of goods from many points along the river. Large shipments can not be handled readily or economically without expensive modern terminal facilities along the river front, but the building of such terminal facilities can not be expected as long as they are threatened with the same fates as now confront Greenville, Natchez and St. Joseph.

The flood evil, the second great problem to be met in the control and improvement of the Mississippi system, has been fresh in the minds of every one since the disastrous spring of 1903, when the loss of property amounted to fifty or sixty million dollars. The flood problem applies not only to the main Mississippi itself, but perhaps even more vitally to its chief tributaries, the Missouri and Ohio, which must be regarded as the main feeders to any proposed improvement. The total loss from a few historic floods in these streams has been tremendous. In 1881 and 1882 the floods of the Ohio and lower Mississippi caused a loss of $15,000,000. In 1881 the Ohio Valley alone suffered to the extent of $10,000,000. An area twice the size of New Jersey was laid waste along the lower Mississippi in the spring of 1897 with losses again reckoned in tens of millions of dollars. The unprecedented ravages of the Missouri came in May and June of 1903, and finally this last year saw damage to an extent estimated at not less than $100,000,000 in the Ohio Valley. In the last quarter of a century, therefore, the plain money loss from a single half-dozen floods approaches a quarter of a billion dollars, while the sum total from all floods must be acknowledged to equal many times over the entire cost of the most effective and permanent means of protection.

The principal cause of the floods in the Mississippi is heavy or prolonged rains at certain seasons of the year, a primal cause, which lies beyond the power of man to control, but which has been greatly aided in its effects by wide spread deforestation about the head waters. Flood conditions vary widely in the different tributaries. The Missouri has the largest drainage basin of any of the tributaries, about 540,000 square miles, but the average rainfall over the region is small, unusually heavy and long-continued rains are less frequent, and, because of porous soils and excessive evaporation, only a small part of the rainfall passes off in surface drainage. As a result of these conditions, the Missouri supplies only about one seventh the total discharge of the Mississippi, and is, on the whole, as regards floods, the least important of the large tributaries. The upper Mississippi, with a drainage area only a third as large as that of the Missouri, turns in about one fifth the total volume of the main stream, while the Ohio, draining approximately 200,000 square miles, sends down a third of all the water discharged