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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/24

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

by the Mississippi. These three rivers, therefore, yield over 60 per cent, of the gross volume, the remainder being divided between the White, Arkansas, St. Francis, Yazoo and Red rivers, which join the main stream too near the mouth to be important factors in the production of severe floods.

The Ohio is, on the whole, much the worst flood offender, partly because of its normally greater volume, and partly because of the conditions existing in the region it drains. The major portion of the areas drained by the Missouri and the upper Mississippi are distinctly less rugged than the Ohio basin, and over both areas the heaviest rainfall, coming in May and June, arrives at a season when the soil can take a large percentage of it. The largest tributaries of the Ohio, on the contrary, in etching their valleys in the surface of the Allegheny plateau, have produced the steepest and most rugged parts of the whole Appalachian region. Here the heaviest rainfall comes in January, February and March. Add to these factors the frequent complications of melting snow and frozen ground, which sheds water like a house roof, a district largely deforested, and the enormous destruction by sudden rising of the Ohio is explained. It is truly fortunate that by the provisions of nature the three rivers, the Ohio, the Mississippi and the Missouri, have never been known, and probably never will be known, to be in extreme flood at the same time. Such an unhappy coincidence of high stages, if it came about, would quite certainly mean total obliteration for everything in the lower valley.

The flood evil is in a large way the underlying cause of most of the trouble in the Mississippi. At time of flood, the erosive power of the river is increased a hundredfold, caving of the banks is often excessive, levees situated rods from the channel before the flood and apparently safe are undermined, and the narrowing of necks between bends is greatly accelerated or quickly accomplished. Much of the damage from floods must be laid to the cavings of banks by which landings are destroyed and whole plantations are soon swept away, while through breaks in the undermined levees the raging waters sweep over the surrounding country. This spread of the flood is fostered by the fact that the river channel lies above the surrounding bottom lands. To the naked eye the region appears absolutely level, but from the river the broad plain slopes away at a rate varying from four to thirteen feet per mile. Once outside its channel, therefore, the water finds a natural course down hill into every part of the back country, carrying destruction wherever it goes. Unfortunately, this character of the river can not be altered; on the contrary, the more the river is confined between artificial levees and restricted in the area over which it is free to spread, the greater will be the devastation whenever a flood does occcur, so that with the extension of the levee system the occurrence of floods becomes an increasingly serious problem. The recognition of this fact