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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/25

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THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER PROBLEM

can not be urged too strongly, for until the flood waters are under absolute control, the construction of a deep channel, no matter whether it be in the river itself or in the form of a canal along the stream, must be clone in the face of constant danger of having the entire system crippled and large portions destroyed whenever overflow takes place.

Again, when the river is in flood, as it is to a certain degree every year, it is carrying along the greatest amount of sediment, much of which represents the most fertile part of the soil. The total amount so carried is almost beyond conception, but to carry it by freight train would require 500 trains for every working-day in the year, each train consisting of fifty cars with a capacity of fifty tons. Besides this tremendous quantity poured out into the Gulf every year, other incalculable masses are deposited as bars all along the course, and as the water falls to its normal level these bars are a constant menace to every form of navigation. The presence of these obstructions and their rapid shifting from day to day has always been one of the most serious handicaps to river transportation. In fact, the abandonment of navigation on the Missouri may be laid entirely to the utter inability to cope with the shifting sands. Deforestation, cultivation of the land especially, and mining operations, are vitally important in the question of soil washing, surface erosion and the amount of sediment in the streams.

The project for a deep waterway for commercial purposes, therefore, is confronted with these serious problems which must be solved before the government can afford to spend one or two hundred million dollars in river improvement. Some system of control must be devised to insure to water fronts and terminal facilities a reasonable degree of permanency through protection against erosion of the banks. There must be some way of checking disastrous floods which would in a single season, and perhaps year after year, destroy improvements costing millions of dollars—as the experience of some of the eastern canalized rivers indicates. The prevention of low-water stages is no less important, since marked variations in the water level make it difficult to establish the necessary terminal facilities. Finally, the formation of sand bars must be stopped, otherwise it means stupendous, unending and probably ineffective, dredging operations in an attempt to keep the channel open.

If the Missouri could be removed from the list of tributaries by giving it a separate mouth, the sand-bar problem would no longer exist, since that stream contributes over 60 per cent, of the total brought into the Mississippi. Eeducing the load by 60 per cent, would certainly mean that the Mississippi could then keep its own channel clear. But the idea of providing a separate course for the Missouri from St. Louis to the Gulf is too daring even to be suggested. Moreover, it would