Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/30

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

irrigated lands if there is any remote likelihood of having homes, property and lives wiped out in floods from bursting reservoirs.

Granting, then, that the reservoirs are feasible, there still remains the question of expense in constructing the number necessary to place one or more in each of the most important tributaries. Estimate the expense most generously, letting each one cost a third more than the Engle dam above El Paso, and the total figure then is less than what has already been spent on the Mississippi system. But there is another important factor to be considered—the tremendous possibilities which lie in the development of water power from each reservoir. The question of future motive power for industrial purposes, as the coal supply decreases, is a problem which must soon be met in this country, and probably will be solved by the use of water power either directly or through electricity. In fact, even now, water rights are being rapidly acquired and developed on every hand, as the advance guard of the change that is to come. A sample of what a storage reservoir will do can be seen in the case of the comparatively small irrigation project at Minidoka, Idaho, which will develop about 30,000 horse power per year. Renting this power at the very low figure of $10 per horse power per year would pay for the entire Minidoka project, reservoir, irrigation-canals, gates and all, in six years. The amount of power generated by the Mississippi system is variously estimated high and low, with 60,000,000 horse power per year as an intermediate figure. Much of this amount is not directly available, but granting on a conservative basis that a series of impounding reservoirs would develop immediately 2 per cent, of that amount, there would be 1,200,000 horse power to be turned into electricity and distributed to factories. A purely nominal rental would be ample enough to repay in two or three decades the entire original expense of the system, besides a good income on the investment. The reservoir system, however, must be intimately associated with forest conservation as a vital factor in regulating surface drainage and in checking the amount of soil erosion which supplies sediment to the river.

The proper building of reservoirs in the headwaters, therefore, offers what no other plan can possibly offer: it promises effective regulation of river stages and water supply for all time to come, removing entirely the liability of destructive floods, checking the erosion of banks and preventing much of the formation and shifting of sand bars and the pollution of water which the presence of sediment means. At the same time it provides a way of actually paying for itself in short order, aside from all idea of the savings to shippers and river interests in general which would be in excess of the cost. The importance of this latter consideration is emphasized best by a brief comparison with the system now being followed. The levee-revetment system, as mapped out, calls for an expenditure of $60,000,000 for its completion. From