Popular Science Monthly/Volume 66/December 1904/The Reclamation Service
Typical Arizona Desert Scene without Irrigation.
|THE RECLAMATION SERVICE.|
By F. H. NEWELL,
CHIEF ENGINEER, RECLAMATION SERVICE, U. S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY.
A RECENT and notable addition to the work of the government in applied science is the creation of the corps of engineers known as the Reclamation Service, an organization under one of the branches of the U. S. Geological Survey. The operation of these engineers grows out of the passage of the Reclamation Act of June 17, 1902, setting aside the proceeds of the disposal of public lands to be used in survey and construction of irrigation works in the thirteen states and three territories of the arid region.
The development of this corps of engineers is a logical outcome of the work of the Geological Survey, and is the result of development along definite lines of research. The beginnings antedate the creation of the present Geological Survey, and are to be found in the reports of Major J. W. Powell, the pioneer in so many lines of research. His report on the lands of the arid region early attracted attention to the importance of irrigation, and when he became director of the Geological Survey he, through his strong interest in the subject, turned much of the work of the survey in directions which led to a larger knowledge of the opportunities of the creation of homes in the west.
In 1888 the director of the Geological Survey was authorized to investigate the extent to which the arid regions might be reclaimed, and appropriations were given with special reference to mapping the catchment areas of the principal rivers and obtaining a broad knowledge of the entire country.
In 1894 specific appropriations were had for stream measurements, and these were gradually increased, resulting in the operations of the Hydrographic Branch of the Geological Survey. With the acquisition of facts concerning the rivers of the west, their fluctuations, the opportunities for storage and for diverting the waters upon arid land, came a more definite appreciation of the importance of the whole subject. The people of the United States, stimulated by the irrigation congresses and Irrigation Association, urged upon their representatives in congress the enactment of a law recognizing the conditions.
One of the first acts of President Roosevelt was to recommend the passage of a national irrigation law, and the intelligent interest shown by the president in directing and furthering the efforts of other public men culminated finally in the passage of the Reclamation Act. This
places at the disposal of the secretary of the interior a fund which now amounts to nearly $25,000,000 and is steadily growing.
Immediately upon the passage of the Reclamation Act the secretary of the interior authorized the director of the Geological Survey to utilize the services of the men who had been studying the subject, and to add to their number from time to time other experienced men, selection being made from competitive civil service examination. By these means the Reclamation Service has been gradually built up in the Hydrographic Branch of the Geological Survey, until now it includes about 250 engineers of various grades and classes, including men of wide experience in constructing and consulting capacities.
Young men, graduates from technical schools of good repute, are admitted for examination to the lowest positions and designated as hydrographic aids. As they demonstrate their ability and gain experience they are advanced to the position of assistant engineer, and finally to that of engineer. The service is organized on such a basis that the responsibilities are directly placed, and in matters of judgment the advice of consulting engineers and experts can be had.
The operations of the reclamation service began with a reconnoissance of the entire arid and semi-arid regions. The maps prepared by the topographic branch of the Geological Survey are utilized and the geologic facts which bear upon the occurrence of water above or underground are considered. In fact, every branch of scientific research
which relates to the storage and use of waters is a subject of concern. The principal work is, however, not merely to bring the facts together, but to put these to practical application in the construction of large hydraulic works, such as dams for storing the water in reservoirs, or diverting it from the rivers through canals or aqueducts for conveying it to arid lands. These works are carefully planned and the designs and specifications are passed upon by boards of engineers thoroughly familiar with the subject. When a district engineer, that is to say an engineer in charge of the operations in a drainage basin, has brought his work to a point where it can be passed upon, a project board is convened, the members of which have had broad experience in designing and constructing under similar conditions, and who already know the essential local facts from personal observation.
The project board takes into consideration all the facts as to water supply, foundations and materials for construction, the design and operation of each part of the work, and the character of the lands to be supplied, the climatic conditions and innumerable details. After going over the conditions on the ground the project board prepares a brief report and recommendations, these being submitted through the regular channels for the approval of the secretary of the interior. When instructions have been received from the secretary contracts are prepared after advertising, in the usual fashion.
Work of construction has already been begun in Arizona, Nevada,
New Mexico, Colorado and Idaho, and will soon be taken up in other states and territories. In the two and a half years which have elapsed since the passage of the act the conditions in the west have been thoroughly considered, and already funds have practically been allotted to the more important and beneficial projects. The work has not only been on a large scale, but it has been necessary to establish many important precedents and to create institutions which are designed to last for centuries.
The Reclamation Act is very broad and leaves for executive discretion innumerable important details, but it guards carefully a number of points of possible failure. Discretion has been exercised with a view to perfecting an organization to meet the demands of the future, and special attention has been devoted to securing the economical and efficient carrying out of the purposes of the law. It may be said that the early dangers are passed and that now the work is assuming something of a permanent or routine character, resulting from the experience already obtained.
The following list gives alphabetically by states and territories the principal projects in hand, the acreage which may be reclaimed, and the
estimated expenditures or allotments already made. It is not possible to give with precision the acreage or cost, as there are almost innumerable contingencies, and it has not been considered wise to delay in order to ascertain with great exactness all the conditions which may be met. For example, the acreage to be reclaimed may be more or less dependent upon legal conditions or land titles to be secured, and the area will also be modified when a more complete knowledge has been obtained acre by acre of the reclaimable lands.
In the column headed 'allotment' is given either the amount of money set aside by the order of the secretary, or the restricted fund, so called, which is to be expended in each state according to the feasibility of the project found. The Reclamation Act provides that the major portion of the fund shall be spent in the state or territory from which it originates if practicable. In a number of states where the question of practicability is under consideration, the restricted portion of the fund has been temporarily set aside pending definite action.
|State or Territory.||Project.||Acres.||Allotment.|
|North Dakota||Ft. Buford and pumping||60,000||1,737,111|||
|Oklahoma||Otter Creek (?)||40,000||1,301,590|||
|South Dakota||Belle Fourche||60,000||2,100,000|
In addition to the principal projects above listed, reconnoissance surveys are being carried on in each of the thirteen states and three territories, and alternative projects are also being examined with a view to construction if the principal projects, for any reason, are found to be impracticable. It is proposed to have these alternative projects carefully examined and ready for-construction as soon as the principal projects are out of the way. The following paragraphs give briefly the present state of knowledge concerning each of the principal projects:
Arizona.—The Salt River project contemplates the storage of water for approximately 160,000 acres of land and the development of pumping facilities for an additional acreage. The cost will probably be about $20 per acre, and ultimately from three to four million dollars may be expended.
California.—The Yuma project, on the Lower Colorado River, as now outlined involves the reclamation of 85,000 acres at a cost of $35 per acre, the land being on both sides of the river in California and Arizona.
Colorado.—The Gunnison project contemplates the reclamation of 100,000 acres of land in the Uncompahgre Valley, at a cost of about $25 per acre. This land is largely in private ownership. The project
involves the building of a tunnel from Gunnison River, six miles in length and requiring four years to build.
Idaho.—The Minidoka project is for the reclamation of 100,000 to 120,000 acres of vacant public land on both sides of Snake River, at a cost of $26 per acre. This is to be accomplished by the construction
of a dam and canals and development of the gravity and pumping systems.
Kansas.—Investigations are being made of the feasibility of pumping water in Kansas, and particularly of the quantity and rate of movement of the-so-called underflow of western Kansas, and the practicability of bringing this to the surface.Montana.—The Milk River project is for the reclamation of nearly 00,000 acres of land, mostly public, and located mainly on the south
Truckee Valley near Wadsworth Nevada.
Truckee River will furnish part of the water for the extensive Truckee-Carson irrigation project.
side of Milk River, east of Malta, Montana. The cost will be from $20 to $25 per acre.
Nebraska.—North Platte project is for the reclamation of an undetermined area of land east of the Wyoming boundary and the building of a canal on the north side of North Platte River. Some of this land is now in private ownership. The cost of reclamation will probably be between $35 and $40 per acre.
Nevada.—The Truckee project now under construction will reclaim upwards of 150,000 acres at a cost of about $25 per acre. There are a number of ramifications which are yet to be worked out and these may result in a larger development.
New Mexico.—The Hondo project in the vicinity of Roswell will irrigate about 10,000 acres, a portion of which is in private ownership. The cost will be upward of $25 per acre. Water is to be obtained from flood storage in a reservoir to be constructed on the north side of Hondo River.
North Dakota.—Fort Buford project is to reclaim 60,000 acres of lands on the west side of Yellowstone River in Montana and North Dakota, at a cost of about $30 per acre. Most of this land is in private ownership.
Oklahoma.—In this territory investigations have been made of the opportunity of storing water in a number of shallow basins, but as yet the results have not been satisfactory.
Oregon.—The Malheur project, on both sides of Malheur River, west of Ontario, will reclaim, by a storage of flood waters of Malheur River, about 90,000 acres at a cost of about $30 per acre.
South Dakota.—The' Belle Fourche project contemplates the reclamation of 60,000 acres of arid land, largely public, situated northerly from the Black Hills. This is to be accomplished by the storage of flood waters of Belle Fourche River. The cost will be about $32 per acre.
Utah.—The Utah Lake project contemplates the utilization of waters tributary to Utah Lake and the reduction of evaporation losses by drawing down the lake. It is possible that 20,000 acres may be reclaimed at a cost of $35 per acre.
Washington.—The Palouse project is for the reclamation of arid lands near Pasco, by storage in Washtucna reservoir. Possibly 100,000 acres, mainly in private ownership, can be reclaimed at a cost of $35 per acre.
Wyoming.—The Shoshone project is for the reclamation of 100,000 acres of public land in the Big Horn Basin, north of Shoshone River. Water will be stored and diverted at a cost of $25 per acre.
Most of the systems for irrigating land depend wholly upon the gravity supply of water, but in a number of localities it will be necessary to use pumps. For this purpose plans are being made for the development of water power and the use of this in pumping by electric transmission. It is believed that in this way considerable areas of desert land can be reclaimed which are now out of reach of water obtained by the usual methods. Scientific investigation is being pushed along these lines, and also in many other directions, and of the employment of cement and concrete in construction. In short, the scientific work, while subordinated to the so-called practical side, is receiving constant attention from the various experts.
Assistance is being given to the reclamation service by the operations of the other divisions of the hydro-graphic branch. These are three in number: first, the division of hydrography, which has to do with the scientific measurements of the flow of the streams; second, the hydrologic division, which is studying the hydro-geology, or the bringing together all the facts bearing upon the occurrence of water in its geologic relations, and third, the hydro-economic division, which has to do with the quality of water and the relation which the changing qualities have to the industrial uses. In particular the quantity of saline matter carried in solution is of prime importance to the question of irrigation, and next to this the character and amount of material carried in suspension.
The operations of the Hydrographic Branch, including the Reclamation Service, illustrate the evolution which may take place under suitable auspices from the small beginning of a scientific investigation, leading up step by step to the practicable operations of applied science in building great works to endure for centuries. It is significant of modern times to find the engineers and scientific men taking a larger and larger part in the executive business of the world, and bringing to it the training of the technical school and laboratory, as distinguished from that of the counting-house or lawyer's office.
- Restricted fund.