ROADS AND HIGHWAYS
Since Nebraska had no organized government until it became a territory, the only roads prior to that time were trails blazed by travel across the plains. Some of these, the Oregon trail for example, were the most traveled roads in the world. The first government highway was authorized by congress on February 17, 1855. This road was to extend from a point opposite Council Bluffs to New Fort Kearny. Prior to this time a few post and military roads had been established by act of congress, and new ones were added by an act of March 3, 1855. On March 3, 1857, congress appropriated $30,000 "for the construction of a road from the Platte river via Omaha reserve, and Dakota City to the Running Water river." This road followed the Missouri river for 208 miles and was several years under construction.
The first territorial legislature, by an act approved March 16, 1855, provided for the manner of surveying public roads. Sixty-six feet was the prescribed width of such roads. A number of acts approved on March 14 and 15 of that session appointed commissioners to lay out territorial roads from certain settlements to certain other settlements or specified localities. In all 155 territorial roads were projected by the twelve territorial legislatures. For some years after 1867, the state legislatures passed similar laws. Most of these acts provided vaguely that the cost of a road should be borne by the counties through which it ran. In one case--that of the road from Plattsmouth to Archer--it was provided that an able-bodied male inhabitants between the ages of twenty-one and forty-five should work on the road two days of each year.
On January 26, 1856, the first county road law was approved. Authority concerning roads was vested in county commissioners. Roads were to be kept open and in repair forty feet wide. A poll tax of two days' labor annually was required of able-bodied male citizens between the ages of twenty-one and sixty years, outside of the incorporated municipalities. The commissioners might levy a tax, not to exceed two mills, on the county outside the municipalities for roads. Road districts were to be established and road supervisors appointed by the commissioners. Congress was memorialized by this legislature for aid in the building of certain roads. Congress was again memorialized by an act of November 4, 1858, to appropriate for the construction of a bridge across the Platte.
An amendment to the county road law approved January 11, 1860, named four rods (66 feet) as the legal width of a county road. Another, amendment approved January 11, 1861, made the office of road supervisor elective. Another act of the same date regulated the disposal of the road fund. One-third of the entire road fund was to be expended by the commissioners for the general benefit of county roads, the other two-thirds to be spent in the several districts where the funds were collected. Men over forty-five were exempted from the poll tax. An act of January 10, 1862, was substituted for the existing road laws.
One of the early attempts at road making was the old steam wagon road, which was projected from Nebraska City out into the west in 1862. The county commissioners of Otoe county agreed to spend $2,000 in preparing a road for the steam wagon. This pioneer motor vehicle broke an axle a few miles out of Nebraska City on its maiden trip and the steam wagon project was abandoned. The "Steam wagon road" remained as part of the Denver trail and was one of the most traveled highways in the west.
The legislatures of 1869, 1871 and 1873 declared section lines to be public roads in the various counties. Such roads were to he four rods wide.
The Platte river bridge fund was created by the legislature or 1871. The foundation of the fund was derived from the sale of fifty sections of land from the government grant of lands for internal improvements. This fund was used to pay the interest on bonds issued by counties to construct bridges across the Platte.
The legislature of 1875 added to the duties of road supervisors that of putting fire guards along the roads, and required the secretary of state to publish and distribute the road laws to road supervisors.
The constitution of 1875 abolished special taxes by requiring all taxes to be levied upon valuation of property. This abolished the special road tax of four dollars on each quarter section then existing. This tax was levied, however. in certain counties in 1876, and the succeeding legislature formally legalized those levies.
The road law was rewritten by the act of March 1, 1871). County boards designate road districts outside of the incorporated municipalities, and road overseers are elected as other officers are elected, for terms of two years. The funds for maintnance (sic) of roads are derived:
1. From a county levy which may not exceed five mills for roads and four mills for the county bridge fund.
2. From a poll tax of $2.50, payable by male inhabitants between the ages of twenty-one and fifty, with certain exemptions.
3. All inheritance taxes.
4. Registration fees for motor vehicles.
One-half of all the money collected as road fund constitutes a county road fund to be divided equally among the several commissioner districts of the county, the other half of the money so collected and all money derived from labor or poll taxes is to be spent in the districts from which it is collected. In counties under township organization the electors of a town may levy an additional road fund not to exceed ten mills for roads and two for bridges for town purposes.
The county surveyor in counties of over 50,000 population is the superintendent of construction in road and bridge work. He makes all surveys and prepares plans and specifications, and inspects material. All brldges costing over $500 must be built from uniform plans approved by the state board of highways and irrigation. The legislature of 1911 made an annual levy of one-fifth of a mill for aid to counties in building bridges over streams one hundred or more feet wide. Provision was also made for the appointment of county highway commissioners by county boards. In counties having 50,000 or more population the county surveyor is to perform the duties of highway commissioner.
The legislature of 1917 complied with the terms of the federal aid road act of July 11, 1916, by pledging the good faith of the state to provide the necessary funds. The appropriations for the current biennial period amount to $3,093,262. a return to the old territorial system of establishing highways by direct act of the legislature.
A revolution in Nebraska highway construction and maintenance was accomplished by the legislatures of 1917 and 1919. In principle this revolution was a return to the old territorial system by direct act of the legislature.
The new legislation is based upon the Federal Aid Road Act approved July 11, 1916. This provided for grants of money to states for the construction of public highways, provided the states would appropriate equal sums and that the state highway system should meet the approval of the federal engineers.
Under the present act the state is divided into "project districts," not exceeding five counties in one district. Eighty-eight state highways upon main lines of travel have been laid out during the past four years and in part constructed. The maintenance of these highways after their construction is supported by the proceeds of special automobile license taxes. The latest report of the state highway board shows an expenditure of the following sums from both federal and state funds under this new legislation:
November, 1920, amount available (less 10%)
Total expended to November, 1920
Collections from automobile fees, January 1-July 1, 1920 (25% to county, 75% to state for maintenance only)
WATER POWER AND IRRIGATION IN NEBRASKA
Geo. E. Johnson, State Engineer.
LAWS OF 1877
The first law relating to the use of water for irrigation or water power was passed by the legislature of 1877. This law was very brief and merely gave the companies desiring to construct such work the right of eminent domain and declared them to be works of internal improvement. No mention whatever is made of any course of procedure whereby title or the right of priority to the use of the water could be acquired.1
LAWS OF 1889.
The next legislation covering the use of water was passed by the legislature of 1889. This act provided the right to acquire the use by appropriation of running water flowing in any river or stream or down any canyon or ravine; provided that the same be used for beneficial or useful purposes, and that when any appropriator or successor in interest ceased to use the water so appropriated for such a purpose the right ceased; that no land was to be burdened by more than one ditch, without the consent of the owner thereof; that all ditches were exempt from taxation; that the point of diversion might be changed if otters were not injured; that water so diverted must be returned to the stream from which it was taken; that as between appropriators the one first in time was first in right; that a notice be posted by the party desiring to appropriate water at the point of the intended diversion, stating the point of diversion, the amount of the appropriation, the purpose claimed for, the place of intended use, and the means by which it was intended to divert; a copy of the notice recorded in the office of the county clerk of the county in which the notice was posted; that excavation must commence within sixty days from time of posting notice and continue to completion; that completion meant conducting the water to the place of intended use; that a permanent right was granted to the use of all water beneficially used through ditches which had previously been completed; that owners of lands bordering on streams were entitled to use of water on adjoining lands; that the right was given for condemnation for right of way, to condemn sites for reservoirs and to enlarge ditches; that ditch companies were authorized to borrow money and issue bonds; that canals constructed for irrigating or water power purposes were declared works of internal improvement; that ditches must be kept in proper repair; and provided a penalty for interfering with ditches or gates.2
LAWS OF 1895
The next law governing the use of water was enacted by the legislature of 1895, which passed the first comprehensive law regarding and relating to the use of water for irrigation and water power purposes. The most important features of this law as pertaining to water power were as follows: the. dedication of the water of every natural stream to public use; the right to divert unappropriated water for beneficial use was never to be denied; stated the priority of the use of water and gave prefernce (sic) to the use as follows, first, for domestic uses, second for irrigation and third for power and manufacturing purposes; divided the state into two water divisions and these divisions into districts; provided for the measurement of water in streams; created the state board of irrigation; required county clerks to send certified copies of the notices of all water appropriations on their record to the state board; provided for the adjudication
1Session Laws of Nebraska for 1877, page 168.
2Session Laws of Nebraska for 1889, chapter 68, page 503.
of existing rights by the state board; provided for future applications for appropriation of water; the examination and approval or disallowance of said applications; appeals from the decision of the board; and a complete record of all water rights to be kept in the office of the state board.
This law has been amended from time to time and improvements in it made thereby. One of the most important of these is the law authorizing the creation of water power districts, passed in 1915.
UNLISTED WATER POWER DEVELOPMENTS
Attention is called to the fact that there are numerous flour mills over the state which have acquired the right to the use of water for power purposes by actual use long before the creation of the state board, many even before the law of 1877. Of these there is no record.
GENERAL CONDITIONS ALONG THE LOUPS AND PLATTE
The more valuable water power sites in the state are those on the lower Platte, Loup and Niobrara Rivers. The Platte river west of the mouth of the Loup, together with the North and South Plattes, do not play a very important part in the consideration of a study of water power of the state for the reason that all of the water in these streams is used for irrigation purposes, except in extraordinary seasons and for short periods during the winter months.
The Loup river by reason of its uniform flow has for many years attracted promoters looking for water power sites. This is evidenced by the number of filings which have been made on this stream, and on the Platte below the point where it received the water from the Loup. The first filing for power purposes on the Loup River was made in the year 1895. Below is an article on water power projects submitted by Geo. E. Johnson, State Engineer, in 1919.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Mr., L. D. Richards, et al, filed upon the waters of the Platte River for power, one year later the late H. E. Babcock. of Columbus filed on the waters of the Loup for irrigation and power. Surveys made by them showed possibilities of large water power developments. Companies were organized, engineers employed and reports made by some of the leading engineers of that day, nearly all favorable. The mistake these men made was in trying to build too large developments. They were ahead of the market. There has been a flood of filings since that time, some of which have real merit. The market at the present time is controlled by the various public utility companies in Omaha and Lincoln, it has increased so rapidly in the past five years, that it is doubtful if any one large plant from the Loup or Platte River can supply the demand.
There has been a large amount of litigation in the past over water rights, and each session of the legislature discusses state ownership with a result that there has been very little development, as the constant changing of laws regarding water power has had the effect of making the development of our water power unattractive to financiers.
It is unfortunate that so many sites were available. Had there been only one, it undoubtedly would have been constructed many years ago.
We are spending millions for good roads and reclamation of our arid land and swamp lands, but true conservation demands that all of our natural resources should be developed. Millions of dollars worth of coal are being used in our cities and factories, not a pound of which is produced in this state. We pay for the coal and freight. Nearly all of this could be saved by the development of our water power. Today the waters of the Loup and Platte flow silently away to sea, unharnessed and unobstructed.
Projects reported on are as follows:
1. The revised Columbus Plan of 1911-1912
2. The Schuyler plan of Chas. T. Bogg, Et Al.
3. The Platte River Hydro-Electric, or Ross Project.
4. The original Fremont Canal
5. A proposed canal line North of Ames, and other projects on the Loup.
Water records and stream flows:
The flow of the Loup and Platte Rivers is given in the U. S. Geological and State Engineer's reports.
Mr. Houghs' report on the Loup in 1905 given as water available for Columbus plan as follows:
2500 C. F. S.
40% of the time
2000 C. F. S.
58% of the time
1500 C. F. S.
2% of the time
Later investigations and later actual measurements exceed in volume the old records, which were recorded in a crude way. Both the Loup and the Platte show more water in their channels, owing to more careful gauging than formerly.
Recent investigations show for the Loup at Columbus:
3000 C. F. S.
for over 40% of the time
2500 C. F.S.
20%, of the time
2000 C. F. S.
35% of the time
1500 C. F. S.
2 to 5% of the time
And these figures have been used for basis of calculations.
Computations of Loup Projects are based on canals carrying 2400 C. F. S. which is there 60% to 70% of the time and in some years all the time. Any deficiency to supply the maximum, to be made up by relying on some of the various streams plants as auxiliary.
The effect of the Pathfinder dam, in releasing waters for irrigation, in the western part of the state has been to increase the flow in the lower reaches of the stream, a large percentage of the irrigation waters returning to the parent stream in the form of seepage. In time we will not hear of the Platte going dry west of Columbus, as formerly.
SEEPAGE AND EVAPORATION
In the Dean & Mains' report,--see page in the Columbus Project with its 3400 acres of reservoirs was placed at 30 cubic feet per second, and evaporation at 60 C. F. S., a total of 90 C. F. S.--about the size of Beaver Creek water flow at Genoa. Measurements by O. V. P. Stout at Kearney in 1906 show the following loss by months:
38 3/4 inches
34 1/2 inches
68 3/4 inches
55 1/2 inches
which in the Columbus canal and reservoirs as formerly projected would amount to 9% or 10% of the flow in the canal. This is off-set by 27 inches rainfall, which to some extent would reduce the percentage to 4 or 5; and a still further reduction when only 1000 acres of reservoirs are contemplated, brings it down to 2 or 2 1/2% or about the same as Main's report. (2 1/2% of 2400 equals 60 C. F. S.)
TABLE OF LOWEST PERIODS ON LOUP RIVER FOR YEARS 1895 TO 1906,
INCLUSIVE (U. S. G. S. WATER SUPPLY PAPER 230) AND
CORRESPONDING PERIODS ON' ELKHORN
AND PLATTE RIVERS.
Year Date Loup
C. F. S.
C. F. S.
C. F. S.
C. F. S.
July 26 to Aug. 5
1850 300 or over 1109
June 11 to 20, Inc
2105 300 9233
Aug. 11 to 21
1188 ...... 5500
Sept. 1 to 10
1588 300 or over Dry
July 12 to 21
1130 555 13900
Only 3 Ds. below
2050 430 Dry
July 12 to Aug. 10
1200 1000 O. C.to 725
Only 2 Ds. below
2060 552 350
Only 240 to 29
2040 1441 3100
Aug. 25 to 30
1660 300 or over Dry
Oct. 1--Lowest flow
3180 300 or over 670
Aug. 16 to 26
1330 300 or over 448
Lowest Actual Measurements of Loup River Platte River at Fremont
Year C. F. S. Year C. F. S.
O. V. P. Stout
Sept. 7 1896
Oct. 5 3260
O. V. P. Stout
Mar. 15 1550
Sept, 4 1389
Sept. 2 7270
Glen E. Smith
July 23 1792
July 23 8160
July 29 1322
Lowest from April 1 to
O. V. P. Stout
July 14 1211
J. C. Stevens
Sept 11 2514
J. C. Stevens
Dec. 20 2280
J. C. Stevens
July 31 2723
Gauge height 4.80.
J. S. Dobson
Sept 27 3153
Oct. 18 1847
D. P. Weeks, Jr
July 13 2248
Nov. 1-27 2170
Dec. 12 1012
Dec. 23 1260
Jan. 2 2060
Jan. 10 3215
Jan. 25 2470
Feb. 7 1710
Feb. 18 2660
Mar __ 2440-3250
WINTER FLOW OF THE LOUP
The amount of water available for power in winter measured by Mr. Weeks, Jr., of this office shows that it is greater than in the low flow period of summer or autumn.
The winter flow taken at Genoa by Mr. McEathron continuously during the winter of 1913-1914 when conditions were ideal for measuring the flow of the Loup, there being no rains of any note to increase the flow of the stream for several months are here given:
Dec. 1 1800
Jan. 31 2100
Dec. 7 2700
Feb. 6 2350
Dec. 15 2500
Feb. 7 31300
Dec. 21 11000
Feb. 15 2200
Dec. 25 1500
Feb. 21 3500
Jan. 1 2000
Mar. 1 1750
Jan 7 2500
Mar. 10 5000
Jan: 15 2100
Mar. 15 2350
Jan. 21 2250
Mar. 21 41550
Jan. 23 21500
Mar. 31 2250
110 degrees below zero. River froze over.
3Zero to 10 degrees below.
45 degrees below.
The stream was carefully measured and gauges placed in headgate of canal.