HOW TO PREVENT FLOODS
PRESIDENT AND CONGRESS AT ODDS ON QUESTION—NATIONAL VS. STATE CONTROL OF STREAMS—NATIONAL DRAINAGE CONGRESS AT WORK.
Determination or President Wilson to press a broad and comprehensive policy of river and flood control, so as to lessen the danger from floods in the Ohio region, as well as other districts, followed news of the disaster and promised a great battle in congress over the question of federal and state jurisdiction.
Statements of Secretary Lane and other cabinet members make it clear that the force of the administration was going to be thrown on the side of federal control rather than state. Control in all matters relating to water and natural resources.
The devastating floods in the Ohio-Indiana region made the question of river and flood and control highly acute in congress.
Public sentiment, stirred to its depths by the losses of lives and property in Ohio and Indiana, stood back of the administration and the elements in congress that demand adequate steps be taken to afford protection against floods.
A great storage reservoir system at the headwater of the principal streams was widely advocated. There was general agreement that a large share of the flood devastation in this country, which occurs almost as regularly as the springtime comes, could be prevented by storage reservoirs.
This was advocated by the national conservation committee. Senator Newlands, chairman of the senate interstate commerce committee, favors an authorization of half a billion dollars to build such a system.
Such a storage reservoir system, according to Chief Hydrographer M. E. Leighton several years ago, estimated it would create 60,000,000 horse-power. It is estimated in most quarters that but one agency can deal effectively with flood control if it can be dealt with at all. This is the national government.
But at every turn, in the past, when the attempt has been made to broaden the authority of the federal government as to regulation over water powers, the state rights men in congress fought it bitterly.
It got down, therefore, to the one proposition. Either the administration was to abandon the idea of flood control on a scale, which would amount to anything and leave it to spasmodic efforts of scattered states, or it would have to get out the big stick and make the fight of its life to overcome the state rights influences that for years have blocked one project after another.
It was perfectly clear that unless the Wilson administration used all its influence to get comprehensive flood control legislation through, it could not be passed.
It was estimated that storage reservoirs would help the situation on about two-thirds of the streams and with respect to the ordinary annual floods. Such a plan could only be carried out by the federal government and the states would have to give, up control over streams.
The gravity of the situation was shown by a congressman who said:
"Unless this step is taken, the clash of federal and state jurisdiction promises to be endless.
"So greatly is this question of federal power versus state representatives intensified by calamity in the Ohio valley and the threatened one in the lower Mississippi valley, that the democrat party stands in much greater danger of being torn asunder by it than by the tariff or the other great issues.
"Thoughtful conservationists saw this proposition soming on for solution for years. The late Dr. Magee, who knew probably more about the waters of this country than any other, was one of the first to perceive it. He advanced the doctrine that a stream from mouth to source was an entity and should be subject to a single jurisdiction.
"In connection with the subject of flood protection, it is an interesting fact that France has done much to prevent floods by two methods. One is by reforestation at the head waters of rivers like the Seine. The other is by storage reservoirs. It was about 30 years ago that the annual flood ravages in France became so grave that scientists were set to work to study means of prevention.
The situation has been greatly helped by reforesting and storage reservoirs. Occasional floods occur, as they are bound to, in spite of all efforts of prevention, but the French methods have been found well worth while."
"The floods in Ohio and Indiana," said Philip R. Kellar, secretary of the executive committee of the National Drainage congress "are unanswerable and a heartrendering argument to support the position of our organization that some immediate action by the national government and the states is necessary—some preventive remedies applied that will save our people, whether they live in the Ohio or the Missouri or the Mississippi or any other river valley, from the appalling results of floods that come with varying degrees of severity year after year.
"Last year, which set a new flood record in the Mississippi valley from Cairo to the gulf, began with early spring floods in the Illinois rivers. This year it has started in the Ohio and Indiana rivers. Hundreds of lives were lost, thousands of head of live stock were drowned, and the property loss was estimated at $100,000,000 in the great floods of 1912.
"For nearly two months the residents of the lower Mississippi valley this year have been preparing for a repetition of the 1912 floods, refusing to believe the assertions of the ‘do-nothings’ that such a flood couldn’t happen again.
"The national drainage congress was in session at New Orleans at the height of the 1912 flood, and called upon congress to take immediate action to get at the root of the trouble, and not continue its efforts to heal the disease by treating the effect.
"For a year this organization was steadily at work upon a program, calling for the creation by the United States of a national drainage commission clothed with ample powers and provided with adequate funds to devise and put into effect a comprehensive and national plan for remedying the cause of the trouble. This platform has been placed before every member of the house of representatives, every United States senator, every governor, and most of the state officials of all the states.
"The time has come, we believe, when we should stop counting the cost in dollars, and start to counting the cost in lives and human happiness as well, of not doing this work. And we are confident that if we count in this way we shall soon convince every politician, statesman, and layman that Uncle Sam must do this remedial work in co-operation with the states, and that he can do it, as he has completed the Panama canal after a great nation had failed.
"Loss of lives and destruction of property by floods can be prevented by the national government co-operating with the states. No one is foolish enough to imagine that we can prevent the rains from falling and the waters from rising. There is no question, though, of the ability of the nation and the states to devise a method by which the crest of such floods may be removed and the water confined to the flood channels. That is an engineering problem which can be solved, though it may take many millions of dollars.
"It is high time for Uncle Sam to undertake work of the nation. It is foolish to say that the states must do it. The states cannot, except in co-operation with and as assistants of the nation. "Man has himself partly to blame for these floods, and he has it in his power to correct his own mistakes, in the development of this great Mississippi basin, covering two-fifths of the area of the United States, man has changed marshes and swamps and forests into farms; these, in former times, were natural storage reservoirs for excessive rainfall. Man did not provide other reservoirs nor make drainage channels—the rivers. Now he must make such provisions or get off the land he took for his farms and towns and cities, or submit to periodical disastrous overflows and floods.
"It is high time for Uncle Sam to undertake the protection of the people by providing artificial reservoirs for surplus waters in place of the natural reservoirs we have converted to other uses; by enlarging the drainage channels; and that he should undertake this work immediately, not upon the pretext of aiding navigation, but for the public welfare, the public health and upon the broad basis of humanity."
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