Revising the Map of America to Save a Nation (Nov, 1934)
Revising the Map of America to Save a Nation
By William Dyce
DISASTER threatens the United States. Productive farm lands are becoming desolate deserts. Cleared lands, where once stood thick forests, are being ravaged by destructive floods. Uncle Sam is in danger of losing hundreds of thousands of acres that are now helping to feed his 125,000,000 citizens.
To avert the threatened calamity the government is in effect revising the geography of the country. Where waste land now exists, happy farmers are expected to till a productive soil. Where flat prairies sweep to horizons on all sides, great forests will arise. Where rivers never existed, water will flow. Shallow, sluggish streams will become principal arteries of commerce. And, in some cases, where civilization rules today, a wilderness will exist tomorrow.
The disaster creeping upon the country reached its climax in the tragic drought of last summer. Although more devastating than expected, the drought has been foreseen for years by government experts. They watched rich, black soil being carried away by cloudbursts, floods, and strong winds. They discovered that 75 per cent of the cultivated land in the country was seriously affected by this soil erosion, that in all 17,000,000 acres have been destroyed beyond salvation, that this erosion carries away 126,000,000 pounds of plant food a year, and that the annual loss to farmers is $200,000,000 annually.
When the drought swept over the country, it left behind it damage amounting to $5,000,000,000. In all, 24 states, containing 27,000,000 persons and totaling 60 per cent of the entire area of the United States, suffered from the searing heat and the lack of rain. Thousands of acres of grain withered and died. Crops of corn, wheat, oats, barley, rye, flaxseed, and buckwheat were the smallest in 30 years.
Streams dried up. The Mississippi, Colorado, and Missouri rivers sank to the lowest levels on record. Water became so scarce that farmers traveled miles to get water for their stock and families. To save the land from thirst the government shipped thousands of gallons to the stricken areas by pipe line and railroad tank cars. When pastures became dry tinder and cattle slowly starved, the government stepped in to buy one-sixth of all the cattle and one out of every ten sheep in the land. Of the 67,-532,000 cattle in the country, the government set out to buy 10,000,000 from suffering farmers. Thousands of these cattle were shipped to good pasture lands to be fattened for market. Thousands of others were in such condition that they were killed on the spot. In Texas alone cowboys shot 1,000 starved cattle a day.
These were shipped to the nearest packing plants where the carcasses were converted into canned meat for the needy, in many cases the farmers who raised the cattle. Their crops and cattle gone, almost 4,000,000 people had to turn to the government for aid. In a few months the government had spent $160,000,000 of a $525,000,-000 relief fund to help these sufferers.
To a certain extent the crop reduction program, instituted by the government last spring, was an attempt to forestall the danger that threatened American agriculture. Droughts may be phases in nature’s cycle from plenty to scarcity, but their ravages are increased by man’s lack of foresight. Dry land, that always should have remained range country, was tilled reducing its ability to hold moisture and support plant life. Laid bare to hot, dry winds it was robbed of the moisture that once created rains in the country and finally the land itself was carried away in the form of dust storms. There remained only shifting, desolate desert sands, unable even to support the buffalo grass that once covered the prairies. In many sections the most valuable crop was raised year after year on the same soil until its productiveness for any crop was ruined. The American domain was so vast that farmers, finding their soil becoming poor, simply cut down the forests on their land, planted it with corn, wheat or cotton, and renewed the process of soil destruction. The forest gone, the land was unable to hold back moisture and when spring rains came floods swept the country carrying away with them to the sea more valuable soil of the land. In Tennessee, government experts found that one rainstorm washed away thirty-nine tons to the acre.
To stop destruction of land and the decreasing price of staple products from these lands, the government instituted a crop reduction program. Of the total 350,000,000 acres of farm land, 43,750,000 acres, an area larger than all the New England states combined, was to be retired. The government paid farmers from $10 to $17 an acre for every parcel of land on which they stopped growing wheat, corn, cotton, or tobacco. Of the average wheat farm of 30 acres, four were to be retired.
In an effort to stop droughts and floods and to restore the fertility of the soil, farmers in the western corn and wheat states were advised to plant trees on the retired land; in the southern cotton states, they were urged to raise garden crops for the use of their families and to plant pulpwood trees near rivers; and in the tobacco sections to convert the land into pastures.
In addition the government is expected to retire an equal area, 50,000,000 acres, and let it become a wilderness. After a tour of inspection Reclamation Commissioner . Elwood Read declared that the western half of the Dakotas, eastern Montana and Wyoming should be abandoned and planted with buffalo grass. The government is ready to spend $25,000,000 to move families from unproductive areas to better land.
To accomplish this the government is creating new frontiers. Each of the government’s reclamation projects will provide new land for these people. The most outstanding experiment is being conducted in the territory, sometimes called the forty-ninth state, under control of the Tennessee Valley Authority. This territory, comprising 40,000 square miles, an area as large as England and crossing seven statesâ€”Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentuckyâ€”is the scene of engineering feats and a practical test of economic and social theories never witnessed outside of Soviet Russia.
To Build Model Cities
In this valley, 700 miles long and 50 miles wide containing 6,000,000 persons, the TVA will conduct the government’s initial drought experiments, for much of the land is in danger of becoming a desert. Under the TVA’s domain are the Wheeler dam and the Muscle Shoals dam in Alabama.
In less than two years the TVA is expected to complete the Norris dam, most important of the three dams, on the Clinch river, 80 miles above its entrance into the Tennessee. The main dam will be 20 stories high and will create a lake with a shore line of 900 miles. The size of the project can be realized when it is pointed out that the shore line of Lake Michigan is 1,000 miles long. With the aid of these dams the TVA will seek to improve agriculture, retard soil erosion, control floods, open the Tennessee river to navigation, and produce electric power.
Here, too, model cities are being built where the TVA will instruct inhabitants in the arts of weaving, furniture making, china firing and other industries. Men will be put to work on government projects, working only five and a half hours a day, their leisure time being used to learn these industries.
Forest Belt Big Experiment
Most sensational of the government’s drought projects is the planting of a forest 100 miles wide and 1,000 miles long across the states of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
At a cost of $75,000,000 the government expects to increase rainfall in the drought stricken area and to cut down wind velocity that is responsible for carrying away rich soil in the form of dust storms. Three and one-half billion trees will be planted in strips 100 feet wide and a mile apart on the total area of 100,000 square miles. Experimental forest strips have shown that wind velocity can be reduced 25 per cent, evaporation 30 per cent, and rainfall increased three inches.
Other outstanding projects which will open streams to navigation, generate power, or put new lands into cultivation to replace abandoned areas include: the Mississippi river waterway at a cost of $100,000,000; the Columbia river reclamation and power dams, $100,000,000; Boulder Dam, $48,800,000; Fort
Peck Dam, $175,000,000; Missouri river channel, $18,000,000; Casper-Alcova project, $22,-700,000; the All-American canal, $6,000,000; and subsistence homesteads, $25,000,000.
Of these the most ambitious is the Grand Coulee project in the states of Washington and Oregon. In territory now arid the government expects to develop an industrial and agricultural empire by harnessing the energy of the mighty Columbia river. Here eleven dams will be erected to generate 20 billion kilowatt hours of power and reclaim more than a million acres. The central point of this greatest project of the government will be Grand Coulee dam in Washington.
Fort Peck Largest Earth Dam
The Fort Peck dam in Montana will be the largest earth fill dam in the world. It will be four miles long, the largest fill being 8,500 feet across and 231 feet high, requiring 90,000,000 cubic feet of earth. Since the prairie land offers no solid base for a concrete dam, the project will be built of earth faced with concrete. The dam will be a half mile wide at the bottom and 100 feet wide at the top. It will create a lake with a shore line of about 2,000 miles on the Milk river above its entrance into the Missouri.
It will hold back flood waters in an area of 57,725 square miles and reclaim 232,000 acres of swampy, untillable land which eventually will be worth $11,600,000, benefiting a population of 2,000,000. It will stop erosion of lands on the lower Missouri, in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri, which have suffered damages of $75,000,000 in the last ten years, and provide an even flow of water for navigation on the Missouri.
The Missouri river area will be further improved by providing it with a 6-foot channel between Kansas City and Sioux City for cheap transportation of farm produce and the protection of land from floods.
The “Father of Waters,” the Mississippi river, will be provided with a series of dams and dredged to maintain a channel of 9-foot depth navigable the year around. In addition to transportation the dams will develop power and hold back flood waters which have ravaged the lower Mississippi area.
Boulder Dam Is World’s Highest
The Casper-Alcova dam in Wyoming is next in scope to Grand Coulee dam. It will put into production 66,000 acres in the North Platte river district. Once filled, the dam can irrigate the territory for five years without renewal of its water supply.
When completed Boulder Dam will be the highest dam in the world. Its 730-foot wall will hold back a reservoir 115 miles long. This huge lake will have a potential output of 1,800,000 horse power. Its water will supply the household and industrial needs of 10,000,000 people in the surrounding states of Nevada, Arizona and California. It will also protect 70,000 inhabitants of the Imperial Valley against floods.
The largest irrigation canal ever contemplated, the All American canal through the Imperial and Yuma valleys in California, will be 80 miles long and irrigate 850,000 acres by diverting the waters of the Colorado river through the Imperial dam near Yuma, Ariz. At an additional cost of $10,000,000 it will be extended 135 miles into the Coachella valley to water another 120,000 acres.
On waste land abandoned by farmers and in areas close to large cities the government will build subsistence homesteads. The plan is to put 3,000,000 unemployed and office and industrial workers on small farms of two or three acres. The intention is not to increase agricultural production or to operate the homesteads at profit, but to give workers land on which garden crops can be raised for the use of their own families. The homes will sell for $2,000 each and will provide excellent living quarters and garden food for workers employed or seeking employment in nearby cities.