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Artificial watering of land in arid regions for the purpose of utilization. This subject has claimed much attention in the United States since 1890 on the part of the general and State governments, of large corporations, and of private individuals. Associations designed to promote investigations into the water and forest resources of the country [77] have been formed in various localities. These bodies have raised large sums of money with which they have co-operated with various bureaus, chiefly the Geological Survey. The surprise is that there has not been much greater interest

A California Orange Grove, showing results of irrigation.

manifested in this subject, since one-third of the United States territory is officially included in what is known as the great “arid region,” which needs only the magic touch of water to change it into fertile fields.

This vast area falls topographically into the following divisions:

1. The Great Plains, stretching from the 100th meridian west to the Rocky Mountains, a distance of 250 miles, and having an extent of about 700 miles from Manitoba on the north to Texas on the south.

2. A region beginning at the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains and extending westward to the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and Washington. It comprises an immense territory,

Irrigation by pipe system.


Irrigation by artesian-well system.

which includes the park system of the Rockies, culminating in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and northeast Arizona. The section contains many mountain systems, the Great Basin of Salt Lake, the great cañon system and plateau of the Colorado, the meadow-lands of Nevada, the northwest Columbia Basin, and the National Park.

3. A region including about onefourth of the territory of California, and divided into two parts —the foothills of the Sierras and the broad, level valley lying between the Sierras and the Coast Range.

In 1900 these divisions taken as a whole contained a population of 9,000,000 people, and over 50,000,000 acres of land under some form of cultivation. About 9,000,000 acres of this land have been made available through irrigation, by means of artesian wells in a few cases, but for the most part by the construction of canals and ditches. The national government to some extent has also made experiments in irrigation in various parts of the arid West. Up to 1900 these had been carried on in fifty-three different places. Developments in irrigation, however, have proceeded almost wholly in the building of

Sweetwater Dam, Southern California, used in irrigation.

[79] small individual or co-operative ditches. The opportunities for multiplying these are limited, as the districts most easily accessible for water-supply are now owned by individuals.

There are great tracts of public land which have been declared capable of easily maintaining as large a population as now exists within the boundaries of the United States if they could only be irrigated. This, however, is deemed impracticable for the reason that water can be obtained only at great expense. In order to bring it from the large rivers great canals and storage reservoirs must be built. Progress in the construction of these large works was almost at a standstill in 1900, because statistics seemed to prove that such vast works were not a source of individual profit. Capital has been induced to undertake the construction of such works in different parts of the West, but almost without exception these have become financial failures, while the small co-operative ditches, built by the land-owners, have been of greater practical advantage. Still the question of irrigation has passed beyond the experimental stage, and both theory and practice have demonstrated the necessity of the reclamation of the vast quantities of arid land now neglected. In 1900 this necessity was so apparent that the establishment of a national government bureau, having charge of all matters pertaining to irrigation, was under serious consideration by the federal authorities.

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