Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Water, Land and People
Nature Bulletin No. 251   January 8, 1983
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

"Water, Land and People" is the title of a book which, like "Road to Survival", should be read by every American. Water, and its uses or control, has become a vital national problem. Some places, some years, we have too much of it and suffer disastrous floods. Elsewhere we have too little. In cities like New York and Los Angeles -- even in many inland towns -- and in the western lands which depend upon irrigation, the demand far exceeds the supply. Our Congress is beseeched for huge appropriations to provide flood control, navigation, electric power and irrigation.

Water, soil. air and sunlight -- these are our basic natural resources upon which all living things depend. Water conservation and soil conservation are twin problems. We have become conscious of the Imperative necessity for halting the depletion of our precious topsoils by water erosion, wind erosion and improper agricultural methods. Water conservation interlocks with soil conservation.

The location and character of our farms, grazing lands, towns and cities are determined by the availability of ample quantities of good water in the form of rainfall, lakes, streams or underground supplies. As our population increases, the demand for water increases because of intensified agriculture, more industries and higher standards of living. We depend upon water for irrigation, electric power and rural electrification, for food processing and Innumerable industrial uses, and for navigation of our Important rivers, as well as for drinking, bathing, fire protection and -- lately -- such comforts as air conditioning. Here in Chicago we think little about lt. We have ample rainfall and an inexhaustible supply in Lake Michigan. Since 1880, our yearly consumption per capita has risen from 140 gallons to about 300 gallons.

Floods, water shortages and dust storms are the ominous symptoms of destruction -- the results of three centuries of ignorance, carelessness and greed. There were worthless worn-out tobacco plantations in Tidewater, Virginia in 1776, and in the first 150 years of our national existence we have destroyed more fertile farmland than any other nation In the world in a like period of time. When the Pilgrims came, most of our land was like a bountiful sponge. Now much of it is like a drainboard. Man has cut and burned the forests; plowed and over- grazed the grasslands; "reclaimed" and farmed millions of acres that never should have been farmed.

And there, say the authors of this startling book, lies the key to all our water problems. Dams are not enough; levees and dredged channels are not enough; reservoirs and irrigation canals are the products of wishful thinking; deeper wells are but temporary expedients. We must protect our watersheds. A watershed Is the area of land that supplies a given watercourse. It comprises the slopes, ridges and valleys on which rain or snow falls and from which the water works its way, above or below ground, to the many channels that, like the twigs and branches of a tree, feed the runoff into the main trunk -- the big river.

Government agencies like the Army Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, working independently, are proceeding with huge projects in many river valleys and propose many more. None involve any program of watershed improvement. A few would forever damage parts of some of our finest national parks and monuments. We must formulate a water resources policy and create a central planning agency that will stop the untold waste of public funds, protect our watersheds, and insure the conservation of our soil, water, forests, wildlife and scenic wonders.

Now is the time.

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