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
"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
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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Update: June 2012