Slike strani
PDF
ePub

Tbe effect of canals of irrigation is not only to increase the production and the productiveness of the irrigated region, and to employ and maintain a numerous rural population, but to multiply both; to increase the quantity and cheapen the cost of food, to ensure regularity in its supply, to contribute to the prosperity and wealth of surrounding districts, and to the support and comfort of population outside of its own limits.

That the population of California must rapidly increase, is a question upon which there can be little doubt. The genial and salubrious climate of the State ; her fertile soil, with its capacity for varied and rich production; her wealth of mineral and exbaustless water power; the commercial advantages of her position, Asiatic commerce springing up with the advance of the Pacific Railroad to her commercial emporium, the two opening new markets abroad and in the vast interior of the continent-all give assurance of it. Whatever will secure cheap food and steady and remunerative employment to and increase the comforts of her growing population, is of such interest to the State as to deserve to be cherished and promoted by her; much more so any scheme which will do more, by protecting the State against a failure of crops like that of the season of eighteen hundred and sixty-four, amounting almost to famine. Although the best lands were under cultivation that year, the losses sustained by her people on account of the scarcity of food probably exceeded the estimated cost of the proposed canal, which, if built, would forever protect them against such disaster. The question we are now examining, with its kindred projects of utilizing the waters of otber parts of the State, I believe to be such.

With her great advantages in other respects, there is one great draw. back to the State in the scanty rain-fall upon her extensive plains and valleys. While the average annual rain of the Atlantic States and of the west of Europe ranges from thirty-six to forty inches, that of California, as shown by records kept at Sacramento City since the year eighteen hundred and forty-nine, is less than twenty inches. seventeen years of observed rain, we find ten seasons with less than the average, four of them having less than twelve, two less than eight, and one less tban five inches of rain. The recurrence of these, with a dense population in the State, would cause much suffering, and might inflict upon the State the horrors of a famine.

A sure preventive is within the reach of her people. The moisture which is in such deficiency in the plains and valleys, is in abundance in other parts of the State where it is condensed and reserved as if for tbeir special use. They have but to turn from their channels the copious streams which the suns of spring and summer send down from the snowclad mountain ranges of the State, and spread their treasures of moisture and fertilizing matter over the thirsty lands, to make them fruitful as Egypt, and to have assurunce of unfailing crops. This use of melting snow, which must in time become a necessity to California, is but an expedient for multiplying the production of the most fertile lands and of enriching those of poorest quality in other countries. It is not confined to those of scanty rain like our State, but is employed in some where the annual rainfall is double that of California, and as abundant and as well distributed throughout the year as it is in the Atlantic States of our Union.

The irrigation of land bas been but little practiced by American farmers, and to most of them it is known only by name, although it was probably the earliest art practiced by man, has been continued through all historic ages, and is yet employed, more or less, in every quarter of

*

*

*

the globe. It was a novelty to most Americans arriving here, but they have since learned to appreciate it. It has been applied by them in a few places and upon a small scale, but generally in a manner so rude and primitive tbat it is less the use than the abuse of water. Yet its good effects are so great as to slowly extend its use. The President of an association owning a small canal of irrigation in Yolo County, in a communication upon the subject to the State Agricultural Society, published in their last report, says:

“It has been found by practical experience, that the advantage to crops by irrigation are as follows, as nearly as can be ascertained : That in the most favorable seasons the yield of small grain, and especially such as are late sowed, may be increased by a judicious system of irrigation, from one quarter to one third in quantity; in ordinary seasons, from one third to one balf; and in the dryest seasons, when the crops fail entirely without it, by irrigation we get the ordinary yield, say from thirty to fifty bushels per acre.

Corn, vegetables, and fruit, which cannot be successfully produced without irrigation, are by it grown in abundance, and excellent in quality.”

The report contains another letter from a farmer of Yolo County, upon the subject of irrigation in his neigbborhood. He says:

“ Last year was more than the average in the supply of rain, still the increase of crops throughout the neighborhood was at least twenty per cent. I know one piece of land that was irrigated, then ploughed and sowed, which yielded sixty-five bushels of barley to the acre; land that has produced but one crop that paid expenses for the past ten years."

an instance coming within my own knowledge may be mentioned in this connection.

In the spring of eighteen hundred and sixty-four, a few farmers in the vicinity of Stockton, finding that their crops would otherwise be destroyed by the dry weather, cut a small canal, and through it drew a small supply of water from the Calaveras River, and spread it over their fields. Although the irrigation was only partial, was scanty and late, the crop of grass reaped yielded more than thirty dollars to the acre, and that of grain over seventy dollars to each acre watered, and in the aggregate more than forty times the cost of the canal. Upon lands adjoining their own, of the same quality and under the same condition, except the watering, the crop was an utter failure.

But its true value is best learned from its history in countries where it has been longest practiced, is most extended, and the mode of applying it best understood, and from the importance attached to it by those who employ it most. Among these we find examples of enterprise in the construction of great works of irrigation and their just reward.

The Alps in Europe, and the Himalayas in Asia, like the Sierra Neradas in California, retain a large part of the winter's snow until late spring, and a portion of it until midsummer. In both seasons it is sent down in copious and fertilizing streams, which do not subside until late summer and early autumn. But in the countries through wbich the drainage from the two first named mountain ranges pass, the waters have been utilized for centuries and made to enrich the arid plains. In a few of the States of Italy, more than twenty-three thousand cubic feet per second, of water, is distributed through hundreds of canals, some thousands of miles in aggregate length, and irrigate an area of land exceeding à million and a half of acres. Every foot of water which these canals will convey is eagerly purchased and employed by the farmers, although they bave during the six months of summer irrigation (viz. : from the twenty-fifth of March to the eight of September,) more rain than the total average annual rain-fall of California. Even with this great quantity of rain in favor of the unirrigated lands adjoining them, the increased production of the wet over the dry culture is sufficient inducement for the maintenance, enlargement, and extension of these canals, when practicable, and the construction of new ones. It may be stated as an instance of the cost of their great works for introducing water, and of the careful preparation of the lands to receive the water to most advantage, that an Italian writer, in discussing the subject, has estimated the cost of introducing over an area of five bundred thousand acres, a system of irrigation like that in Milan, with its great trunk lines of canals, its first class branches, its modifications of surface, its immense establishments for farming purposes, and its internal works for the distribution and application of the water, at two bundred million dol. lars, or four hundred dollars per acre. These improvements are the work of a dense population and of centuries. They embrace almost every known facility and aid to agriculture and stock feeding, and many of the conveniences and comforts of life to the people. They afford water transportation and power for machinery. They embrace a vast extent of summer meadows, prepared at great expense, and almost hedged by lines of mulberry trees, which appear to the eye to be without end. Of the costly and productive marcite, or winter meadows, the district contains a larger proportional area than any other country. Their value may be estimated from the fact that they produce from five to seven cuttings of grass, besides pasturage, the yield varying from twenty to as much as seventy tons per acre, the average being about twenty-four, and the rents of the lands from twenty-five to one bundred and ten dollars per acre, per annum.

Some of the Italian canals built for irrigation are used for navigation and power. One of them has one hundred and sixty wheels for grinding

. cereals, and twenty more for other purposes.

Fed by the melting snows of the Himalayas, a number of canals of irrigation, some of them exceeding a hundred miles in length, and in the aggregate counting by thousands of miles, bad been employed in India for centuries before the English took possession of that country. In the bavoc of civil war they had been rendered useless-were almost destroyed. But they have all been restored, improved, and some of them enlarged by the English, who have gone further, and not only constructed new canals of great size and extent in populous districts to cherish existing agriculture, but bave built them in districts sparsely peopled in order to create it. The main trunk of one of the new canals of English origin, is four hundred and fifty-three miles in length, and with four of its great branches, all navigable like the main trunk for vessels of great size, has an aggregate length of eight hundred and pinety-eight and a half miles. At the head it is one hundred and forty feet wide on bottom, one hundred and seventy feet wide at water surface, and carries a stream ten feet deep with a current about four miles an hour. The volume of water is six thousand seven hundred and fifty cubic feet per second In addition to its great capacity for irrigation and navigation, it affords extensive water power for driving machinery: Its effect upon the prosperity of the country, even in small things, is illustrated by the fact, that some plantations of trees set out along the canal by the English, to gratify the eastern love of sbade, soon repaid them in the sale of timber double the outlay, and timber remaining was estimated at fifteen times the cost of planting. Probably no part of the vast expenditure of the English Government in tbat country repays it so well as that upon the canals. Returns direct and indirect, upon some of them, are as much as thirtysix per cent. per annum. The annual increased production of the country watered by others, nearly equals the cost of their construction. It is stated by Captain R. Baird Smith, an officer of the English army and of the Corps of Engineers in India, to whose book I am indebted for information upon the subject of foreign canals, that the use of them in India has reclaimed from a semi-barbarous and vagrant life nearly twelve millions of inbabitants, and made of them an industrious and contented people. It affords them constant employment, and in seasons of great drought relieves them from the dangers of famine with which they were formerly visited. Produce, which cannot be estimated at less than fifty millions of dollars per annum in that country of low prices, is placed beyond the contingencies of season, and public revenue amounting to fifteen millions of dollars annually, is permanently protected from fluctuations in ordinary times and from annibilation during extraordinary ones.

The same writer, reporting an examination of the canals of Italy, made by himself, and of the effects produced upon the country by them, says:

“There is no part of the irrigated district which has shown so remarkably the influence of irrigation in improving its soils as the ancient Lumellina, which comprises the modern districts of Mortara and Vigevano. Prior to the construction of those great canals which now trav. erse these provinces, all authorities agree in picturing their condition as deplorable in the extreme. Their soil, arid when light and sandy, and when heavy retaining the water, and so forming heavy pestilential marshes, remained almost waste; no regular culture could be established; the population was scanty and impoverished; and with the unbealthy state of agriculture, internal industry and commerce bad their usual close sympathy. Nothing could be more striking than the contrast between the Lumellina unirrigated and the same district irri. gated. Now it rivals the Milanese in its rich productiveness. It is one of the most densely populated regions in Europe ; its soils have received just the element they wanted to call forth their inherent powers; and instead of arid wastes or extensive marsbes, cornfields, green meadows, or rice grounds, cover the face of the country.”

The only canals of irrigation we now have in our country are of small dimensions. They are in the most favorable localities for economical construction, and consequently, afford water at small annual rates to the proprietors. The popular idea of its value and the rate at which it should be delivered in California, is derived from these examples. But to procure an increased, adequate, and unfailing supply in less favored situations, must be attended with increased expense to the canal propri. etors, and a corresponding rent be charged by those for the privilege of using it. The same increase of cost and rents bave been experienced in other countries. The benefits flowing from the small canals, cheap on account of the natural advantages of their position, prompted the construction of others under greater difficulties. I do not know how I can

more briefly give example of these, and my idea of the importance of the errors committed in their construction and management, than by quoting from a description of those of Italy, written by myself and pablished in the "Sacramento Union," in April last :

“ The difficulties overcome and the labor expended in the construction, improvement, and maintenance of the Italian canals, have been very great. Stone dams of great length and size, of enormous weight, built in their mountain torrents, turn the waters of the rivers into many of them. At times the canals are deep cuts through solid rock, or broad excavations in the precipitous sides of rocky cañons; at others immense masses of masonry elevate and support the canal fifty or sixty feet above the river bed; masonry weirs, with wastes and sluices to relieve the canal of excess of water, are thousands of feet in length. Rivetments of stone, shielding the canal from the force of the river without and from abrasion by the current within, have an aggregate length of as much as forty miles upon some of them. Paving upon the bottom, to prevent deepening by the force of the current, has been made for miles, and numerous and costly dams of masonry within the canal are provided to overcomo excessive slope (or fall) of the ground over which the canal is made. There are tunnels of great length and size for the passage under high grounds, and masonry aqueducts for the crossing of rivers and ravines; aqueducts and syphons for the passage of other canals and adjacent drainage, over and under and through the canals. Bridges for the passage of roads are so numerous that one place has taken the name of "The Thirteen Bridges,” there being thirteen of them in a space of about five hundred feet, or one for about each forty feet in the direction of the canal. Locks, wharves, and basins of the best and most costly workmanship, are provided on the canals used for transportation. Numerous hydrometers are provided to regulate the height of the water in the canal; outlets to regulate and gauge the water for irrigation and power; lines of escape and drainage to take care and dispose of waste and surplus water; and numerous minor and subordinate appliances which the experience of six centuries has shown to be necessary or useful, are provided to greater or lesser extent for all of them. The canals are monuments of the enterprise, industry, and perseverance of their projectors and builders. They have both fertilized the soil and improred the sanitary condition of every district through which they pass. They have increased many times the productiveness, and with it the rental of the land and the wealth of the landowners; and they con. tribute to the support, in comfort and plenty, of one of the most dense populations and industrious people in Europe. Although the rents are continually rising upon irrigated lands, there is continual demand for more water both to improve the old and to bring more lands under its influence, and new projects are started, and old works are enlarged, orimproved, or extended, and new works are built to meet the demand. But, much as they bave done for Italy, the canals, with the exception of those wbich bave been remodelled or been built within the last century, are very imperfect and inferior. The good effects wbich they have produced it is most desirable to reproduce in California; but the total absence of anything like system, or general plan for the whole, or for those depending upon the same stream or intended for the same district; their connection with each other, almost only by conflict; the

« PrejšnjaNaprej »