Sunday, September 15, 2013

We Need to Control Devastating Flooding on the Mississippi River, Sept. 1927

From September, 1927, issue The Bureau Farmer

Shall This Happen Again?

Last April, when the flood waters of the Mississippi River were lapping over 16,000 square miles of the richest farm lands of America, when 200,000 farm people were being fed by the American Red Cross, Sam H. Thompson, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, went on record pledging the support of the American Farm Bureau in the rehabilitation in the South lands and called upon the state Federations for their assistance and help.

At that time, President Thompson said: “Above everything else, the American Farm Bureau, in assisting the rehabilitation of this area, will insist upon the development of permanent preventive measures.”

The task of rehabilitation is now in full swing. During the summer, the exact requirements of the flooded area were determined, relief measures have been started, preventive measures have been discussed and considered.

On July 21, Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, took to President Coolidge a comprehensive report of the flood disaster. Secretary Hoover reported that the flood had driven from their homes 750,000 people, that 101 counties had been flooded, that 3.5 million acres of crops were washed out and destroyed.

At that time, Secretary Hoover said: “By the first of November we estimate we shall have spent $13.4 million in Red Cross funds, $7 million for equipment and supplies from the federal government, $3 million in free railroad transportation, and provided $1.1 million for county health cleanup units.”

He urged the development of a national flood control plan which would make impossible again the reoccurrence of such a disaster. Discussing the value of such a plan, he said: “Flood control means the secure development of 20 million acres of land capable of supporting from five to ten millions of Americans.”
The latter part of June, the American Farm Bureau Federation executive committee in session in Chicago stated the purpose of the American Farm Bureau and its policy in the following resolution:

“WHEREAS: The Lower Mississippi Valley is experiencing the most disastrous flood in the history of this nation, causing great damage and destruction and directly affecting more than one million people; and

“WHEREAS: The concentration of waters in the Lower Valley from more than 30 states provides a problem beyond the power and financial ability of the states of the Lower Mississippi to solve; and

“WHEREAS: The Mississippi River is a national waterway and is under the control and supervision of the Federal Government in many respects;

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: that the American Farm Bureau Federation go on record as urging the Federal Government to provide in the most practicable way for the rehabilitation of all persons within the flood area who have suffered as a result of the flood; and that the Government  assume full control of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and by a system of impounding, levees, spillways, and other necessary means that it shall reduce as far as possible the likelihood of a recurrence of the recent disaster.

“AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED: That we commend the Federal Government for its relief efforts, which have been carried on through such agencies as the American Red Cross, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, and the War Department, and that we acknowledge our gratitude to the transportation systems and all other agencies co-operating in the relief of the stricken district. We hereby express our sincerest appreciation for the untiring efforts, both by night and day, of Hon. Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, who took personal charge of relief work in the flooded areas.”

At the same time that the resolution was being adopted, the Home and Community Department of the A.F.B.F. got in touch with all state Home and Community Departments and asked them to assist in securing underclothing, clothing and bedding for the flood victims. In reply to this request, which was sent to the state federation by Mrs. Charles W. Sewell, head of the Home and Community Department, the state chairman immediately got in touch with their county Farm Bureaus and a vast amount has been contributed through these sources.

The real sacrifice to which Farm Bureau women went to assist the southern sufferers is here reflected in a letter from the Montana State Farm Bureau. In this letter, written by Mrs. Dwight A. Smith, State Chairman, Mrs. Smith points out that in many of the farming sections in Montana times have been hard for two or three years, but she says: “Our women are making underwear and children’s clothing from flour and sugar sacks. You know it is possible to make some very nice articles from these sacks and they are something we at least all have and can spare.”

Mrs. Edna L. Carlson, secretary of the Nevada State Farm Bureau, reported that that state was raising a fund through the County Farm Bureaus to be added to the Red Cross quota.

H.S. Benson, Agricultural Agent at Knox County, Indiana, reports: “The Knox County Farm Bureau has raised a few hundred dollars for the flood sufferers of Mississippi and are anxious that this be handled by the Farm Bureau.”

These are but typical examples of the way the country and state Farm Bureaus are responding to President Thompson’s appeal for aid and assistance.

But while this relief for the human sufferers was being carried on, the American Farm Bureau has not lessened, at any time, its effort to urge the adoption of preventive measures to prevent such a disaster again occurring in the Mississippi River Valley. Commenting on this, President Thompson said: “Past experience and the disaster last spring makes imperative the development of preventive measures that will give full assurance against a repetition of this national calamity. It may be necessary,” he suggested, “in order for the government to do this that large tracts of land be taken over and turned into forest preserves which can, if necessity requires, be utilized as flood reservoirs.”

This interesting suggestion by President Thompson has been taken up in many other quarters and the general subject of the value and usefulness of forests in preventing floods is a point which is being largely discussed this fall.

Probably the most interesting data that has been issued on this subject was an article entitled “Do Forests Prevent Floods?” written by Raphael Zon, Director of the Lane States Experiment Station, and printed in American Forests and Forest Life, the magazine of the American Forestry Association. Highlights of Zon’s article:
“Soils covered with forests can store up a quantity of water corresponding to a precipitation of 0.16 inch, or, in very favorable conditions, 0.24 inch at most. A cover of moss can store p from 0.18 to 0.39 inch of water. Moss can absorb water amounting to from 200 to 900 times its weight; dead leaves of birch, maple or other hardwoods 150 to 220 times their weight and pine needles from 120 to 135 times. These amounts are insignificant when compared to the enormous quantities of precipitation that cause excessive floods.

“The fact that forests do not prevent floods resulting from exceptional meteorological conditions is not saying, by any means, that forests have no effect upon water stages in our rivers, or that they are an insignificant factor that can be overlooked in any comprehensive plan for flood control by either storage reservoirs, levees or any other engineering works.

“When we turn, however, from large to small watersheds, the forest as a controlling factor in stream behavior comes out in unmistakably bold relief. If forests cannot prevent great floods in large river basins, they can and do prevent small floods in small watersheds.

“In the light of all these facts, one cannot escape the conviction that the cutting away and burning of the forest on the western slopes of the Appalachians, where the Ohio and its tributaries rise, increased erosion from the slopes, raised the water level in the tributaries and increased the flood danger farther down the Mississippi. Likewise, breaking up the virgin sod of the plains, cutting away the timber along the banks of the streams in the West, draining the swamps and even some of the lakes of the North, the construction of a network of ditches and sewers following in the wake of settlement and city development, all have thrown a greatly increased flood burden on the lower portions of the Mississippi Valley. The more serious part of it is that erosion, once started, as a tendency to grow worse. If soil erosion, either form denuded forest slopes or cultivated fields is not stopped, there is little likelihood that floods will ever be controlled.”

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