Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  8 (1884), 616–23.

The Reservoir System

J G Pyle


Essay, Travelogue

Relevant illustrations:

map; eng. [3]


Engineering, Navigation, Nationalism, Hydrography, Physical Geography, Climatology, Meteorology, Environmentalism

People mentioned:

Gouverneur K Warren , Francis U Farquhar , Charles J Allen

    Celebrates the 'beginnings of a work whose exact counterpart the world has never seen', and which is a testament to 'American engineering science and American daring'. In Northern Minnesota a system of reservoirs serviced by five dams on the upper course of the Mississippi River has been under construction for the last two years, and when completed will contribute significantly to 'the improvement of river navigation'. Pronounces that 'when the volume of water passing down the Upper Mississippi can, within certain limits, be regulated by a few touches upon a telegraphic transmitter in Washington, man will have made one more of nature's forces partially subject to his will'. (616) The reservoirs will together be 'capable of adding 6400 cubic feet per second to the volume of the stream', and the 'total estimated cost' of the project is '$558,135' (619), a fairly conservative amount which will not allow for the 'massive walls of masonry stretching from shore to shore' that are familiar on more expensive British dams (620). In essence, the Mississippi reservoir system promises to 'gather up the supply of water now running to waste and increasing the devastative power of floods, together with the excess of the spring and fall discharge; to impound it until the stream becomes so low that navigation will shortly be impeded, and then to release it in such measured quantities as will maintain a minimum depth of four feet in the channel at the head of navigation the year round' (619–20). Describes the construction work on the dams which requires some '1,750,000 feet' of timber, and notes that 'fear has been expressed lest the continued destruction of forests in Northern Minnesota should render the reservoirs useless by diminishing the rain supply' (an issue also discussed in HM1/8/4/5). Insists, however, that the 'most careful meteorological observations in this section indicate that while the cutting of timber may change the general character of the seasons, bringing infrequent heavy storms in the place of gentler long-continued rains, it seems to have had thus far no calculable effect upon the total rain-fall' (622).

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