Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - 21

ChAptEr 2

A History of Conservation in the United States

Whenever we change the surface of the land for our own purposes, we must be
prepared to deal with undesirable side effects. Soil erosion is one of the main side
effects of food and fiber production. Soil Conservation is a continuous process.
After all, our soil is our most important nonrenewable resource.

WAtEr MAnAGEMEnt
transportation and Flood Control
In the early years of our country, water was the factor determining where people would
live, work, and play. Settlers built homes only where there was adequate water from
lakes, rivers, streams, springs, or wells. To a lesser extent, rainwater, captured and stored
in cisterns, met some of this need. Cities could be built only where water could be
supplied. Water was used also as a means of waste disposal in many areas. When a city
built a sewage system, it typically emptied directly into the river or stream. Imagine
living downstream from a town that simply dumped its raw sewage into the river!
Early interest in water management in this country came out of the forestry
movement rather than as a genuine concern over water itself. Forest conservationists emphasized the benefits of forests in regulating stream flow, preventing
silting of waterways, and preventing flooding. In 1882, the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts authorized its cities to purchase "municipal forests" to protect their
watersheds. The American Association for the Advancement of Science made a
general effort to advocate conservation of resources during the 1890s. Among its
interests were stream flow, water supplies, and watershed maintenance.
Federal legislation dealing with forest management used water management as
part of its justification. Unfortunately, authorities could not agree on the effects forests had on the hydrologic (water) cycle (see Chapter 13) even as late as the 1920s.
In 1879, the Mississippi River Commission was set up to help the states
improve the river as a waterway. The Rivers and Harbors Acts of 1917 and 1927
expanded the federal role in establishing and maintaining navigable waterways in
this country. A century prior to that, the famous Erie Canal had been completed.
This connected the Great Lakes with the Hudson River in 1825.
Thus, early emphasis in this country was not on water conservation as
such. It was on water as a channel for transportation and water as a by-product
of forestry. By the late 1920s, the federal government began to assume some
responsibility for flood control. The second major concern in water management
arose-prevention of flooding.
It became clear that flooding was a function of two other problems. Loss of
good forest cover led to greater runoff and thus more flooding. Soil erosion led
to clogging of waterways and silt deposits on streets, residences, and highways.
It also caused the filling in of lakes, rivers, and streams. This, in turn, led to
more flooding. Thus, the main emphasis on water management still came from
foresters and soil conservationists.
The Flood Control Act of 1936 authorized the SCS to develop and implement plans for upstream soil and water conservation in order to reduce sedimentation and flooding. This and following work led to the 1954 Watershed
Protection1 and Flood Prevention Act, which transferred responsibility of decision making to state and local organizations. In general, most watershed management projects today are handled through the local soil and water conservation
districts described earlier in this chapter.
The deadliest flooding event in U.S. history took place in the Galveston,
Texas, area in 1900. In that disaster, over 8,000 people were killed according

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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp

Contents
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Cover1
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Cover2
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - i
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - ii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - iii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - iv
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - v
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Contents
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - vii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - viii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - ix
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Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Cover4
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