Flood Control Anyone Almost without fail, the continental USA suffers every summer from floods that cause billions of dollars in damages and bring untold grief to people. Is there any solution to this problem? If we can send men to the moon, build mile high buildings and provide the cures to numberless diseases, why can we not control our summer floods?
I read this with interest. I had just returned from a conference in St. Louis that had to be cancelled its first day due to the sudden, but not unexpected, flooding of the Might River. I had to ask the Professor:
"Now, Professor, I am not asking about what to do with the weather, tornadoes, electrical storms and hurricanes, which, at present answer to the whims of Mother Nature. But controlling a bit of flood water should not be impossible. What is the solution?'
"My friend, it is too early to try to solve problems of such magnitude. Besides, I do not wish to let his omelet get cold, same as the fixings that go with it, the coffee, the buns and the toast! Ask me after we have finished eating."
Breakfast is a solemn occasion for the Professor. Besides, those menus offered by his all around valet and assistant Antoine, are worthy of special attention. This time we had an enticing fruit "pastiche cup", that included slices of orange, mango and small melon cubes, bathed in a sauce made up of champagne, a few drops of Drambuie and a touch of whipping cream. Then, we had the famous omelet that combined gently beaten eggs properly supported by a bit of fresh cream, and fried mushrooms and onions.
Later, we sat in the airy library with the usual tray with fresh coffee, cinnamon and raisin toast and some of that marvelous Bitter Orange Marmalade from Seville.
"You were saying about floods?"
The question made me realize once again that he had already thought about it and had recalled and organized sufficient facts and data in his own mind. I replied;"Not much, except that by now we should have devised ways to exercise some control once the waters hit the ground. In spite of what some people claim, we are not directly responsible for storms or even those gentle fogs and that fine and even welcomed mist that brings to mind Claude Rains and Bogie at the airport. Please enlighten me."
"Back in the mid eighteen hundreds a French and a Spanish professor spent some time in this country. Both taught engineering at the University of Rouen and had a special interest in geo-technical engineering including hydraulic structures such as dams, levees, reservoirs, etc. Their names were Dominique Lasseur and Eduardo Lorenzo Zamora and happened to be in the United States at the time that floods had ravaged several regions and the government was beginning to pay attention to a phenomenon that seemed to occur with some regularity."
There was a pause to provide a piece of toast with its corresponding quota of marmalade and attempt a careful bite. A sip of coffee and then, he continued:
"I am not going to go into the details of their work, which incidentally has never received the attention it deserves. Well, floods to them appeared like a welcome phenomenon considering the large arid extensions in the Southwest. They mapped out the hydrological features of the central plains and designed a control and distribution plan for those areas that received the largest amounts of rain."
"What sort of plan?"
"In simple terms it was something that served our Corps of Engineers as a guide toward the end of that century. They divided the country into hydraulic quadrangles listing coordinates, variation in altitudes, existing rivers and lakes and population for each one. They estimated the direction of excess rain water from quadrangle to quadrangle and, in the case of major rivers or streams, estimated their depth and capacity. ' "Sounds like a tremendous chore" I observed, thinking of the days of the Wild West and the lack of transportation and scientific instruments.
"They claimed that they received a lot of help from the various Indian tribes they encountered. It was perhaps this acknowledgment that turned the federal authorities against them, you know, even then there were those who would call you anti-American if you as much as shared a Budweiser with a native American!
"Funny country" I thought. Bad habits are hard to shed. The Professor continued:
"Their answers were simple also. They had mapped three major regions: the Northern states, the Middle states and the Southern belt. They found that the areas around south of the Great Lakes had the greatest flood danger, due to the evaporation of lake water combined with the sudden temperature variations during the different seasons. From Minnesota to Texas was one axis; another was from upper Wisconsin and followed the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans. Then the entire northern area covered from Lake Erie to Maine and down into Georgia. "
We paused again for more coffee. The professor got up and returned with a large map of the United States. He pointed at the areas mentioned emphasizing the limits of each of the regions noted. Then; "Now to the interesting part, my friend! These two gentlemen designed the Control Plan by selecting those areas that required what they called "holding bourses". Essentially, reservoirs. Then, the fascinating part of their project: the canals. Here they took a page from the Egyptians, the Romans, the Chinese, the Incas, the Mayas and even the Swedes and the Dutch! They simply connected major rivers with canals of sufficient capacity to drain excess water into their holding bourses. From there, canals again to those areas downstream that could use the extra water.
Most of the canals were nothing more than existing rivers that had enough capacity to drain large amounts of water without overflowing; canals were made when there was insufficient carrying capacity."
"How did they expect to control the flows of water? I mean, south, north, east, etc.?"
"Differences in levels or altitudes. Anything going East out of Colorado will naturally flow eastward as the incline is there. They cleverly pointed those level differences to design their grid of "bourses" and canals."
"Could those tremendous rainfalls be somehow controlled once they reach the ground?" I asked.