Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/17

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THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER PROBLEM
THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER PROBLEM
By WALTER SHELDON TOWER, Ph.D.
UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA

THE project for a deep waterway from the Great Lakes to the Gulf has been dreamed about and discussed intermittently for half a century, but nothing definite ever came of it until a little over a year ago, when, from a conference held at St. Louis, there was born the permanent organization called the "Lakes to the Gulf Deep Waterways Association." That this concerted movement came at the psychological moment has been indicated by subsequent events. Last winter the Rivers and Harbors Congress in session at Washington supported the project. The president in his Memphis address heartily endorsed the enterprise; shortly afterward his annual message called attention to the need for river improvement and the question is now in the hands of congress with some definite action sure to come in the near future.

Within the last decade, this country has entered three fields of government activity, forest conservation, reclamation of arid and swamp lands and the building of the Isthmian Canal, the far-reaching results of which can scarcely be estimated at this time. The development of a ship channel through the Mississippi Valley, with feeding lines in the larger tributaries, would likewise be of such tremendous importance to the economic progress of the country that it must be ranked second to none in the list of great national policies.

A few simple statements of fact furnish striking evidence of the need for such a waterway. The drainage basin of the Mississippi system covers an area of approximately a million and a quarter square miles, or rather more than two fifths of the United States proper. This two fifths of the country is the real heart and soul of the nation's prosperity. With its development the United States has not only become independent of the rest of the world, but also has risen with tremendous strides to stand as the greatest producer of food-stuffs that the world ever has seen or ever will see. More than half the total population of the country to-day is found in the score of states bordering directly on the navigable portions of the Mississippi system. As the population increases the most rapid growth must be in these same states, until a century hence with hundreds of millions of people living between the slopes of the Alleghenies and the Rockies, there will exist in the Mississippi Valley the highest and most permanent type of civilization in the history of man. Three fourths of the world's cotton crop is raised