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MINNESOTA AND NORTH DAKOTA PROJECTS.
COMMITTEE ON FLOOD CONTROL,
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Wednesday, February 18, 1920. The committee this day met, Hon. William A. Rodenberg (chairman) presiding.
The CHAIRMAN. The commitee will please come to order. Gentlemen, we have several Members of the House here who have expressed a desire to be heard on pending bills before this committee, and in order to give them the opportunity I called this meeting. I want to say, in the first place, Mr. Volstead is interested in Senate bill 3263, which has passed the Senate, and Mr. Steenerson and Mr. Baer are interested in another bill of a similar import, and we will call on Mr. Volstead first.
STATEMENT BY HON. ANDREW J. VOLSTEAD, A REPRESENTATIVE
IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MINNESOTA.
part of where that starts north between
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Mr. VOLSTEAD. I suppose few of you are acquainted with the situation up in the western part of Minnesota and in the eastern part of North and South Dakota, where the Red River of the North starts. That river has one branch that starts at Lake Traverse; this branch and the Red River of the North flow north between Minnesota and South and North Dakota into Winnipeg Lake; then through Nelson River into Hudson Bay. It is supposed to have formerly flowed south.
There was a time back in the geological ages when there was supposed to be a lake, Lake Agassiz, which was some 700 miles long and two to three hundred miles wide at its widest point. When this lake disappeared it left a very large stretch of country that is almost entirely level, supposed to have been the bottom of this lake. The Red River runs very sluggishly. Immediately south of Lake Traverse is Lake Bigstone. It is a lake about 30 miles long and about 2 miles wide, part of it anywhere from 1 to 3 or 4 miles wide.
About a year ago we sought to get permission from the Government to put a dam at the lower end of Lake Traverse. It is in the same general level country that is so entirely flat that there is practically no drainage in any direction. We also tried to get authority to put a dam at the lower end of Bigstone Lake. We secured a provision for that purpose that was put into the rivers and harbors bill authorizing the States of North and South Dakota and Minnesota to cooperate for the purpose of solving the drainage problem, if possible. That became a law, and the States then immediately undertook to arrange so as to take advantage of it. Under the constitution of our State, the State of Minnesota, no money can be spent by it for internal improvement. So legislation was secured from the Legislatures of Minnesota and of North and South Dakota authorizing the creation of drainage districts.
We have had drainage laws, but we have never had any real drainage districts in the sense that has been practiced in various States. When the drainage districts were formed they went to work to cooperate with the States in adopting the necessary plans to put a dam in at the lower end of Bigstone Lake, with a view of holding back the water that goes into it in the early spring.
Immediately west of Bigstone Lake is a chain of hills known as the Coteau Mountains, and there are several streams that run in from those hills. One empties just below Bigstone Lake. It is the purpose to turn that stream into the lake and hold the water in the lake until late in the spring until the water recedes below. It is necessary to have authority from Congress, as the part of the Minnesota River in which the dam is to be built is the boundary line between the States of South Dakota and Minnesota, and there is a provision in the Federal statute prohibiting the building of any dam without such permission. After all the arrangements had been made, the surveys completed, and the parties were ready to go to work, they submitted their plans to the engineers here in Washington for the purpose of getting them approved, because there was a provision in the legislation that the plans should be approved by the Board of Engineers; but they disapproved them, because they claimed that these drainage districts could not put in the dam. They construed the law to mean that the dam must be put in by the States. As the States did not have authority under constitutions, we have come back to Congress for the purpose of remedying that difficulty.
Now, there is no hope of any water power of any consequence at this point. The stream under ordinary circumstances is very small, except in the spring. Then it is big enough for some weeks, perhaps, to run considerable of a power plant; but in the ordinary summer season it would not turn anything to speak of. The country below the lake is a very low, swampy country. Some 2 or 3 miles below the point of this dam they did have a mill at one time. They developed, I think something like 20 or 30 horsepower. If it was intended to develop any water power at all, they would have to dredge a channel in the river below or make a fall in that way.
It is proposed that in the spring this dam shall raise the level of the lake 3 or 4 feet over its large surface and then allow the water to gradually run out of the lake later on. This can not be done without permission from the Federal Government, as the lake is navigable and is a State boundary. This is to be done at the expense of local interests. There is no provision in this bill for any contribution by the National Government.
The CHAIRMAN. And none is expected ? Mr. VOLSTEAD. None is expected so far as I know. We have been perfectly frank and have told these people that we did not think that
under the circumstances they would be able to get any money from the Federal Government.
The CHAIRMAN. Do you know what the estimated cost of this dam is?
Mr. VOLSTEAD. No; I do not; but I have seen statements in the newspapers that it would cost $30,000 or $40,000 to erect a dam at this point. It is a stretch of country, I guess, about 2 miles wide across a swamp. They expect, as I understand, to take a dredge and practically build the dam by piling up the dirt by use of the dredge.
Mr. HUMPHREYS. How many acres of land would be affected ?
Mr. VOLSTEAD. That is difficult to tell. Below the lake there is probably a stretch 5 miles wide and 30 miles long that is subject to overflow every spring and further down the river there are other stretches. The river has a very wide valley for a stream of the size that it is. Evidently when this supposed Lake Agassiz broke loose it swept out a great big gulch in the prairie. I live in this valley. Where my home is the hills are about 150 feet high and the valley is from 2 to 4 miles wide, in some places it is wider and, of course, in some, narrower.
The CHAIRMAN. It is very fertile land? Mr. VOLSTEAD. It is very fertile land if you can keep it from being drowned out.
Mr. LÜHRING. Does this map show the Minnesota River?
Mr. VOLSTEAD. This is the Red River of the North [indicating on the map], and it starts in here [indicating on map]; one part of it starts at Lake Traverse in here sindicating on map], and here is Big Stone Lake. There is only about a mile and a half of land between Big Stone Lake and Lake Traverse. Ortonville is the point at which this dam is to be put in.
Mr. MURPHY. What is the extent of the watershed ?
Mr. VOLSTEAD. Well, I can not tell you that. I do not have a map showing that, but this little map shows Wetstone River. It is intended to turn Wetstone River into Big Stone Lake just about where that line is sindicating on map].
Now, Wetstone River in the spring is sometimes a very big river. Often we will have a very large snowfall in the Coteau Hills, from which this stream starts, that will melt very rapidly in the spring and come down from those hills. The river now comes in about half a mile below the lake. Originally it is believed to have flown into the lake, and at one time, years ago, they attempted to cut a canal so as to turn it into the lake, but they were unsuccessful in keeping it there, although they did cut a channel from the Wetstone River so as to turn the Wetstone River into the lake. .
My understanding is that they expect to turn it into the lake above the big railroad grade that the Milwaukee Railroad built across that bottom near the outlet of the lake.
Mr. MURPHY. This is simply a flood protection, no irrigation?
Mr. VOLSTEAD. It is just for the purpose of flood protection; it is to keep the water off of the land below, try to hold it back in the spring, so that that land can be seeded; and whenever the water recedes below it is intended to let the water out of the lake, which, of course, will operate as a reservoir.
Mr. MURPHY. Are there any objections on the part of the people out there to the bill?
Mr. VOLSTEAD. I had one letter in opposition, but that is in regard to a matter which they can thrash out among themselves.
The CHAIRMAN. What was the objection? Mr. VOLSTEAD. The person simply did not want to pay the assessment that he expected might be made against his land. That is the only objection that I know of.
Now, this bill, as I have been informed by Senator Nelson, was drawn down here in the War Department by one of the attorneys for the Engineer Department and sent up here. There is a letter contained in the report accompanying the bill to the Senate, which is as follows:
WAR DEPARTMENT, October 28, 1919. Respectfully returned to the chairman Committee on Commerce, United States Senate.
So far as the interests committed to this department are concerned, I know of no objection to the favorable consideration by Congress of the accompanying bill (S. 3263, present session) to authorize the construction of flood-control and improvement works in Minnesota River and Big Stone Lake, between the States of Minnesota and South Dakota.
Assistant Secretary of War. The CHAIRMAX. By whom is that signed ? Mr. VOLSTEAD. That is signed by Benedict Crowell, Assistant Sec- : retary of War. So far as I know, I can not imagine how anybody can have any objections.
The CHAIRMAN. You have got to have this authority from Congress before the States can go on?
Mr. VOLSTEAD. That is correct.
Mr. VOLSTEAD. I can not tell definitely as to that. The laws in Minnesota do.
Mr. Wilson. They are without authority to make it possible to proceed with this work?
Mr. VOLSTEAD. They are without authority to make it possible to proceed and they have spent a great deal of money and a great deal of time trying to make it possible to carry out this work.
This is only a part of the work that is to be done. Mr. Steenerson has another proposition farther north. This, of course, involves the Minnesota River, his the Red River, but the two rivers are so closely associated they originate practically in the same territory and are subject to the same general conditions. There isn't any question but that millions of dollars are frequently lost from floods in these valleys.
The CHAIRMAN. We are very much obliged to you, Mr. Volstead. Now, Mr. Steenerson and Mr. Baer are both present before the committee with similar projects.
Mr. STEENERSON. Mine is on the Red Lake River, but I would rather wait and have Mr. Baer go on.
The CHAIRMAN. You have an engineer here, Mr. Baer?