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Chapter 4. WATER


State management of water resources first emerged during the canal era when ambitiously planned systems of internal improvements were in vogue in many sections of the country, but most of these proposals either came to naught with the growth of the railroads or their administration suffered from extravagance, waste, and corruption, with the notable exception of the New York canal system. These schemes embodied such "modern" concepts of public-works planning as periodically revised inventories of needed construction projects, adoption of long-range budgets permitting expansion and contraction of activities as synchronous with employment and other needs, and the deliberate adoption as a “maxim of state” of the policy of a "preconcerted plan, formed with the utmost caution, diligency, and skill," which, when it had "received the sanction of legislative authority," ought to be free from all "possibility of deviating from it." With the inevitable passing of the canal era, the responsibility of the States for the promotion and improvement of navigation was superseded by that of the Federal Government, which also began gradually to expand its river activities to relieve localities of the burden of flood prevention.. The technique, however, was the construction of individual levees, not that of comprehensive planning of water use.

The increasing pollution of rivers by an industrial civilization led several of the New England States (in the sixties) to experiment with devices of interstate cooperation for the protection and scientific propagation of fish life and permanently to establish the earliest conservation agencies of the State government (which eventually became consolidated with the game agencies that came more than a decade later).

Both drainage and irrigation have remained primarily local enterprises, with no appreciable control exercisable by the State except possibly in the irrigation States of the West, where the power of the State water engineer (1890 onward) to define water rights under the “prior appropriation” doctrine may affect irrigation development. Planlessness rather than planning appears to characterize most State activities in relation to the management of water resources, with a few recent exceptions, as the comprehensive water planning of the California Department of Public Works. This situation may partially explain why water resources have become one of the primary concerns of both the National Resources Committee and the State planning boards.

The record of governmental management of water resources is impressive in both its present extent and history, yet it has achieved for itself no distinctive

position in the administrative hierarchy of most State governments, but is distributed among a variety of independent agencies. For example, the State of New Jersey has 5 independent agencies whose primary function relates to water problems, while 5 other States have 4 agencies, and 12 States have 3 agencies.1 That the problems of planning and coordinated management of water and its uses are difficult should be obvious from this mere recital of the number and variety of independent agencies that already exist, aside from the question of whether particular phases of the management of water resources may be ade quately performed or neglected.

The chapter is divided into sections on (a) the canal era and its "planned sys tems" of internal improvements; (b) fish and water pollution; (c) flood, drainage, and irrigation; and (d) comprehensive water planning.

The Canal Era: "Planned Systems" of Internal Improvements.Canals, inland navigation, and internal improvements are all inextricably interwoven about the problems of water and its uses. Navigation is, of course, among the primary uses of water, and its promotion has traditionally been a proper function of governments almost everywhere; but there is a distinct period in American history that is connoted by the term "canal era❞—a period starting around 1800 and extending to just shortly after the Civil War when fiscal reverses and technological progress displaced waterways as the primary avenues of continental intercourse. Canals, of course, were to be found in America before the dawn of the so-called "canal era," but they were small and usually of only local significance, like constructions around the falls or rapids of rivers (as on the James River in Virginia) or connections between closely adjacent waters (as the Middlesex Canal in Massachusetts).2

The "canal era" was distinctly a State era, in contrast to a national or Federal era, as far as the management of water resources is concerned. It is interesting to note that the abandonment of the canals, however, coincides in point of time with the establishment in 1879 of the Mississippi River Commission by the Federal Government. It has been estimated that by 1890 the expenditures of the States for the promotion of inland navigation totaled more than $200,000,000, principally for the construction of canals, whereas the Federal Government had spent only half as much. When it is said that the "canal era" was a State era, it should not be implied that proposals were lacking for the assumption of Federal responsibility, or perhaps more frequently, for the provision of Federal financial aid. Two of these proposals will be reviewed in the immediately following paragraphs.

In 1805 there appeared in Philadelphia a provocative pamphlet of some 60 pages. Its author was a "Friend to National Industry," variously identified as Turner Camac or William Blodget. The title of the pamphlet was Facts and Arguments Respecting the Great Utility of an Extensive Plan of Inland Navigation in America. Its stated purpose was to demonstrate how "to scatter plenty round a smiling land," in the words of the poet Gray. Its practical address was made primarily to the legislature of Pennsylvania, but its scope was Nation-wide. What is of more interest in these paragraphs (since the pamphlet was more concerned with arguments than the enumeration of projects, in con

1 See the chart on pp. 101-102. Likewise in the Federal Government there are a great number of agencies (32) concerned i some way with water use and control. See National Resources Committee, Federal Agencies Concerned with Water Use and Control, p. 30.

The first fiscal set-back to the internal improvements movement came with the panic of 1837 when it was discovered that 18 States had contracted a public debt of 60 million dollars for canal construction, little of which was ultimately recoverable. When the State of Pennsylvania in 1857-58 sold its canal systems to the railroads it suffered a net loss of 60 million dollars. The destruction of State credit, which the orgy of internal improvements is commonly stated to have caused, led to the insertion in many State constitutions of specific prohibitions of the use of State credit for such purposes. See Harold G. Moulton, “Inland Waterways," Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 15. pp. 377-384.

For specific data on the abandonment of canals, see N. E. Whitford, History of the Canal System of the State of New York, together with Brief Histories of the Canals of the United States and Canada (1906), appendix. Also see United States Census of 1880, vol. IV (devoted to transportation).



trast to Gallatin's work) relates to the Facts and Arguments Respecting the Great Utility of an Extensive Plan.

The author was familiar with the criticisms of the competence of the state, but he proposed a practical scheme of accounting control to avoid these hazards. Then he went on to lay down as "a maxim of state" a very important principle, namely, that Government should undertake to spend "for many years to come, a considerable sum, suppose $200,000 a year" for the purpose of canal construc tion and river improvements. Why should Government do this? The argument is stated in terms of a simple analogy:

Should a person whose capital is abundantly sufficient to enclose, drain, and manure a farm in his possession, suffer it notwithstanding, to run to waste, and instead of expending $2 an acre upon it, in order to receive $4 annually, should be contented with the mere gleanings which it is capable of throwing up in a state of uncultivated nature, we should not hesitate to pronounce him a very sorry farmer, and even in some degree a nuisance to society. Precisely of the same nature would the conduct of Governments be, were they longer to neglect so fine country as this, and not embrace whatever means were in their power to render it as productive as possible, by one plan of navigation through every part of the Union. Nay, the farmer would, to all appear ance, have the most reasonable objection of the two, to the idea of throwing his money away as he might possibly call it; for, if his agricultural experiments did not succeed, his money would be all paid away to persons, who were perhaps utter strangers to him; whereas the sums expended by the country in the prosecution of great works of internal improvement, are all distributed among her own children, go all to feed her own laborers, and in a country situated as this, such a stimulus to industry and enterprise, such a regular and permanent distribution of the circulating medium to those who are willing to earn it and to no others, could not fail to be attended with the happiest and most beneficial effects.

The administration of the "comprehensive plan of inland navigation," among other effects, "would form a principal, if not the very chief ingredient to regu larity and labor." In more modern terminology, the sentence would have ended with "stabilization of industry and employment." Another effect of comprehensive water planning would be to convert "the entire country into one great city, without any of the disadvantages that attend the residence of mankind, in great numbers together, on the same spot."

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The "Friend to National Industry" may be charged with optimism in his enumeration of the immediately practical achievements and returns, for example that the money "would be refunded tenfold to the Government;" but he inserted a very important proviso-"If $200,000 a year wisely and conscien tiously expended, in consequence of a preconcerted plan, formed with the utmost caution, diligence, and skill and with the sole view of facilitating trade and industry. This proviso is expanded into an important paragraph, which is quoted in extenso:

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No enterprise of this kind will ever be crowned with success, unless the entire plan of it be pre viously formed, with all its relations and bearings, unless the facts upon which that plan depends be narrowly examined and positively ascertained, unless in short a great deal of trouble and expense be incurred in forming the best dimensions for the locks, the size of the canal, and the enquiry for these purposes, conducted by all the lights that the science, and all the penetration that the exer cised understandings of the first men in this country and the best engineers in Europe can possibly contribute. It is from the want of minute and systematic knowledge of this kind, it is from the omission of laboring for years to form an exact acquaintance with the levels by a topographical survey of the country, the altitude and directions of its mountains, the course and depth of its rivers, the obstacles to be overcome, and the means by which they are to be got over, that many projects in themselves perfectly practicable, are looked upon as chimerical, that many more have been attempted which were either in themselves of little use, or were soon relinquished through unforeseen difficulties, and that the business of inland navigation has consisted of a series of lame and abortive attempts, has left an impression very unfavorable to the expediency of encouraging such pursuits in this country. Everything in a matter of such consequence ought to proceed by system, and not be left to the caprice of ignorant and interested individuals; and when once a scien tific scheme of operations is maturely framed, the possibility of deviating from it ought to be pre vented, by its receiving the sanction of legislative authority.



The other proposal for a national plan of water development came 3 years later (in 1808) when Treasury Secretary Gallatin submitted to the Senate his well-known and well-conceived report on internal improvements. The em phasis in this report was vastly different from the plan just discussed in that it enumerated detailed and well-defined projects rather than general arguments. President Jefferson had anticipated this report in his second inaugural when he suggested that after the redemption of the public debt, which seemed shortly in sight, Federal revenues (particularly from the sale of public lands) might appro priately became available for a “just partition among the States" for such purposes as "rivers, canals, roads, arts, manufactures, education, and other great objects within each State." The President attached two conditions: (1) The adoption of a constitutional amendment and (2) the maintenance of peace. Both conditions failed to materialize, and Gallatin's report was forced to remain a report, after all.

Briefly, Gallatin proposed a system of great canals from the North to the South along the Atlantic seaboard and a series of communications by canals and roads between the seaboard and the Western interior, the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes. Henry Adams has summarized the plan as follows:

Canals were to be cut through Cape Cod, New Jersey, Delaware, and from Norfolk to Albe marle Sound-thus creating an internal waterway nearly the whole length of the coast. Four great Eastern rivers the Susquehanna, Potomac, James, and Santee, or Savannah-were to be opened to navigation from tidewater to the highest practicable point, and thence to be connected by roads with four corresponding Western rivers-the Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha, and Tennessee-wherever permanent navigation could be depended upon. Other canals were to con nect Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario with the Hudson River; to pass round Niagara and the falls of the Ohio; and to connect other important points. A turnpike road was to be established from Maine to Georgia along the coast. To carry out these schemes Congress was to pledge 2 million dollars of the annual surplus for 10 years in advance; and the 20 million dollars thus spent might be partly or wholly replaced by selling to private corporations the canals and turnpikes as they should become productive; or the public money might at the outset be loaned to private cor porations for purposes of construction.*

The War of 1812 disrupted the condition of peace so essential to Jefferson's scheme of internal improvements. The failure to pass a specific constitutional amendment permitting entry into the field of internal improvements by the General Government led to the Presidential veto of Calhoun's internal improve ments bill of 1817. While constitutional scruples waned sufficiently during the "era of good feeling" that Congress in 1824 authorized the President to 'cause the necessary surveys, plans, and estimates, to be made of the routes of such roads and canals as he may deem of national importance," the Federal Government was slow in getting started in actual construction work. Upon the advent of Jackson's administration the Board of Engineers for Internal Improvement was abolished. During its short career, however, the Board of Engineers had


set out immediately to plan a national and comprehensive system of internal improvements that could be steadily developed. This system was based on three great projects: First, the canals be tween the Chesapeake and the Ohio and between the Ohio and Lake Erie, with the improvement of the navigation of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers; second, the series of canals connecting the bays north of the seat of government; and third, a durable road extending from Washington to New Orleans. Surveys, plans, and estimates were made for each and duly reported. Despite wide publicity, especially on the proposed road to New Orleans which aroused great interest and many memorials from those regions through which there was even the most remote possibility of its being located, the preliminary steps were the only ones taken. This was the only attempt by the Corps of Engineers to view the country as a whole and to adopt a policy of internal improvements, or

Henry Adams' History of the United States During the Second Administration of Thomas Jefferson, II, pp. 364-365. Galla tin's Report on Roads and Canals is printed in the American State Papers, XX, Misc., I, pp. 724-921. It was reprinted in 1910 as a Senate Document, vol. 60. "A cursory glance at the map will show that nearly all the States would be recipient of favors at the hands of the General Government by such proposals as he (i. e., Gallatin) brought forth." B. H. Meyer et al., History of Transportation in the United States Before 1860 (1917), p. 136.

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river and harbor improvements, in accordance with that view. Since then the practice adopted by Congress, or drifted into, has been to improve rivers and harbors haphazardly and not as a part of a comprehensive and continuous plan of development."

This report has related elsewhere the development and influence of the Erie Canal, which holds that unique distinction in American canal history of actually fulfilling, if not exceeding, the expectations of its founders. If the canal era in the other States was not so successful in financial terms, it contains much of interest for the development of the philosophy and methods of comprehensive planning of water. Unfortunately, many of these ideas and methods of planning which are cited below were limited in their contemporary effects to the paper on which they were written, and this neglect may in part account for the general failure which the States experienced in their ventures into the field of internal improvements. Extensive programs of State canal activity have been recorded in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, and the Carolinas, while the States of New Jersey and Delaware relied largely upon the device of incorporating private companies. The rocky terrain of New England easily persuaded the States of that section that railroads, not canals, furnished the most effective mode of inland transportation. An examination of the legislative provisions cited in the footnotes has prompted the selection of the Carolinas for presentation in illustrative detail as two cases of State planning, in which many of the modern ideas and techniques of public works planning may be noted in their germinal essentials.


The trend of Western settlement appeared to produce a considerable drain on the population of North Carolina, to the serious concern of many of its prominent citizens, particularly Judge Archibald D. Murphey. Largely through his efforts, an engineer was imported from England for the purpose of surveying the State and drafting plans for the development of its internal economy. In part to supply the engineer with background information about the State but also to state to the larger public the case for an ambitious scheme of internal improve ments, Judge Murphey prepared his Memoir on the Internal Improvements Con templated by the Legislature of North Carolina, printed at Raleigh in 1819. Judge Murphey first reported his conviction that in

this day, when political economy has attained to the rank of a science, statesmen will not seek to promote the agriculture of a country by bounties and premiums, but will turn their attention to those ways and means by which, in the first place, the products of agriculture can easily find a good market, and by which, in the second place, the profits of that commerce which sustains the market, shall be contributory to the wealth of their own, rather than of other States.

This sounded expensive, but a creditable collection of statistics was presented to prove that the basic resources and financial condition of the State of North Carolina could well afford an ambitious program for internal improvements to be directly undertaken by the State in the amount of an

expenditure of $150,000 annually. It would happen that one-half of that sum would not be required within a particular year, and yet a much larger sum be required for the succeeding year. But

these improvements cannot be made unless a systematic plan be adopted and enforced for their execution. The board does therefore earnestly recommend to the general assembly such a plan; and as their attention has long been drawn to this subject, they hope it will not be deemed impertinent

W. S. Holt. The Office of the Chief of Engineers of the Army (1923), pp. 6-7. In 1825 President Monroe transmitted a Report of the Examination which Has Been Made by the Board of Engineers with a View to Internal Improvements, 18th Cong., 2d sess., House Doc. No. 83, Serial No. 117.

7 Infra, pp. 12-13.

Ohio Laws 1822, c. 26; Pa. Laws 1825, c. 126; Ind. Laws 1836, c. 2; Ill. Laws 1837, pp. 121-153; and Ga. Laws 1825 PP. 111-113.


However, in 1825 (cc. 22, 99) the Massachusetts Legislature created a commission to "ascertain the practicability of making a canal from Boston to the Connecticut River and extending the same to some point on the Hudson River in the State of New York in the vicinity of the junction of the Erie Canal with that river." But in 1829 the board of internal Improvements reported in favor of railroads. Vermont in 1825 (c. 32) appropriated the sum of $500 to assist Federal engineers in surveying possible canal routes through the State, but that appears to be the extent of canal interest. See Meyer, op. cit., pp. 143-156.

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