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Kansas Memory has been created by the Kansas State Historical Society to share its historical collections via the Internet. Read more.

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Environment - Natural resources - Conservation of natural resources - Water

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A living example of our problem in soil conservation

A living example of our problem in soil conservation
Creator: Works Progress Administration Indian Program
Date: 1935
This image, part of the New Deal Indian Program scrapbook compiled by the Works Progress Administration, depicts a gully created by severe erosion. Erosion such as this depleted the soil of its nutrients and decreased fertility, and blowing soil contributed to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.


Chapter IV: Destructive effects of undesirable tendencies, in The future of the Great Plains: Report of the Great Plains Committee

Chapter IV: Destructive effects of undesirable tendencies, in The future of the Great Plains: Report of the Great Plains Committee
Creator: Great Plains Committee
Date: December, 1936
This report was created by the Great Plains Committee, which had been called by President Roosevelt to investigate the effects of drought and wind erosion in the southwestern United States. Chapter IV of the report, titled "Destructive Effects of Undesirable Tendencies," outlines some of the major problems in this region, composed of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. These problems included the decreasing amount of range land, soil erosion, and the depletion of ground water. A large part of the chapter deals with relief efforts and homestead rehabilitation. It also contains illustrations and tables that provide comparative data on the situation in each of these states.


Checks on erosion and floods

Checks on erosion and floods
Date: Between 1930 and 1937
This unidentified newspaper clipping illustrates and explains four useful techniques for combating drought and soil erosion: planting vegetation on steep slopes, strip cropping, contour plowing, and check dams.


Day by day Kansas is rapidly washing away

Day by day Kansas is rapidly washing away
Creator: Topeka Capital
Date: December 4, 1932
This brief article discusses the importance of decreasing water erosion, which has washed away approximately ninety percent of the productive soil in eastern Kansas. Two remedies which are suggested are terracing and the planting of blue grass sod (which will bind the soil together). Scientists at Kansas State Agricultural College (now Kansas State University) were experimenting with these two techniques.


Diamond Creek during drought

Diamond Creek during drought
Date: 1934
In this photograph a man pumps water from Diamond Creek into a water tank chained to the bed of his truck.


Dust Bowl soil is now same as Chinese desert

Dust Bowl soil is now same as Chinese desert
Creator: Hubbard, J. R.
Date: August 9, 1936
This article in the Topeka Capital discusses some of the causes of soil erosion and diminished soil moisture, as well as ways to counteract these forces. Both WPA engineers and scientists at the Hays Engineering Station have been measuring soil moisture and developing techniques to counteract the negative effects of the farming trends in use since World War I.


Glenn D. Stockwell correspondence

Glenn D. Stockwell correspondence
Date: 1944-1957
Glenn Dale Stockwell Sr. (1901-1964) was a life-long resident of the Blue River Valley. He lived in the vicinity of Randolph and Leonardville, near the area flooded by Tuttle Creek Dam. In 1951, Glenn Stockwell became president of the Blue Valley Study Association and began coordinating opposition to the Dam. After heavy rains caused major floods in Kansas in 1951, advocates of Tuttle Creek pushed for its immediate funding and construction while opponents also intensified their efforts. The earliest item is a 1944 letter from the Corps of Engineers outlining the history and current status of the Tuttle Creek project. Other early items relate to the activities of the Blue Valley Study Association under the leadership of J. A. Hawkinson. The bulk of this correspondence, however, dates from the time Stockwell became president of the group in July 1951. Quite varied, it includes letters from conservationists, industry supporters, Kansas politicians, U.S. Congressional leaders, and the Eisenhower administration, among others; letters of advice from Stockwell; and carbon copies of letters sent by his co-workers.


Howard Bucknell to Governor Alfred Landon

Howard Bucknell to Governor Alfred Landon
Creator: Bucknell, Howard
Date: June 2, 1934
In this letter Howard Bucknell, president of the Jewell County Farm Bureau, updates Governor Landon on the drought situation in his county. There was an acute water shortage, forcing Jewell county farmers to request aid from the relief funds being distributed by the state.


Irrigation, western Kansas

Irrigation, western Kansas
Date: Between 1950 and 1959
This black and white photograph shows an irrigation scene in western Kansas.


Keep our soil home

Keep our soil home
Date: 1950s
This anonymously written pamphlet was printed at the Monitor, Leonardville, Kansas. The author urges readers to study the problems that the proposed construction of the Tuttle Creek dam might create and to take action by writing their Congressman. The author urges an approach of small retention dams on tributaries of the Big Blue River rather than one large dam. A number of residents of the area organized to oppose the construction of the Tuttle Creek dam. This pamphlet is one example of that opposition.


Lister cultivator at work

Lister cultivator at work
Date: Between 1910 and 1929
A photograph showing a farmer engaged in preparing his fields with a horse-drawn lister to help conserve water in the furrows and to prevent the topsoil from blowing away. Although this photograph is undated, such listing practices were used during the 1940s and 1950s to prevent a recurrence of the Dust Bowl.


Southwest is not lost

Southwest is not lost
Creator: Kansas City Times
Date: February 25, 1937
In this brief article, Harry Umberger, chairman of the Kansas wind erosion committee, contradicts reports circulating in New York City that the Southwest will never be able to produce wheat again. He goes on to describe the reasons for blowing soil and the steps that must be taken to make farming the Dust Bowl a profitable -- yet environmentally stable -- enterprise.


Summary forward, in The future of the Great Plains: Report of the Great Plains Committee

Summary forward, in The future of the Great Plains: Report of the Great Plains Committee
Creator: Great Plains Committee
Date: December 1936
This report was created by the Great Plains Committee, which had been called by the President to investigate the effects of drought and wind erosion in the southwestern United States. For the purposes of the committee, the Great Plains was defined as the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. The forward to the report, included here, states the purpose of the report and the steps that must be taken to solve this problem, both on the federal level and the state level. These steps include the development of water resources, government purchase of range lands, control of erosion, community organization, and legislation regarding tenancy, leasing, and delinquency.


Terracing. A farm economy

Terracing. A farm economy
Date: Between 1932 and 1938
This article from an unidentified newspaper describes the problems that can occur if fields drain too rapidly and lose valuable moisture. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the rapid runoff of water "depletes our soils over twenty times as fast as growing crops." Terraces can prevent these losses by conserving water. The article encourages farmers to terrace their fields and even suggests that the formation of terracing clubs (essentially "co-ops") would divide the costs of terracing equipment among all the members. It also includes images of farmland prior to and after terracing.


The Tuttle Creek story

The Tuttle Creek story
Creator: Blue Valley Film Committee
Date: Between 1954 and 1956
The people of the Blue River Valley in Kansas produced this short film as part of their campaign against the construction of a dam and reservoir on the Big Blue River in the Flint Hills of Northeast Kansas, north of Manhattan. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a series of flood control projects in the Missouri River basin beginning in the late 1930s. The Pick-Sloan plan authorized by Congress in the Flood Control Act of 1944 called for a series of large dams and levees on rivers in the basin. The film argues that the large flood control measures proposed by the Corps of Engineers are unnecessary and ineffectual and flood prevention methods through small retention dams in individual watersheds are less invasive and more effective. Despite heavy local opposition, construction of the Tuttle Creek dam began in 1952 and it became fully operational by July 1962. The dam displaced 3000 people and ten towns including Stockdale, Randolph, Winkler, Cleburne, Irving, Blue Rapids, Shroyer, Garrison, Barrett, and Bigelow.


The water conservation program

The water conservation program
Creator: Kansas Emergency Relief Committee
Date: July 19, 1934
The Water Conservation Program was designed to foster the construction of wells, farm ponds, lakes and "other devices" that could conserve water in Kansas. This pamphlet, published by the Kansas Emergency Relief Committee, outlines the procedures for requesting water conservation work and the details of undertaking such projects (such as how to borrow the necessary equipment, etc.). All the labor involved in these projects would be provided by laborers on the work relief rolls.


Waconda Springs in Mitchell County, Kansas

Waconda Springs in Mitchell County, Kansas
Date: 1898
In these early photographs of Waconda Springs in Mitchell County, a hotel can be seen beyond the natural springs. The springs were about 200 feet in diameter. Unidentified people are shown resting on one of the rocky bluffs that surrounded the area. The springs were considered sacred by the Native Americans. In 1884, developers fenced the area around the springs and built a resort.


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