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“A MEASURE OF THE WASTE OF OUR NATURAL RESOURCES DUE TO THE NON-DEVELOPMENT OF OUR WATER POWERS–A PLEA FOR LEGISLATION TO PROMOTE THE PUBLIC WELFARE”
By W. V. N. Powelson, Esq.
MR. Powelson—Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen: To assist the friends of conservation to appreciate the character and to measure the extent of the waste of our material resources involved in the continuance of water power sites in an undeveloped state is the principal object of this paper. l have chosen this phase of the problem because I believe the time has come when, to preserve our character as friends of conservation, we must bring about the prompt development of those water power sites for which a market exists or can now be created. Heretofore, because of our lack of knowledge of the subject it did not seem good strategy in the fight for control of the water power sites in the public interest to move quickly toward their development. We needed time for study, reflection and counsel. It seemed imperative and sufficient that we employ all our resources to prevent private parties from acquiring the sites belonging to the public until a wise and constructive legislative plan for development could be devised. We must not lose sight of the fact that true conservation of our natural resources requires that our water power sites be promptly developed, and it is incumbent on us as a people to bring this about at the earliest practicable moment. While true conservation requires that the sites be promptly developed, true statesmanship requires that the development shall be made in harmony with the public interest. A little reflection will show that it is possible that the evil of non-development if continued long enough may exceed the evil of unwise development. The true interest of the public lies now between these two extremes. We cannot remain in our present situation with a practical embargo on the development of sites now controlled by the Government without important losses; nor can we without danger permit the development of these sites unless we retain an efficient Governmental control over them after development. As illustrating the extent of the Federal control of water power sites, I may say that it extends to every stream declared navigable, and to all sites on lands yet owned in fee by the Government. That the amount of such land, particularly in mountainous sections where the best sites are as a rule found, is enormous, is shown by the data of the following table, which indicates certain states in which the area of Federal land exceeds fifty per cent of the total area of the states, and it is in these states and on these lands that the principal undeveloped water powers of the country are to be found:
Table Showing Approximately the Percentage of the Area of the Arid States Owned by the Federal Government.
Total Acreage Percentage
State Owned by U.S. of Total Arizona . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67,097,293 92.00 California . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53,276,547 52.58 Colorado . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37,702,033 56.67 Idaho . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45,218,919 83.80 Montana . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61,049,263 65.80 Nevada . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62.219,423 87.82 New Mexico . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49,315,409 62.83 Utah . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43,564,645 80.18 Wyoming . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42,613,499 68.00
Up to this time it has seemed the part of wisdom to counsel delay in dealing with a matter so important and so intricate. So far it has seemed the part of good strategy to throw away one thing of value to gain another which promised to be of greater value. But the process of throwing away the thing of value is still going on; and every day adds to its sum total. We must not continue to throw away until we exceed the value of the thing we are striving for. We have had ample opportunity during the past three years for reflection, study and the preparation of our plans and the people are now looking to the leaders of the conservation movement to come forward with a practical scheme of legislation that will bring about the speedy development of needed powers under an efficient public control and thus definitely put a stop to the enormous waste involved in the non-development of these powers. Through the efforts mainly of Mr. Gifford Pinchot, the public has been thoroughly aroused and public opinion has been educated to the great importance of a correct solution of the problem. Through his efforts, all sensible men have come to recognize that there must be an efficient Governmental control over these sites after development. There still exist differences of opinion as to details of this control, but I believe that there is now no dissent in any responsible quarter to the general principle involved. It is most unfortunate that where there is a substantial agreement on the fundamental principles involved there should continue to be an almost complete tie-up of the Federally controlled water power sites merely because there exist these differences of opinion as to details. The public interests requires that these differences be composed without further delay. What these differences seem to me to be I will describe later, after having first pointed out the tremendous waste of our natural resources involved in the continuance of economically available water power sites in an undeveloped state.
It may seem a bit paradoxical, but it is nevertheless true, that the same amount of work is being done at a water power site whether it is undeveloped or developed. In the one case the work is mainly expended in agitating the water; in the other, in serving useful purposes. All over the country, wherever water runs, work is being performed, but at only comparatively few such places is this work being turned to useful purposes. While we are arguing about the details of a conceded public control, vast quantities of work are being thrown away which we might have in useful force for the harnessing. Once properly harnessed, the work will have been permanently changed into a useful form, and it then becomes a national asset of great value, which will forever provide useful employment for men. Every undeveloped water power site for which a market exists, or could now be created, is a willful waste of a natural resource. If we do not make present use of the falling water of a stream, the useful work it is capable of doing is lost forever, and there is a waste of a natural resource. If, however, we do not make present use of coal in the ground it will remain there in undiminished quantity and quality and we can at any future time convert it into useful work, and there is no waste of a natural resource. It is just as wasteful of our natural resources to burn coal to do work that could as well be done by an undeveloped water power as it would be to permit an equal amount of coal to burn up underground. We see, therefore, that upon the sum total of our power resources the effect of an undeveloped water power in a locality where it could do work now being performed by coal is precisely as destructive in character as a coal deposit burning underground. Suppose that all over the country tomorrow there should break out in our underground coal deposits destructive fires, whereby tens of thousands of tons of coal per day were being destroyed. How long would the people sit by and see this wasteful destruction continue? Would not the cry go up all over the country that our natural resources were being needlessly consumed * Would not pictures be painted of the woeful condition of our country at the time our coal fields began to show signs of coming exhaustion? Would it not be pointed out that our present standards of living, nay, our very form of civilization, is the result of an enormous daily supply of coal at very low prices? Would not the government itself step in and put out those fires if they could not be extinguished by private efforts? But how different it is when an equally large and wasteful destruction of our natural resources for power occurs through the non-development of water power sites that could do the work now performed by the daily burning of enormous volumes of coal above ground. There is no outcry from the people at these conditions. The water power sites give out no distressing signs, no sulphurous fumes warn against this continuous and relentless destruction and waste of our natural resources. On the contrary, these undeveloped sites charm the eye and please the ear, and convey no idea of the destructive waste of power that is continually going on at them. By a strange fatality, many people have jumped to the conclusion that it is a conservation of our natural resources to keep our water power sites in their natural condition.
Because such a policy if applied to a coal field would be a policy of conservation, it does not follow that it retains this character when applied to water power sites. In fact, quite the contrary is true. A policy which in its practical effect results in non-development of our water power sites is not a policy of conservation at all, and its continuance can only be justified by a clear demonstration that the evil of this policy is less than the evil of any other policy that could be substituted for it.
Mr. Herbert Knox Smith has admirably brought out the ideas of the inherent waste in an undeveloped water power, and I cannot do better than to quote in its entirety section 2 on page 202 of his report entitled, “Water Power Development in the United States,” as follows:
“Water power is unlike most natural resources in that it is not diminished by use, nor is it conserved by non-use. Coal which is not used today remains to be used hereafter, but the energy of water which is allowed to flow by unused neither increases or diminishes the future supply, but it is irretrievably lost. Our supply of coal—the principal source of energy—while vast, is not unlimited. The utilization of water power results in the saving of coal for future use. In other words, the real waste of water power is its non-use, while its development effects a conservation, not only of water power, but of our fuel supply as well. “The importance of effectively utilizing the water powers of the country is therefore obvious. The power now (February, 1912) required to operate the industrial enterprises and public service utilities of the country (excluding steam railroads and vessels) can be safely estimated at not less than 30,000,000 H. P. Approximately 6,000,000 H. P. is now generated by water, the rest is generated from fuel, mainly coal. The quantity of coal required to produce a horsepower hour in steam varies according to the quality of the coal and the size and efficiency of the engines. It is claimed that under the most favorable condition a pound of coal can be made to produce one horsepower hour. From this minimum the estimated quantity ranges as high as even six or seven pounds. Assuming, however, that on the average a horsepower hour in steam can be produced by three pounds of coal (and this quantity probably understates the average quantity of coal required, and the corresponding saving by the substitution of water power) the power now produced by water saves at least 33,000,000 tons of coal per year. This is based on a twelve-hour day.
“By reason of distance from markets, cost of development and other causes, it will doubtless be many years before a quantity equal to even the “minimum potential” water power of the country, 32,083,000 horsepower, can be advantageously developed. It is certain, however, that under favorable con ditions several additional millions of horsepower can now profitably be developed from water, thus affecting a still further conservation of our fuel. The millions of water power economically available, but undeveloped, represent absolute waste
“In brief, the real conservation of water power is its use. So much of this natural resource, therefore, as can advantageously be used should have prompt and complete development; but in doing this certain important economic forces are called into action, and the effect of these forces upon the public welfare must be fully recognized, and the public interests safeguarded.”
With these sentiments so admirably expressed by Mr. Smith, I am confident all who have investigated the subject are in accord.
This extract from Mr. Smith's report indicates that for each horsepower economically available for development there is now being substituted and burned five and one-half tons of coal per year. This is based on a twelve-hour day. This represents, as he says, “absolute waste.” At two dollars per ton this is equivalent to a waste at the rate of eleven dollars per