Irrigation.In the late '70s and early '80s a general interest in irrigation spread throughout the western states. The settlers of western Kansas realizing the extreme fertility and richness of their soil, if only sufficient moisture could be obtained, received the irrigation idea with enthusiasm, which resulted in much speculation about the possibilities of irrigating from the Arkansas river, and its ultimate trial. One company, organized at Garden City in 1879, dammed a channel in the river between an island and the main land. From the reservoir thus formed was dug a ditch 8 feet wide, 2 feet deep and 10 miles long. This was successful enough to induce many other companies to organize irrigation projects, and in 1883, not less than five large ditches had been constructed in that vicinity. All of these ditches when first made had an ample flow of water from the river and would, if the flow had been uninterrupted, have supplied water for all of the lands below the ditches. About 1887 and 1888, Colorado people began an extensive system of irrigation from the Arkansas river. The great area watered from the stream diverted so much water, that by 1891-92 the ditches in the Kansas valley were practically abandoned. Litigation between Kansas and Colorado followed in the supreme court of the United States. The case was settled somewhat indefinitely, but practically against Kansas.
In 1895 the state took up the question, created a board of irrigation and defined its object and duties, as is seen in Section 5, Chapter 162, the Session laws of 1895, which reads: "In order that there may he made a practical test of the water supply on the uplands of western Kansas for irrigation purposes said board shall cause to be constructed twenty irrigation wells and pumping stations, or more if possible under this appropriation, not more than one of which shall be located in the same county, which shall be constructed and operated under the direction of said board in such manner that correct data of the depth of wells, quality of water supply, kinds of pumps and power employed, and the capacity of each of said wells, and said board are hereby empowered to make a practical test of the so-called underflow water for irrigation purposes, to make a fine and complete examination of said underflow water as they may be enabled to do with the means placed at their command, to demonstrate the best method of raising water to the surface and storing it for irrigation purposes, making as full and complete report of their investigation in detail," etc.
Full provision was made in the bill for directing all phases of the work and an appropriation of $30,000 was made to carry it on. This law is supplemented in Chapter 21, Session laws of 1897, by "an act relating to forestry and irrigation," combining both lines of investigation under one commissioner, manner of appointment, length of time, defining duties of said commission, and disposing of irrigation plants established by the state irrigation commission. In 1900 the commissioner reports that owing to lack of water and too heavy machinery, the irrigation plant at Ogallah station had not been as successful as had been hoped. The irrigation plants in Kansas had not met with the results anticipated when F. H. Newell, of the U. S. geological survey, reviewed the conditions in western Kansas and recommended wells as the best solution of the water supply problem.
In April, 1905, the United States geological survey announced to the public that preparation was being made to install an irrigation plant near Deerfield, Finney county, Kan., Prof. Schlichter, an engineer of the reclamation service, having demonstrated that there is a great underflow at that point which, by the use of pumps, could be utilized for irrigation. This plant was immediately constructed at a cost of $250,000 and used water from wells and from the Arkansas river for its canals. Up to this time the idea of irrigating from wells had existed in a limited way, but the discovery of an inexhaustible supply of underground water in Finney and other western counties along the Arkansas river, which can be found at a depth of 16 to 200 feet, created a system of windmill irrigation that is both extensive and successful. The water is pumped by the windmill into reservoirs, and from these it is carried by ditches leading to different fields. One windmill and one reservoir 75 by 150 feet and 6 feet deep will irrigate from 10 to 20 acres. While irrigation in the valley of the Arkansas river is the most extensive and important, there are other sections where different modes of irrigation have been employed advantageously. As early as 1877 a Mr. Allman, who supplied Fort Wallace with provisions, felt the necessity of artificial watering of crops, and built a satisfactory ditch from the Smoky Hill river, which ditch has been in continual use since that time. In Scott county, a Mr. Jones has a fully developed system of hillside irrigation, the water being obtained from springs. Mr. Warner, in the same county, has installed a system of flumes through which to convey spring water to his fields. In many parts of western Kansas are never failing springs, from which individual irrigation may be made. As they are located at different elevations, sometimes on the bed of an arroyo, at other times on the side of a high bluff, different engineering methods have to be used to control the water. In Meade county is an artesian area of about 20 miles in length by 6 miles in width. In this area wells have been drilled from 50 to 250 feet in depth. The flow of these wells varies from a pailful in five minutes to over 1,000 gallons per minute. (See Artesian Wells.) The water obtained is used for irrigation purposes. The accessible water supply of western Kansas has been of untold value, not only to its immediate territory, but to Kansas as a whole.Pages 941-942 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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