The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 47
Irrigation is generally required for the production of grain in the East Cascade region. It is used in all parts from which a market is accessible, and sure and bountiful crops are obtained. The works consist generally of a dyke which retains the waters of a lake, or of a river, in such a way as to form a reservoir. In times of drought, once or twice during the summer this water is allowed to run through a conduit or ditch, which discharges into another ditch dug at the upper part of the fields which it is desired to irrigate. From this latter ditch proceed a large number of trenches, dug at regular distances along the fields, so that by allowing the water to remain for from 20 to 24 hours, the land between the trenches is moistened, and vegetation progresses as rapidly as if a grateful shower had watered the fields.
Even as managed now, irrigation is cheaper than clearing land in Eastern Canada. The cost of unsystematic irrigation, of course, will vary much in different parts of British Columbia. One authority says that irrigation in British Columbia costs 3 dollars (12s. English) an acre at present; but this appears to me either a high estimate, or it indicates want of skill, for irrigation (managed by individuals) costs only about 1 dollar (4s. English) per acre in Colorado, which country is not so well suited for irrigation as British Columbia. In India the cost was 2s. an acre many years ago, under a rude and cumbrous system. The cost is much less now.
The expense of irrigation is not an outlay like rent, or like the cost of clearing. Irrigation is rather to be classed as we would class manuring. The crops fully justify the outlay. The irrigating farmer has neither to clear nor to drain. His land is generally free from weeds and insects, and does not wear out. Another advantage is uniform quality of crop—the farmer being independent of seasons. The 'Rocky Mountain News' (Colorado) lately said—"Some weeks ago a shipment of flour from the Rough and Ready Mills "of Denver was made to Boston, and so highly prized there that an order "came back for fifty cart-loads. Being always grown by irrigation, it is not page 57 "surprising that it should be better than the wheat of California, which is "not irrigated, and varies in quality with different seasons."
This matter of irrigation is second in importance to none. Individuals already have done much in British Columbia; associated effort will do more, and by-and-by the province, and perhaps the Dominion, will help. The depth of the river channels is a difficulty in some parts, but this is better than having rivers that are liable to be dried up. The country is stored with water, and its conformation makes me think that local irrigation on some considerable systematised scale will be possible—unlike California, where, owing to the structure of the country, irrigation must be on a gigantic scale, if undertaken at all.
A few words may be added to explain the general principle of irrigation to emigrants who have not tried it in their own countries. It is an ascertained fact that water contains impurities, some of which are good for vegetation. When you spread water over the earth, much of this fertilising matter settles. In open soils through which water passes, the impurities are arrested as the water goes through. It is therefore an error to suppose that the soil can only be advantageously watered when there is a clay subsoil.
The land in a dry region like the East Cascade region must be regarded as being stored with soluble fertilisers, which have not been washed away by rains into running streams, but now remain, subject to local demands under some good plan of irrigation. In watering, you must not lay on water too strongly, or you will carry away more of this fertilising matter from the soil than you deposit A level may be used to find in what direction the water will go with the slowest possible motion. Running water is better for irrigation than spring water, because it has absorbed ammonia from the atmosphere, and spring water generally contains only mineral matter.