Ukraine

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2014

History 101

Ukraine is a Nation with Farmland so Fertile it earned the Moniker the ‘Breadbasket of Europe’

All roads may have led to Rome.  But all rivers led to Byzantium.  The city Constantine the Great of the Roman Empire turned into Constantinople.  Modern day Istanbul.  The great city on the Bosporus.  One-time trade crossroads of the world.  Where East met West.  And Europe met Asia.  Where goods from the Far East traveling on the Silk Road passed through on their way to Europe.  And where grain grown in the fertile river valleys of Eastern Europe passed through to feed the great empires.

Rivers created civilizations.  For they provided fertile farmland in their valleys.  And the rivers provided avenues for trade.  Which is why our great cities first appeared on rivers.  Like Kiev.  The Ukrainian capital.  On the Dnieper River.  Which flows from Smolensk through Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.  Emptying into the Black Sea.  Along with the Danube.  The Don.  And via a short portage from the Don, trade flowed to the Black Sea on the Volga, too.  (But the waters flowed into the Caspian Sea.)  And across the Black Sea lay Constantinople.  One-time trade crossroads of the world.

Ukraine is a nation with a lot of fertile farmland.  It is so fertile that it earned the moniker the ‘breadbasket of Europe’.  Making Ukraine some very valuable real estate.  Because of their grain production.  And the access the Dnieper River provided.  Opening trade between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople.  Providing Ukraine with a lot of north-south movement via the Dnieper.  As well as a lot of east-west movement via land between the Germanic tribes to the west.  And the Turkic people to the east.

To improve Relations with the Rus’ the Byzantine Patriarch converted the Rus’ and the Slavs to Christianity

Kiev was a crossroads.  Varangians (i.e., Vikings) moved south from Scandinavia.  The Greeks from Byzantine moved north.  As they did they bumped into the indigenous Slavs.  And the Khazars (one of those Turkic people).  Kiev was geographically in the Khazar Empire.  But the Varangians ruled Kiev.  As it was on their trade route with the Greeks in Constantinople.  It was the Varangians who ruled Kiev during the Golden Age (11th to early 12th centuries).  Which saw the rise of Kievan Rus’.  Which in time and much change gave us modern day Russia.

As the Rus’ expanded south they encroached on Khazar territory.  The Khazars allied with the Byzantine Empire and fought against the Persians and Arabs.  Who wanted that rich crossroads.  Constantinople.  As did the Rus’.  So there were all kinds of war with all kinds of people.  Which wasn’t good for trade.  So the Byzantines established a division of their empire on the Crimean peninsula on the northern shore of the Black Sea.  Near the mouth of the Dnieper.  The Theme of Cherson.  To ward off those raids by the Rus’.  And to protect the grain coming to Constantinople from the breadbasket of Europe.  The Theme of Cherson became the center of Black Sea commerce.

But to improve relations with the Rus’ the Byzantine Patriarch Photius sent emissaries to convert the Rus’ and the Slavs to Christianity.  In 863 brothers Cyril and Methodius headed north.  They could speak the Slavonic language.  Which was then only a spoken language.  They created an alphabet for them.  The Glagolitic alphabet.  Which became the Cyrillic alphabet.  And gave them a written language.  Translated scripture so they could read it.  And extended the Greek culture of the Byzantine Empire to these lands.  As well as Orthodox Christianity.  Which is why today many of the lands radiating out from the rivers flowing to the Black Sea are Orthodox Christian (Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, etc.).

Russian Migration into Ukraine helped make her less Ukrainian and more Russian

Kiev was one of the largest cities in the world.  Then came the invasions.  First from the Asian steppes to the east.  The Pechenegs in 968.  And then the Mongols in 1240.  Who completely destroyed Kiev.  Then the Lithuanians from the north (1320s).  Then the Crimean Tatars sacked and burned Kiev (1482).  Then Kiev passed to Poland (1569).  Then the Russians took it over.  In the 18th and 19th centuries the city was full of Russian soldiers.  And ecclesiastical authorities.  From the Russian Orthodox Church.  Making the Ukrainian people more Russian.  Some Ukrainians tried to change that in the 1840s but Russia put a stop to that.

The Russian Empire kept pushing south.  For they wanted a warm-water port.  Which they could have on the Black Sea.  All they had to do was fight through the Ukrainians.  Which they did.  By this time the Muslim Ottoman Turks had long conquered the Christian Byzantine Empire.  Which left the Ottomans open to Russian aggression once the Russians took Ukraine.  Of course, if the Russians conquered the Ottoman Empire that would give Russia open access to the Mediterranean Sea.  Where they could threaten the British Empire holdings.  Also, the Russians could free their fellow Orthodox Christians from Muslim rule.

This aggression exploded into one of the bloodiest wars in history.  The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856).  Much like the American Civil War the technology was well ahead of the tactics.  The Russian Empire took on the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia.  Russia lost.  And she lost what she most coveted.  That warm-water port.  But that didn’t last for long.  Changes elsewhere allowed Russia to reject portions of the peace treaty that ended that war.  And built a navy she operated out of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol (first founded in 1783 by Rear Admiral Thomas Mackenzie then fortified by Catherine the Great in 1784).  On the Crimea peninsula.  And the Russians have been there ever since.

But the beating the Russians took led Tsar Alexander II to free the serfs.  And try to advance the backward Russia to be more like the advanced nations that had beaten her.  But it was too late.  For this marked the beginning of the end for Tsarist Russia.  The war left her in great debt.  So much debt that Russia sold Alaska to the United States.  While creating social unrest that would eventually lead to the October Revolution.  And the Soviet Union.  All the while Russian migration into Ukraine continued.  Making Ukraine less Ukrainian and more Russian.  With the Russian language taking over in Kiev and other large Ukrainian cities.  Pushing the Ukrainian language and culture to the country.  Leading to a divided Ukraine.  Under the boot of the Soviet regime.  Until the collapse of the Soviet Union.  When Ukraine finally got her independence.  Which Russian president and former KGB officer of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin, is now currently taking away.

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Moving Big Things in Small Spaces

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 11th, 2013

Technology 101

Ships once used Tugs to Maneuver around in Small Spaces but Today they use Tunnel Thrusters

As technology progressed the more things we needed to make other things.  Small factories grew into large manufacturing plants.  Which consumed vast quantities of material to produce vast quantities of goods.  Requiring ever larger means of transportation.  And we have built some behemoths of transportation.

Water transport has been the preferred method for heavy transport.  Which is why most early cities were on rivers.  As time passed our cities got bigger.  Our industry got bigger.  And our ships got bigger.  Huge bulk freighters bring iron ore, coal, limestone, etc., from northern ports across the Great Lakes to docks on small rivers and harbors further south.  On the open lakes these ships can put the pedal to the metal.  Roaring across these lakes at breakneck speeds of 15 mph.  If you’ve ever seen a Great Lakes freighter at full throttle you probably noticed something.  They push a lot of water out of their way.  Something they can’t do in those small rivers and harbors.  As their wake would push the river over its banks.  So they slow down to a non-wake speed of something slower than a person walking.

Lakes are huge bodies of deep water.  But these Great Lakes freighters, or lakers, often enter narrow and shallow rivers.  Some rivers even too shallow.  So they dredge a channel in them.  So these lakers don’t bottom out.  Some lakers have to travel upriver to offload.  Then turn around.  Which isn’t easy in a shallow river when your ship is 700-1,000 feet long.  They once used tugs to push these ships around.  But today they use tunnel thrusters.  An impeller inside a tunnel through the ship at the bow and stern perpendicular to the beam and below the water line.  Which can turn a ship without the forward motion a rudder requires.  Allowing it to move as if a tug is pushing it.  Only without a tug.

Interesting thing about Trains is that they don’t have a Steering Wheel

With the introduction of the railroad cities moved away from rivers and coastlines.  But the railroads only became a part of the heavy transport system.  Cities grew up along the railroads.  Where farmers in a region brought their harvests to grain elevators.  Trains took their harvests from these elevators to ports on rivers and coastlines.  Where they could offload to ships or barges.  And it would take a large ship or a barge.  Because one long train can carry a lot of harvest.

Interesting thing about trains is that they don’t have a steering wheel.  For there is only two directions they can go.  Forward.  And backward.  If you’ve traveled passenger rail to the end of the line you may have experienced a train turning around.  The train will reduce speed to a crawl as they switch over to a perpendicular-running track.  For trains do not travel well on curves.  Because the wheels are connected to a solid axel.  So in a turn the outer wheel needs to travel faster to keep up with the inner wheel.  But can’t.  Causing the wheels to slip instead.  Causing wear and tear on the train wheels.  And track.  Which is why curved track does not last as long as straight track.  The train travels a while on this perpendicular track at a crawl until the rear end passes another switch.  It then stops.  And goes backward.  Switching back to the track it was originally on.  Only now backing up instead of traveling forward.  The train then backs into the passenger terminal.  Ready to leave from this end of the line going forward.  To the other end of the line.

Freight trains are a lot longer than passenger trains.  Some can be a mile long.  Or longer.  And rarely turn around like a freight train.  Rail cars are added to each other creating a consist in a rail yard.  A switcher (small locomotive) moves back and forth picking up cars and attaching them to the consist.  In the reverse order which they will be disconnected and left in rail yards along the way.  Once they build the consist they bring in the go-power.  Typically a lashup of 2-3 locomotives (or more if they’re the older DC models).  The lead locomotive will typically face forward.  Putting the engineer at the very front of the train.  In the old days they had roundhouses to switch the direction of these locomotives.  Today they turn them around when they need to like the passenger train turning around.  Which is much easier as they only have to turn around one locomotive in the lashup.

Planes may Fly close to 500 mph in the Air but on the Ground they move about as Fast as Someone can Walk

Airplanes are big.  In flight they’re as graceful as a bird in flight.  But it’s a different story on the ground.  Planes are big and heavy.  They have a huge wingspan.  And the pilots sit so far forward that they can’t see how close their wingtips are to other things.  Such as other airplanes.  When they leave a gate they usually have a tug push them back and get them facing forward.  At which time they start their engines.  As it would be dangerous to start them while at the gate where there are a lot of people and equipment servicing the plane.  They don’t want to suck anything—a person or a piece of equipment—into the jet engines.  And they don’t want to blow anything away moving behind the engines as the jet blast from a jet can blow a bus away.  And has.  In flight they use their ailerons to turn.  The flaps on the tips of each wing that roll a plane left or right.  Causing the plane to turn.  The rudder is used for trimming a plane.  Or, in the case of an engine failure, to correct for asymmetric thrust that wants to twist the airplane like a weathercock.  On the ground they use a little steering wheel (i.e., a tiller) outboard of the pilot (to the left of the left seat and to the right of the right seat) to turn the nose gear wheel.

Pilots can’t see a lot out of the cockpit window while on the ground.  Which is why they rely on ground crews to give them direction.  And to walk alongside the wings during the pushback.  To make sure the wings don’t hit anything.  And that no one hits the plane.  Once the tug disconnects and the plane is under its own power the flight crew takes directions from ground controllers.  Whose job is to safely move planes around the airport while they’re on the ground.  Planes may fly close to 500 mph in the air but on the ground they move about as fast as someone can walk.  For planes are very heavy.  If they get moving too fast they’re not going to be able to stop on a dime.  Which would be a problem if they’re in a line of planes moving along a taxiway to the runway.

When we use big things to move people or freight they work great where they are operating in their element.  A ship speeding across an open lake.  A train barreling along straight track.  Or a plane jetting across the open skies.  But when we rein these big things in they are out of their element.  Ships in narrow, shallow rivers.  Trains on sharply curved track.  And planes on the ground.  Where more accidents happen than when they are in their element.  Ships that run into bridges.  Trains that derail.  And planes that hit things with their wings.  Because it’s not easy moving big things in small places.

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River Traffic, Road Traffic, Ferry Crossings, Vertical Lift Bridges and Bascule Bridges

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 7th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published March 6th, 2013)

Bridges that rise High Enough for Shipping Traffic to Pass Underneath need Long Approaches

As civilizations expanded they followed rivers inland.  People traveled on the river and founded new cites on sites further upstream.  Which they could supply from cities downstream.  Including the materials to build a waterwheel and lumber mill.  They can go upstream to fell trees and float them downriver to the lumber mill.  They can use this lumber to expand the city.  Out away from the river.  On a growing network of roads.  On both sides the river.

As this city grows cross-river traffic increases.  A road on both sides of the river end at a dock.  Between these docks runs a ferry.  That can transport people, horses, carts, wagons, etc.  Allowing people and goods to travel anywhere within this city on the river.  Over time cross-river traffic increases causing backups at the ferry crossing.  Eventually cars replace horses.  Concrete replaces dirt roads.  And vehicular traffic increases.  While railroads connect our cities.  All of which has to cross the river.  While at the same time allowing boats to continue to navigate the river.

If you ever driven on a bridge over a navigable river with shipping traffic you probably noticed a couple of things.  First of all, when you crossed the navigable portion of the waterway you were pretty high in the air.  Second, there was a long approach to that portion of the bridge that allowed you to reach that height over a gradual incline.  And you started that incline about a mile or so away from the river.  Which is fine for an interstate that can rise above a city until it reaches a sufficient height to cross the river without impeding river traffic.  But it’s a bit of a problem for the roads at the river’s edge.  For it is just not practical to drive a mile or so away from the river, cross over on the bridge, and then drive a mile or so back to the river.  Not to mention the incredible cost of such a bridge that would provide only one river crossing.  It would be far more practical and less costly to build multiple bridge crossings at the current elevation of the roads at the river’s edge.  But that would, of course, block river traffic to most commercial shipping.

The Vertical Lift Bridge can lift Heavier Road Sections than Bascule Bridges with the same Size Counterweights

The solution is the moveable bridge.  A bridge at the elevation of the local roads so a car can cross from one shore to the other in the shortest possible distance.  And one that can move to create an opening in the roadway to allow a ship to navigate the river at the bridge crossing.  Because vehicular traffic is greater than river traffic vehicular bridges are normally in a position to allow vehicular traffic to cross.  In places where river traffic is greater than rail traffic rail bridges are normally in a position to allow river traffic to pass.  Which can be a problem for trains that ignore a red signal to stop.  For a train can drive right off the tracks and into a river.  And have.

Two of the most common moveable bridges are the vertical lift bridge.  And the bascule bridge.  Each has benefits.  Each has its faults.  The vertical lift bridge raises a portion of the roadway over the shipping channel.  At each end of the lifting section is a tower.  Inside these towers are counterweights.  The counterweights equal the weight of the section of the moveable roadway.  Because the roadway and the weights are balanced it doesn’t take much force to raise or lower the bridge.  Like an elevator in a building.

Older bridges had a bridge operator that rode up and down with the bridge.  As a ship approached traffic signals would stop traffic.  Once all traffic was off the bridge gates came down blocking further traffic from entering.  Once all vehicles and pedestrians were off the lift portion a signal sounded to warn people the bridge would begin to move.  Then it moved.  The section of roadway traveled up between the two towers.  Creating a safe passage for the ship below.  Most bridges today are automated and unmanned.  The big advantage of the lift bridge is the size of the counterweights.  They only have to equal the weight of the span. Allowing heavier road sections to be lifted.  Making them good for rail bridges.

The ‘Chicago’ Bascule Bridge is the most common Moveable Bridge in the World

The drawback to the vertical lift bridge is that there is still a maximum height of ship that can pass underneath.  Which isn’t a problem for most shipping.  But it can be an issue for some oversized loads or ships with tall masts.  Also, those tall towers can be unsightly.  Consider a city like Chicago.  Which has a lot of tall buildings right on the banks of the Chicago River.  Where a lot of bridge towers at all of those river crossings could really ugly up the Chicago skyline.  So in Chicago you won’t see vertical lift bridges spanning the Chicago River.  Instead you’ll see bascule bridges.

The typical bascule bridge you see in Chicago is a double-leaf bascule bridge.  Bascule is French for seesaw.  Think of a playground seesaw.  When one side goes up the other side goes down.  Each leaf of a bascule bridge is a seesaw.  A teeter-totter.  One side of the seesaw is a metal roadbed.  The other side is a counterweight.  When the bridge opens the counterweight teeters down below the road elevation while the other end teeters up above the road elevation.  Creating an opening over the river for ships to pass through.  To span a river two seesaws are connected together with their metal roadbeds pointing towards each other.  And their counterweights pointing away from the river.  Because the leaf is longer than the counterweight the counterweight has to be heavier than the bridge leaf.  To equal the torque between the leaf and the counterweight.  So it takes the same turning force to raise and lower the bridge leaf.  Keeping both sides of the seesaw balanced so it takes little power to operate a bascule bridge.  Just as it takes little power to raise and lower a vertical lift bridge.

The greater weight of the counterweights makes the bascule bridge more costly than the vertical lift bridge.  But in return for the added cost you get a cleaner bridge installation with no unsightly towers.  And when the bridge is opened there is no limit to how tall a ship can pass through the bridge crossing.  Because there is an open gap in the roadway.  Which creates one additional challenge for the bascule bridge over the vertical lift bridge.  When a lift bridge rises cables can rise with it like in an elevator.  Keeping both ends and the moveable roadway connected to each other electrically.  Both power and communication.  This is not possible in the bascule bridge.  With nothing going over the river crossing when the bridge is open there is only one option for electrically connecting the two ends of the bridge.  If cables can’t go over a ship they must go underneath a ship.  With a bascule bridge submarine power and communication cables interconnect the two bridge ends.  Requiring a diving crew to lay this cable.  Making both the bridge cost and maintenance more costly on a bascule bridge than a vertical lift bridge.  But in return you get a less unsightly installation.  And a shorter time to open and close the bridge.  Making the ‘Chicago’ bascule bridge the most common moveable bridge in the world.

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River Traffic, Road Traffic, Ferry Crossings, Vertical Lift Bridges and Bascule Bridges

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 6th, 2013

Technology 101

Bridges that rise High Enough for Shipping Traffic to Pass Underneath need Long Approaches

As civilizations expanded they followed rivers inland.  People traveled on the river and founded new cites on sites further upstream.  Which they could supply from cities downstream.  Including the materials to build a waterwheel and lumber mill.  They can go upstream to fell trees and float them downriver to the lumber mill.  They can use this lumber to expand the city.  Out away from the river.  On a growing network of roads.  On both sides the river.

As this city grows cross-river traffic increases.  A road on both sides of the river end at a dock.  Between these docks runs a ferry.  That can transport people, horses, carts, wagons, etc.  Allowing people and goods to travel anywhere within this city on the river.  Over time cross-river traffic increases causing backups at the ferry crossing.  Eventually cars replace horses.  Concrete replaces dirt roads.  And vehicular traffic increases.  While railroads connect our cities.  All of which has to cross the river.  While at the same time allowing boats to continue to navigate the river.

If you ever driven on a bridge over a navigable river with shipping traffic you probably noticed a couple of things.  First of all, when you crossed the navigable portion of the waterway you were pretty high in the air.  Second, there was a long approach to that portion of the bridge that allowed you to reach that height over a gradual incline.  And you started that incline about a mile or so away from the river.  Which is fine for an interstate that can rise above a city until it reaches a sufficient height to cross the river without impeding river traffic.  But it’s a bit of a problem for the roads at the river’s edge.  For it is just not practical to drive a mile or so away from the river, cross over on the bridge, and then drive a mile or so back to the river.  Not to mention the incredible cost of such a bridge that would provide only one river crossing.  It would be far more practical and less costly to build multiple bridge crossings at the current elevation of the roads at the river’s edge.  But that would, of course, block river traffic to most commercial shipping.

The Vertical Lift Bridge can lift Heavier Road Sections than Bascule Bridges with the same Size Counterweights

The solution is the moveable bridge.  A bridge at the elevation of the local roads so a car can cross from one shore to the other in the shortest possible distance.  And one that can move to create an opening in the roadway to allow a ship to navigate the river at the bridge crossing.  Because vehicular traffic is greater than river traffic vehicular bridges are normally in a position to allow vehicular traffic to cross.  In places where river traffic is greater than rail traffic rail bridges are normally in a position to allow river traffic to pass.  Which can be a problem for trains that ignore a red signal to stop.  For a train can drive right off the tracks and into a river.  And have.

Two of the most common moveable bridges are the vertical lift bridge.  And the bascule bridge.  Each has benefits.  Each has its faults.  The vertical lift bridge raises a portion of the roadway over the shipping channel.  At each end of the lifting section is a tower.  Inside these towers are counterweights.  The counterweights equal the weight of the section of the moveable roadway.  Because the roadway and the weights are balanced it doesn’t take much force to raise or lower the bridge.  Like an elevator in a building.

Older bridges had a bridge operator that rode up and down with the bridge.  As a ship approached traffic signals would stop traffic.  Once all traffic was off the bridge gates came down blocking further traffic from entering.  Once all vehicles and pedestrians were off the lift portion a signal sounded to warn people the bridge would begin to move.  Then it moved.  The section of roadway traveled up between the two towers.  Creating a safe passage for the ship below.  Most bridges today are automated and unmanned.  The big advantage of the lift bridge is the size of the counterweights.  They only have to equal the weight of the span. Allowing heavier road sections to be lifted.  Making them good for rail bridges.

The ‘Chicago’ Bascule Bridge is the most common Moveable Bridge in the World

The drawback to the vertical lift bridge is that there is still a maximum height of ship that can pass underneath.  Which isn’t a problem for most shipping.  But it can be an issue for some oversized loads or ships with tall masts.  Also, those tall towers can be unsightly.  Consider a city like Chicago.  Which has a lot of tall buildings right on the banks of the Chicago River.  Where a lot of bridge towers at all of those river crossings could really ugly up the Chicago skyline.  So in Chicago you won’t see vertical lift bridges spanning the Chicago River.  Instead you’ll see bascule bridges.

The typical bascule bridge you see in Chicago is a double-leaf bascule bridge.  Bascule is French for seesaw.  Think of a playground seesaw.  When one side goes up the other side goes down.  Each leaf of a bascule bridge is a seesaw.  A teeter-totter.  One side of the seesaw is a metal roadbed.  The other side is a counterweight.  When the bridge opens the counterweight teeters down below the road elevation while the other end teeters up above the road elevation.  Creating an opening over the river for ships to pass through.  To span a river two seesaws are connected together with their metal roadbeds pointing towards each other.  And their counterweights pointing away from the river.  Because the leaf is longer than the counterweight the counterweight has to be heavier than the bridge leaf.  To equal the torque between the leaf and the counterweight.  So it takes the same turning force to raise and lower the bridge leaf.  Keeping both sides of the seesaw balanced so it takes little power to operate a bascule bridge.  Just as it takes little power to raise and lower a vertical lift bridge.

The greater weight of the counterweights makes the bascule bridge more costly than the vertical lift bridge.  But in return for the added cost you get a cleaner bridge installation with no unsightly towers.  And when the bridge is opened there is no limit to how tall a ship can pass through the bridge crossing.  Because there is an open gap in the roadway.  Which creates one additional challenge for the bascule bridge over the vertical lift bridge.  When a lift bridge rises cables can rise with it like in an elevator.  Keeping both ends and the moveable roadway connected to each other electrically.  Both power and communication.  This is not possible in the bascule bridge.  With nothing going over the river crossing when the bridge is open there is only one option for electrically connecting the two ends of the bridge.  If cables can’t go over a ship they must go underneath a ship.  With a bascule bridge submarine power and communication cables interconnect the two bridge ends.  Requiring a diving crew to lay this cable.  Making both the bridge cost and maintenance more costly on a bascule bridge than a vertical lift bridge.  But in return you get a less unsightly installation.  And a shorter time to open and close the bridge.  Making the ‘Chicago’ bascule bridge the most common moveable bridge in the world.

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Rising Water, Flood Stage, Dams, Sluice Gates and Flood Control

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 27th, 2013

Technology 101

We have spent much of our History trying to Tame the Awesome Power of Water

Water can be scary.  And very powerful.  Which helps with it being scary.  We saw what happened when that storm surge hit the East Coast.  It just swept everything in its path.  For water has mass.  Making it heavy.  Just try holding a couple of buckets of water with your arms outstretched.  You won’t be able to hold them up long.  Now think about the weight of a few billion buckets.  An amount no one could move.  But there are few things this amount of water can’t move.  Except maybe a levee.  A floodwall.  Or a dam.

Also making water scary is that you don’t know what is lurking beneath the surface.  During periods of heavy rains storm sewers quickly fill to capacity.  Water backs out onto streets.  Flooding intersections.  And basements.  Streams and rivers rise above their flood stage.  And overflow their banks.  Water saturating the soil may wash it away from underneath.  Creating large sink holes.  That from the surface may look like a puddle of water.  Water overflowing riverbanks can hide many dangers.  Submerged debris that can entangle you.  That have swift and dangerous currents flowing through them.

Rising water can get into areas where it doesn’t belong.  It got into the subway tunnels in New York.  Causing a lot of damage.  It got into the basement electrical rooms at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.  Causing a lot of damage.  Including a partial meltdown of the reactor core.  A failed levee can flood a city.  Like New Orleans.  So untamed water can do a lot of damage.  And we have spent much of our history trying to tame the awesome power of water.

Each Spring the Snows melt and the Rains come Swelling Rivers beyond their Flood Stage

Early cities rose on rivers.  For rivers were our first highways.  The river’s current turned water wheels to power our mills and factories.  Provided irrigation for our farms.  Etc.  Rivers allowed cities to come to life.  Which is why a lot of our cities today have rivers flowing through them.  Yes, a river view is beautiful.  And the recreational opportunities are plentiful.  But they are not why we founded these cities on rivers.  It was all the benefits the river provided.  Things that allowed a civilization to grow.  But it wasn’t all good.

Each spring the snows melted.  And the rains came.  Swelling rivers beyond their flood stage.  Overflowing their banks.  Bringing great damage to life along the rivers.  Especially to the towns on its banks.  So we did something with these rivers that were prone to such damaging flooding.  And built a dam upstream.  To control that flooding.

They would choose an appropriate location upstream.  Some place where the river valley narrowed a bit.  So they could build a dam across the valley.  Once they did the water upstream of the dam rose into a lake or reservoir.  Providing a source of drinking water.  Irrigation water.  Recreation.  Or power generation with a hydroelectric dam.  Very beneficial things.  But all secondary to its main purpose.  To eliminate that recurring flooding.

A Dam’s Sluice Gates are the Key to Flood Control

If you’ve ever seen a dam on a river you probably noticed some things.  Turbulent water at the base of the dam on the downstream side.  Warning signs and some sort of a barricade (such as a chain stretched across the river held up with floats) a hundred feet or so in front of the dam on the upstream side.  Signs you would be wise to heed.  For great danger lurks beneath the surface of the water.  In that dam are underwater openings.  That have moving gates to make these openings bigger or smaller.  Sluice gates.  And you don’t want to be anywhere near these gates whenever they’re open.  For the weight of a few billion gallons of water creates a powerful force of water moving towards those gates and through the openings.  If you ever thought of diving off a small dam don’t.  You would be sucked quickly to these openings.  If they are not opened enough for your body to fit through the force of the water would hold you against the openings until you drowned.  If the opening is large enough the water will flush you through with great force and violence.  Discharging you into the turbulent water on the downstream side of the dam.

These gates are the key to flood control.  During the snowmelt runoff and heavy rains of spring we can close these gates to allow only a trickle of water flow.  Maintaining a safe river level downstream.  The excess snowmelt runoff and the rains will fill the lake or the reservoir upstream of the dam.  After the rains stop they can open the gates a little more to bring down the level of the lake or reservoir.  Without sending the river downstream above its flood stage.  If the level rises too high behind the dam the water will enter a spillway and flow over/around/through the dam.  Like an overflow in a sink.  Allowing the water to rise only to a maximum level behind the dam before spilling over/around/through the dam.  Joining that turbulent water on the downstream side.  Which you want to avoid as much as the dangers on the upstream side of the dam.

We haven’t always been successful in controlling the awesome power of water.  Some dams we’ve built have failed.  Like the Teton Dam in Idaho.  An earthen dam.  Just upstream of Wilford.  Built for flood control.  To protect the towns and farmlands downstream of the dam.  As it turned out, though, the Bureau of Reclamation did a poor job building the dam.  And the rains were heavy that year.  Raising the level behind the dam 3 feet a day instead of the designed 1 foot.  Water started leaking through the dam.  Saturating the soil making up the dam.  The water rose rapidly.  But before it could reach the spillway the dam gave way.  Sending some 80 billion gallons of water rushing downstream.  Wiping out Wilford.  And destroying most of Sugar City.  And Rexburg.  Causing damage as far away as 30 miles downstream in Idaho Falls.  Illustrating the awesome power of water.  And the price we pay when we don’t give it the proper respect.

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