Rivers and Their Uses
The most obvious use of a river is the conveyance of surplus rainwater off the land to the sea. A river is, indeed, a great drain on a large scale, serving the same purpose for a large country which the drains and gutters and water channels constructed by men serve for a town. But for the drains, the town would be periodically flooded; and but for the rivers, whole countries would be submerged underwater.
But rivers do much more than this. The rise in the mountains and all the streams and mountain torrents which feed them carry down rock and sand and soil from the mountainsides; and when these rushing rivers reach the plains and their waters move slowly across the great levels, all this solid matter sinks to the bottom and is deposited as fertile soil. Some of the most fertile, areas of land, like the Gangetic Plain in India, and, in Egypt, the valley of the Nile, have been created in this way by great rivers. And in a smaller way, all rivers are constantly bringing fresh fertile soil to the fields of the cultivators.
In a dry country like India, rivers are the source of the wonderful irrigation system, which has turned deserts into smiling gardens and productive farms. In Punjab, for example, the water of its Five Rivers, which used to run away uselessly to the sea, is now distributed by a network of canals (the most wonderful in the world) over vast areas, reclaiming millions of acres of desert. Of them, the words of the ancient Hebrew prophet may well be quoted: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them. And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as a rose.
Rivers, too, are important as highways. Before the introduction of railways, the large rivers of a country were a very necessary means of communication, especially when roads were fewer or bad. And even now, the traffic on navigable rivers is considerable and important. An immense amount of merchandise is carried up and down the rivers by steamships, sailing boats, and slow-moving barges. Anyone who has seen a river like the Ganges in India, or the Mississippi in America, will realize that navigation is still an important use of rivers.
Finally, there is the beauty of rivers – and beauty has an important use, in giving men pleasure and ennobling thoughts and feelings. Think of the wild beauty of the forming mountain torrent, the quiet, restful beauty of the placid river infertile land, the grand and majestic beauty of the great river rolling, unhurried but unpausing, to the great ocean! The earth without its rivers would lose half its beauty.