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"align the nation’s political landscape with its natural resource base"
July 15, 2013 8:42 PM   Subscribe

our highly speculative proposal for the reconfiguration of the political geography of the United States to better conform to the spatial distribution of various water resources, such as rivers, aquifers, and man-made infrastructures.

In 1890, a man named John Wesley Powell made a map he called "Arid region of the United States, showing drainage districts."
The Vision of John Wesley Powell - Explorer Foresaw Water Issues That Would Plague the West
posted by the man of twists and turns (14 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yep, there's the southern half of Cascadia, clear as day...
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:24 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am intrigued by the idea of watershed-based political boundaries. That seems to make a lot more sense than the way we do it right now. On the other hand though, even if your watershed is your own, there are plenty of other ways your neighbors can fuck with you. They can pollute your air (up to and including destroying the climate regime that brings rain to your watershed), they can fish out the ocean stocks of your anadramous fishes, or they can just roll 10,000 battle tanks into your capital city. However we draw our boundaries, we're still going to have neighbors that we need to get along with. Maybe this would reduce some of the bickering and inefficiencies, but at the end of the day there are going to be X humans and Y gallons of fresh water, and we'll have to make it work no matter where the lines are drawn on the map. Also, the shitstorm that would result from actually trying to implement a plan like this in the U.S. defies imagining.
But yeah, it would be neat if we could have this, as a way to make self-interest align more with good decisions about how to use our natural-resources.
Thanks, the man of twists and turns!
posted by agentofselection at 9:25 PM on July 15, 2013


Also, I have to admire the cartographic love that went into Powell's original maps. I make maps like the ones in the first link every day. They are fast and easy and accurate, but they don't have the love. The pastel hues washing into each other in Powell's...maybe I should start letting more of my maps get water damaged before I bind them into the reports. Clients would like that, right?
posted by agentofselection at 9:34 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I live in California, and one thing I don't think the article (I skimmed it) touched on was the fact that California exists as an agricultural state due to extensive water canals. Drive down I-5 and you'll trace the path of the central valley canal... and you'll also pass billboards complaining about the current system of allocating water. Maybe it's because of how I dislike the politics of farmers, and also because I see more inherent value in urban areas, but I tend to give a higher priority to giving water to Los Angeles than central valley farms. On the other hand, I do love California almonds, so I'm conflicted there.
posted by happyroach at 1:09 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


and you'll also pass billboards complaining about the current system of allocating water

STOP THE CONGRESS CREATED DUST BOWL.
posted by Justinian at 1:15 AM on July 16, 2013


LA: Drinking your milkshake since 1913.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:55 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I see more inherent value in urban areas

*boggles*
posted by DU at 4:11 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Good luck eating those people the city grows!
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:45 AM on July 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's really terrible to read what happened with Powell. He was a hotshot and a hero after his exploits down the Colorado, and he used that to great effect in marshalling the various mapping parties into the USGS. But his recommendations on water were summarily ignored. Unfortunately, for the five years after his report, it was unnaturally wet, so his ideas were cast aside. Then the typical climate returned...

I bought "Beyond the 100th Meridian" for the boat trip. I stayed for the ridiculous politics. Same as it ever was - some people think the land is there solely for to exploit; some have a bit of a longer view.
posted by notsnot at 5:20 AM on July 16, 2013


Farmers' politics are more traditional and conservative because their product is a tangible thing. When the tax man shows up and takes a fifth or a third or your pile of stuff to give it to someone else because some politician promised his voters the moon to get elected, or threatens to take your land if you don't sell some of your produce to pay the bill in cash, that is bound to rub you the wrong way. Whereas with me, the urban dweller, when the tax man takes a share of my tree bark or electronic digits or whatever, it doesn't sting as much because I'm further removed from the fruit of my labor; with automatic withholding, most of us never see our original pile of our labor's fruits in the first place.
posted by resurrexit at 6:42 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


'On Average, Humanity Has Built One Large Dam Every Day for the Last 130 Years'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:48 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Creating political boundries based upon resource boundries sounds like a much better idea than the current system, though at this point any reallocation would come up against a world of interstate tribalism. I love that on all these speculative maps my beloved New England remains a political entity and isn't rolled into a larger region. It's like the cartographers know better than to cross us with their newfangled ideas. That said, I have a couple quibbles:

1) The hell anyone is going to take a chunk of Vermont away from us and give it to New York. Those folks have enough territory and Burlington and Lake Champlain are OURS!

2) I'll be dead and in the cold, cold ground before Concord, NH is the capitol of New England.
posted by Lighthammer at 6:58 AM on July 16, 2013


Ooh thanks for this.

Initial thoughts, you'd think that an archipelago like Hawai'i would be geopolitically simple in terms of water management and -- in many respects that land and natural resource managers are happily relearning now -- the watershed-based political divisions of the Hawaiian kingdom were very intuitive and practical. Yet the embodied water imported within food and other items as well as the water demand of the visitor industry makes the current "water-political" boundaries of Hawai'i not nearly as clear-cut as one might assume.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:09 AM on July 16, 2013


Drive down I-5 and you'll trace the path of the central valley canal...

Hey! That's the Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown California Memorial Aqueduct to you.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:04 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


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