Most of us Western WaterWonks are aware of John Wesley Powell's idea to organize Western states according to watershed boundaries:
Powell felt such a configuration in the arid West would minimize water conflicts. Powerful interests, primarily rail companies, thwarted Powell's vision.
But what would the USA look like if Powell's vision had been realized at the national scale? Well, John Lavey, a Montana land-use planner in the Sonoran Institute's Bozeman office, decided to take that approach, given the following constraints:
- Keep 50 states
- Keep larger watersheds intact;
- Try to locate watershed states in roughly the same geography as present-day states;
- Maintain national borders; and
- Try to keep state capitals in each state
Here is Lavey's map, from the Mountain West News:
Here is a high-resolution image.
Lavey and others speculate upon what things might be like had Powell's vision had been realized. Would Los Angeles be the size it is today? How about other Western cities? Would Phoenix exist? Read the entire article here.
One issue not addressed in Lavey's map: groundwater, which does not necessaily follow watershed boundaries and can influence water levels far away from the point off use. Conflict might still arise over groundwater use, and that could offset the amity via-a-vis surface water use.
Too bad it is an experiment we cannot conduct.
Or can we?
"You are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights for there is not sufficient water to supply the land". -- John Wesley Powell