States Redrawn As 48 Watersheds


The lower 48 states as they are and as they would be if states were defined by their watersheds. - COMMUNITY BUILDERS BLOG
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  • The lower 48 states as they are and as they would be if states were defined by their watersheds.

Water is a source of contention across the U.S. In Texas, a long drought has some drilling wells to save their green lawns—a source of concern to lawmakers and environmentalists. Elsewhere, water rights are a source of disputes with the agricultural sectors of state economies hanging in the balance. So what would this country look like if states were defined by their watersheds?

Cartographer John Lavey of the Sonoran Institute in Bozeman, Mont., has created a map that does just that. State borders are redefined not by mountain ranges or the courses of rivers but by watersheds.

The result is a little less orderly than the present setup—boxy states like Wyoming and Colorado are much less so and Oklahoma practically doubles in size. Idaho subsumes Missoula, Mont., and Spokane, Wash., but otherwise keeps its shape.

According to The Washington Post, there are some good reasons why drawing boundaries by watersheds is more intuitive than a glance at the map implies. Lavey's state lines would clarify water rights, assuage numerous state vs. state lawsuits and give states a fresh start when it comes to balancing their water use.

Lavey isn't the first person to do this—he's following the lead of John Wesley Powell, who explored the Colorado River in 1869 and 1872. Seeing that water is a finite resource in the western U.S., he suggested that states be redefined by the huge basins that divide water drainage systems rather than by other geographical features.

If dividing America into mini-nations helps explain America's propensity toward violence, breaking America into watersheds might help explain an emerging interstate conflict over water.