State Lines Would Be Much Different if Water and Topography Determined Location

Jan 14, 2014

How the states might look if their boundaries were drawn around water resources and topography.
How the states might look if their boundaries were drawn around water resources and topography.
Credit John Lavey / Sonoran Institute

State boundaries would be a lot different if a 19th Century idea would have been used to determine boundaries, and not railroad companies.  Colorado Matters recently explored the premise with John Lavey, a land use planner at the Sonoran Institute in Montana.

John Wesley Powell created a map of marking state boundaries if water resources and topography were the driving forces.  Lavey revisited the concept ad remapped the entire continental United States.

The map has gotten a lot of attention.  Lavey says it’s because it provides a way for people to think different about the future and contemplate how things can be changed positively.  For example, Lavey says that if states were organized around watersheds and the idea that water should be used efficiently, then it might be possible for governments and citizens to focus more on conservation.

Lavey also believes towns might have grown up with a more compact, mixed-use form and there might be more concern about ecosystem management.

“Maybe the local foods movement would be even stronger than it is,” says Lavey says.  “Because if you care about food, you care about water -- you can’t eat a carrot unless there’s water to grow it.”

But Lavey says it’s tough to say whether the water conflicts of today would really be any better.

“It’s Americans' nature to make the most out of what we have," Lavey says.  “So watershed groups might take a market-based approach and capitalize on their water resources and sell them in ways that might put cities in some places different than where they are now. Perhaps Grand Junction would be the watershed states Phoenix.”

You can listen to the conversation with John Lavey here.