|A golf course in Palm Springs Desert irrigated with water from Northern California and Colorado.|
Let's look at California as an example. Political power in this state in concentrated in large coastal cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. These cities do not have enough water to sustain themselves, but because political power is concentrated in their populations, they can overpower the will of residents in neighboring watersheds to demand access to water. This is why Los Angeles enjoys a steady stream of water from Northern California's Sierra Nevada mountains. The residents of these mountains do not have the political clout to rebuke Los Angeles' demands.
But what if residents of an area did have the ability to decide how to use their own water? What if each watershed was an independent state, in charge of managing it's own water resources. Many cities would find themselves separated from their water sources by watershed boundaries. San Francisco and Los Angeles, no longer in control of water from neighboring watersheds, would only be entitled to the water which neighboring watershed states agreed to provide.
This is not a new idea. In the late 1800s, director of the USGS John Wesley Powell suggested the idea of determining the boundaries of western states based on watersheds. His idea was that each region would be responsible for their own water, and would not be forced to supply water to another region involuntarily. In this scenario, Los Angeles would be powerless to override the will of water-rich northern Sierra residents as their political institutions would be distinct instead of combined into one state.
|Powell's map of States based on watersheds.|
Look at the map above - clearly, none of Powell's recommendations were adopted. Those who live near potable water are doomed for the foreseeable future to provide water to the dry cities of the west and desert southwest. Hopefully better management techniques will be implemented before the water runs out all together.