17. To map sediment transit across borders, I used some of the materials–tracing paper, pens, and backlit screens–to improvise a hand-drawn map designs to cast new light on the relations of border to national defense, placing the damming of water in the historical lineage of national building projects of the massive poured concrete dams that re-sculpted the migration of sediment that once ran to the Gulf of California. Taking a print format, and recreating it in a hand-drawn form, was an attempt to remove the map from an official context of land division, by situating where Border Wall construction began at Yuma, AZ in government projects that had stopped the flow of water to the Gulf of California. By cobbling together the images of the river’s massive watershed, state lines, and delta with a stark color scheme, I foregrounded dams not as sites of diversion or energy production,—framing its path on a transparency as a blockage of water: the lack of fixity of the very lines of the map in this drawing on a transparency suggested the less stable or permanent power of the lines on the map: the transparency suggested a way of looking less firmly at the architecture of the map of property lines, but returning to the “surface reading” of the lines of borders that have been made to pop out of most recent maps, to problematize the role that the border has played in the fate of the river’s flow across two nations.
While my own map was not based on a national dataset, but rather the tracing of the range from which the watershed collected sediment from its Upper and Lower Basin, the map asked readers to juxtapose the drainage basin–the very unit by which Powell had urged the government and Bureau of Land Management to parse western geography–and the states that currently derive water from the Colorado as it drains from Lake Mead. Instead of foregrounding the diversion and redirection of water, the transparency I drew from early twentieth century maps that provided a “base map” or template for my hand-drawn version tired to foreground reduced level of sediment in the river water that drains south, and now reaches the coast only several days a year. I sought to emphasize the integrity of the blue network of the Colorado lying across extensive watersheds of its Upper and Lower Basins, across the territorial lines of the states which divided water flow apportioned from the dammed Colorado. Over the twentieth century, a series of treaties that reduced water-rights of Mexico, and with it sediment migration to the Gulf of California. While the temporary restoration of flow of the river’s water had, in 2014, allowed the river for first time in many years to reach the sea–by opening dams to release an artificial “pulse flow” to the Colorado’s former delta as part of a project of landscape restoration of the Delta, engineering a temporary restoration of flow of over 100,000 acre feet of river water to the parched delta habitat and sandy channels, I hoped a transparency might map the dramatic shift in riverine habitat that the Hoover Dam had constructed over the land that changed its character.
While we often view the coast as a boundary, I tried to capture how the boundary of shores across which water migrates through the migration of water across the national border–and the migration of the sediment that long nourished the Colorado’s delta and its habitat. The map suggests the confluence between river and boundary, historically exploited by the United States Bureau of Land Management in the attempt to increase water diversion from the Colorado to flow the Imperial Valley, even when the delta was still a vibrant site of riverine flow. The expansion of irrigation areas in the first projects of diverting cross-border flow to retain water–and water rights, anticipating later projects of diversion and energy, retaining the river’s flow powerful north of the border,–long before the Hoover Dam and projections of irrigation, construing water rights to cast a river long flowing across the boundary, carrying sediment, in terms of a border.
Despite the absence of water from most all maps of the Border Wall–or U.S.-Mexico border–it bears remembering a massive expenditure of water–an estimated 84,000 gallons a day for the explosives erecting the “wall” across the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, in a combination of dust mitigation and that was pumped directly from the Sonoran desert aquifer, threatening fragile desert oases already endangered by climate change; a minimum of 50 million gallons of water are to be extracted at a minimum in the Arizona stretch of the border wall, often by drilling water wells on site across a region that is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The extraction of water for creating concrete for the border wall, and for dust mitigation, has created a mini-industry of extraction to meet demands for almost half a million gallons of water for each mile of border wall, sucking up groundwater to mix concrete and mitigate dust, that have led to increased contracts for well-drilling, often with minimal attention the negative impacts of sustained extraction as the water table lowers, and aquifers are depleted, as cartographer has shown using Google Earth. Inhabitants on both sides of the border have worked to keep water in the ground near the border, but in constructing the Border Wall, the US Dept. of Homeland Security has extracted increased water–almost half a million gallons per mile of border wall–to mix concrete, sucking up groundwater, as contractors unsupervised in desert habitat are managing water-drilling to meet demands of Customs and Border Protection. They have done so with little attention to ecological impacts among inter-agency pressure to move ahead, as contractors were awarded wavers for well-drilling threaten habitat of fish, federally protected species–Chiricahua leopard frogs, Huachuca water umbel, Mexican garter snakes and Aplomado falcon, as well as spring snails whose habitat depend on fragile surface water springs–as well as degrading habitat, interrupting migratory routes, and weakening historic aquifers. The recent pumping out of 32 million gallons of water for dust mitigation and concrete from November 2019-May 2020 greviously lowered the regional aquifer near the border.
The planning of water policy across borders a hundred years earlier raises questions of trans-border river basin management that were erased by the Colorado River Compact (1922). The compact between six states effectively created a “Law of the River,” to prevent states in its Upper Basin and Lower Basin from fighting for riparian rights: the river was cast as residing entirely in American jurisdiction, whose Seven and a half million acre-feet of water from its Upper Basin were divided among four states–Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Arizona, allocating over half to Colorado, and whose seven and half million acre-feet of water flow in the Lower Basin were divided by California, Arizona and Nevada, reserving just over half to California–by the addition of a rider permitting Mexico to access river water of a million and a half acre-feet in 1944, as if conceding usufruct to waters not “theirs” at all, but a form of access to the rainwater that fell in the lower forty-eight within American territoriality. The centrality of such an argument of territoriality may have led Donald Trump to chose Yuma, AZ to proclaim, surrounded by the acting commissioner for Homeland Security and acting deputy secretary, as well as the acting commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, that a small stretch of the Border Wall had been erected, with the mantra-like incantation, “our people are stronger–and our people are smarter!”
18. The border dovetailed nicely with private enrichment schemes. President Trump disguised the awarding of federal contracts to developers, contractors, and builders as a national project of defense and economic protection, as analogous to an infrastructure project, is opportune to consider as America’s infrastructure is showing multiple signs of climate-related decay, and the discussion of infrastructural improvement; imagining the border wall to be a public works project to unite the nation is distasteful as it suggests that Trump’s image of infrastructure was more rhetorical window-dressing, even if it used the language and machinery of building and construction. The former commander in chief’s distasteful remark was launched as a mantra against migrants. The boast of re-engineering of the border, confirmed by the proud display of a photograph of the stretch of Border Wall thus completed, as if it met comprehensive promise for securing national borders in the logo of U.S Border Patrol, even if it fell far short of the images of a forceful encircling of the nation’s boundaries in the Border Patrol logo.
But the imaginary of building to contain cross-border movement in a broad national project reached back to the forcing of an end to southward bound sediment in the very waters of the Colorado River that President Dwight Eisenhower enacted, for a President whose choices are often reinterpreted, but who presented his planned wall-building in 2015 as an infrastructure akin to the National Highway System, presented as a federal aid project in 1956 needed for national security as well as the economic infrastructure. Trump had indeed imagined genealogy casts the costly Border Wall as a form of infrastructure, echoing how his manifesto as a candidate who, like Eisenhower, had not held political office, asserted a willingness to “implement a bold, visionary plan for a cost-effective system of roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, railroads, ports and waterways, and pipelines in the proud tradition of President Dwight D Eisenhower, who championed the interstate highway system.”
The undoing of the national biases of atlas making occasioned a rebirth of sorts of the atlas that dispensed with the semantic dominance of national bounds. Perhaps the challenge of making an atlas from start to finish in a day might seem preposterous, Guerrilla Cartographers dedicated a day to bring attention to a truly global problem and concept like migration seemed an apt way to grapple with the multiplicity of migration today. If we are often unaware of it, isolated in our increasingly sedentary environments, apart from the world of movement in which so many lived, in worlds of transience and of displacement, afflicted by a tragically foreshortened awareness of forced or chosen emigration as what John Berger already recognized in 1988 as being “the quintessential experience of the age.” It is an experience that mirrors the parallel loosening of borders between nations for some, at the same time as their strengthening for others. To judge the success of our efforts, do view your own copy of the Migration Atlas, by downloading a free PDF of Atlas in a Day: Migration here!
In reminding the world of the resurgence of the wall as the primary economic divide of a new millennium, that may have even replaced class, John Berger acutely realized the world economy increasingly dependended on migration patterns, and global movement in a globalized market. Did it also depend on the restructuring of cross border flow? If the western states now depend on the flow of water from Lake Meade, the construction of the Hoover Dam as a basis to promise the arrival of water across the western states was a claim to greatness of the US Government in the Great Depression, allowing water to flow abundantly across millions of acres of farmland in California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, by redirecting te flow of the waters–and sediment–of the Colorado River–the Mighty Colorado, as it was known, or the American Nile. The role of borders in interrupting transit is no more palpably evident than in the redefining American access to water, and manipulation of the environment of the American West. The creation of the first attempt to retain water from the Colorado within American borders in 1928 by flooding the Imperial Valley created a project of redistributing the Colorado across a region of scarce water, retaining the waters of the so-called American Nile within national borders, lest it leave the national borders, that would reduce and eventually end a historical pattern of sediment flow.
The invitation to join Guerrilla Cartography to pool skill-sets during a day-long effort to map migration, choosing to focus on the US-Mexico border as a formation of national economical and political identity that unsurprisingly echoed many maps cartographers contributed that day, as a way to question the making of meaning and geography of the US-Mexico border. The prospect of contributing to a thematic atlas focussed on migration honed collective skills for remapping the nation, and the ideological roles of border maps, for the collective Guerrilla Cartography. Rather than make maps of political projects, the visual artists of this group of cartographers resist the role of computing, to push cartographic media to new frontiers. So much is evident in the alternative thematic atlases of food and water I admire and have written on or contributed to. Returning to Max Weber’s idea that sovereignty lies in the securing of borders.
My own hope was a new spin on reading of Weber’s state, to problematize the edges of nation as a primary lens to map environment. As an amateur cartographer, I was attracted by the radical vision of Guerrilla Cartography’s Atlas-in-a-Day: Migration (2019); as a historian of the division of space in atlases, I was attracted to the optimistic idea of an age of post-national mapping, to challenge mapping dangers and individualized domestic security threats–and the experience of migration as so threatening to justify construction of a Border Wall–and to try to dislodge the accretion of meaning around borders as a meaningful division of natural space. Despite the national psychic space that was occupied by the nationalist icon of a “border wall,” a project of bounding the nation as if to privilege the protection of its interests, the actual construction of border wall by 2019 was limited to the red dot near Yuma, AZ: the far longer impact that the map seeks to foreground is the impounding of sediment, highlighted in the red line that parallels the restriction on the Colorado River’s sediment flow.
19. The planning of the Hoover Dam arises from a legal conventions that affirmed the notion of a sovereignty over water rights that suggest an enclosure of water’s flow in scarily contemporary ways, echoing the border disputes about water use of the future. The coveted division of water rights among western states who consumed the diverted waters to a degree unimagined in 1956 continues to the present. The disputes over western water rights as population grew lead to the monumental 1963 decision, Arizona v. California, that reserved river rights for Mexico, but primarily mapped river use as an internal affair of allocating river water among states in the nation where the rain fell in the Upper Colorado Basin with a plenty that rarely encouraged water conservation methods or imagined overuse of the river’s water, setting a precedent primarily for the overallocation of river flow. The United States asserted its ability to divide energy of the river that moves across four states, which it could abstract from the water’s source, as a national “good” to which “rights” might be legally divided among six states, in a legal fiction that animated the transformation of the west over the long twentieth century, from 1922 redefining the political sovereignty of states by rights to water flow and to energy in a “compact” rarely even acknowledging the presence of Mexico–or the Mexican farmers who benefited from the river’s flow and the fertility it brought the Gulf waters.
Even before Eisenhower expanded projects of dam construction on the Colorado, the redistribution of the waters of the river basin facilitated irrigation of western fields–and met local energy needs-across the American West. Inconvenient absence of any river or naturally incised line in the landscape of the border perhaps compels many in the nation to support the construction of a physical Border Wall–if not to endorse imagining a line policed by the U.s. Border Patrol of seemingly sinus form: the winding line along which the proposed Border Wall launched the candidacy of the President on a national scale, both symbolically and by symbolically inscribing an imagined aquiline of fantastic scale able to isolate the entire republic–perpetuated as emblems of isolationism and protectionism on social media and in a number of highly charged “maps,” whose power are hardly conceal powerful rallying cries, and inform the precept that you cannot have a country without a border.
The conceit of imposing a universal constraint on cross-border flow was echoed and perpetuated in the authority delegated to enforce the borders of the nation Donald J. Trump–and by the Border Patrol who so early unprecedentedly endorsed Trump as a candidate for U.S. President, pleased with the now familiar inflammatory crescendo of his vow to ensure that “people that have lots of problems. . . . bringing drugs,. . . bringing crime, . . . rapists” arriving from south of the Border. For Trump announced that Mexico is “forcing their most unwanted people into the United States . . . . in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists” to ratchet up fear, U.S. Border Patrol had internalized a map able to activate this ungrounded claim to lend it broad credence: large capital letters traverse the nation in the logo before which Trump spoke, staking claims to lands that traverse borders. In font that is superimposed over the nation, overwhelming the border as if openly staking United States sovereignty, the insignia distorts national borders in the crudest of geography lessons,–and with it, civil rights, codes of conduct, and national values, in a crude blob emptying the nation of all values into an insignia promoting defense of sovereignty.
The US-Mexico border was mentally remapped in the Trump administration as a priority of Homeland Security, designed to repel those without security or homes. As I realized that nowhere is such a promise of protection more prominently mapped by construction projects than over the Colorado River, my own attention turned in the course of a day of searching for data, mulling migration, and mapping, to turn to sediment migration and its re-engineering in the 1950s. The border wall, overblown in the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump administration, if long brewing in anti-migrant online rallying cries, might be best countered by drilling down to the grains of sand, I thought, that long drained from the upper hydrologic basin of the Colorado River into the Gulf of California. In part, the story of sediment is so overlooked and mundane to be removed from the dehumanization of the migrant experience: but the unquestioned logic of staking claims to national water rights and riverine energy in the Hoover Dam and subsequent projects of damming the Colorado River may have sanctioned the unilateral story told of mapping the river’s energy as part of the national territory of the United States, and seeing its flow within the context of the national waters of one nation.
An invitation to participate in an “atlas-in-a-day” project gambled that the assembly of an atlas–often a multi-year affair of experts–could be constructed by a team of volunteer cartographers working from resources that the could find in one day would illuminate global migration patterns. Could the integration of maps of migration create a new picture of global itineraries, or expand our sense of the multiple forms of migration across borders in a globalized world? The hope was to draft a more true atlas of the world be a true form of reckoning with the condition of the inhabited globe, beyond the centrality that historians from the nineteenth century have long identified with processes of emigration, and beyond boundaries as we know them. The crossing of boundaries, and the attempt to isolate pathways of motion, including water and sediment, as subject to control as a “national good,” and indeed able to be seen through a national lens, seemed to capture a truth about the re-understanding of migration that set a precedent for the southwestern border–a subject about which I know little, but we all need to know more–and about which a maelstrom of opinion was brewing.
The starvation of the delta suggested deprived the region of sediment flow, and river discharge, that had once created an environment rich with fish, marine mammals, and trees, and led to a sense of active river restoration: the hope of my map was to deconstruct the blockage of the natural flow of water and sediment south of the border that had let the arid region so destitute, asking viewers to look at the relation of river-flow to the border in new ways; in 2017, a U.S.-Mexico agreement signed in September, 2017 allowed water for the delta’s restoration to be released for the first time, and projected the future environmental restoration over the coming six years, by targeted and regular releases of water along the river deltas rather than pulse flow. Indeed the recent fostering of riparian and other restoration projects of habitat, forest, riparian coasts, and river flow suggest a massive set of projects of ecological reparations, late in coming, that deal with the effects of the depletion of the Colorado River’s water flow.
The logic of the border that has been so cruelly mobilized since 2016 with unprecedented prominence within American political discourse as a way to stop human migration finds an eery reflection in the halting of sediment migration south of the border in this earlier Age of Damming, which seemed a crucial part of any atlas of migration for the twenty-first century–suggesting the extent to which environmental modification, landscape change, and warming will be crucial parts of how a struggle over natural resources will be a part of the history of migration as well as of its past.
For blockage of the transit of sediment had suddenly transformed the Gulf of California in the early twentieth century from one of the most fertile habitats and areas of settlement of marine ecology, a coastal ocean featuring a wealth of multiple marine habitats, distinct in the globe, the massive reduction or indeed constriction of sediment flow as a national right–or in the guise of national needs–the Bureau of Land Reclamation redefined cross-border relations, in 1928, setting the basis for as much as the partitioning of the electricity and dammed-up water of the Colorado that in 1928 removed almost all of the river’s irrigation from Mexican territory, redirecting “more than 100,000 acres of irrigable land not yet irrigated” in the Imperial Valley, and the irrigable potential of New Mexico.
20. To make my map, I began from a 1928 map of the Colorado Basin that aptly reveals, as Sara Porterfield noted, “how the U.S. valued water, and the status of the nation’s diplomatic relationship with Mexico in that moment.” The building of the dam and other projects of river diversion of what were judged “national waters” preceded with almost unreflective license, as if they were unconscious–or not in need to consider–the removal of the benefits of the flow of water that would otherwise enter Mexico as a national prerogative, lest Mexico exploit the massive acre-feet of water entering the Gulf, ensuring that the United States would be able to exploit the potential irrigation projects that would enable the Hoover Dam–claiming and appropriating the “rights” to the water’s potential benefit of expanding the adjacent Imperial Valley, already a booming agricultural region, in the very first maps that advocated the construction of the Hoover Dam. The project of the alienation of “water rights” from downriver inhabitants was all but omitted as a subject of interest by the absence of any illustration of settlement south of the border in the map made for the Dept. of the Interior.
The bounding of the hydrologic basin of the Colorado across the US-Mexican boundary suggested in very clear terms, as Porterfield realized, setting her on a fascinating excavation of cartographic renderings of the basin that questioned the prominence that the isolated green valley in the Imperial Valley clearly situated a preponderance of irrigable lands around the Colorado north of the border, in striking ways. Rather than suggesting, as Porterfield noted, the project of cross-border projects of irrigation, the map was designed to expand the hydrological basin of the river to include the Salton Sink and potential agrarian lands, in the context of how the 1922 Fall-Davis Report map potential hydropower and irrigation projects, including an early prototype for the Hoover Dam.
Rather than suggesting, as Porterfield notes, the project of cross-border cooperation, the map suggested a basis for expanding irrigation and attracting agricultural workers from south of the border to work them, at a time when all agricultural workers in California were Mexican or of Mexican origin, and by 1928 some 90% of Imperial County’s workers were of Mexican descent–mirroring an influx of workers to the Central Valley from Mexico since the Chinese Exclusion Act and leading to fears that temporary Mexican workers in the valleys had become year-round residents of the Imperial Valley.
If the story of erasure is an important story of migration, the erasure was accomplished as it is enshrined in maps. The partitioning of the Colorado River’s Basin located all current and possible irrigation sites north of the border, of course, and indicated “Possible Power Sites” along the river–including the future Hoover Dam, first named the “Boulder Dam”–that would rest on the the influx of Mexican agricultural workers. The dam was designed at the same time as growing labor unrest arose in the Imperial Valley, from the strike of up to 4,000 cantaloupe pickers of Mexican origin of 1928, the irrigation projects privileged areas of development north of the border by discounting those below as if incidental to the integrity of the watershed–and a reflection of the division of water rights and electricity in disproportionate terms, the Treaty of 1945 as if to indicate their drainage of one twelfth fo the nation’s continental land area across 242,000 miles, and 2,000 in Mexico: apportionment of seven and a half million acre-feet of water coursing down the Colorado allowed “lower basin” states to increase consumption by 1,000,000 acre feet annually, and allocated Mexico a guaranteed 1,500,000 acre-feet; a 1965 US Supreme Court ruling entitled states of the lower basin deemed California entitled to 4,400,000 acre-feet, Arizona 2,800,000 acre-feet, and Nevada, 300,000 acre-feet. The promotion of these dams were presented as securing a bounty for the nation by aqueducts of water that promised, circa 1930, to transport water to irrigate new lands during the Depression, as if intent to keep national waters north of the border in a time of economic duress. As other American states competed, before the Hoover Dam was in fact built, as the eagerness of California legislators from before the Great Depression to promote the benefits of the Boulder Dam on the Lower Colorado, financing its construction by the sale of hydroelectric power for California utilities, intensified demand to divide “rights” to water-flow of the Upper Colorado and Lower Colorado among the states that the basin straddled, to ensure the river would not exclusively feed the needs of metropolitan Los Angeles, and that each would be guaranteed adequate water supplies.
Was the erasure of Mexican needs not an outright land-grab of water rights, retaining water north of the border, and blocking the transit of sediment south? Was it any coincidence that the control over the Colorado River led the first section of wall that Donald J. Trump in augured to lie over the Colorado River where it crossed the border–a part of controlling cross- border transit fundamental to remapping of national natural resources? The 1928 mapping of the Basin in the very year that Congress authorized construction of the Hoover Dam and Colorado River Compact cast the river as the territory, as the Reclamation Service mapped the water-sharing agreement as if it lay entirely, or almost entirely, in sovereign lands, in a map that convinced viewers to recognize water flow as a national good.
The story of the erection of the Border Wall demands to be integrated within the fraught history of cross-border migration and redefinition of national interests and resources, cast in the postwar period as reorienting water, sediment, and the meander of river flow to bring them into line with “national interests” and nation security. The partitioning of the Colorado promoted a national imaginary to the exclusion of human need or cross-border flows, that reified the course of the Colorado in line with national interests and the economic development of Western United States,–as if the river’s waters existed exclusively above the border line.
The invitation to participate in an “atlas-in-a-day” project gambled that the assembly of an atlas–often a multi-year affair of experts–could be constructed by a team of volunteer cartographers working from resources that the could find in one day would be more illuminating of global migration patterns. Could such a mapping of departure be a more true atlas of the world be a true form of reckoning with the condition of the inhabited globe, beyond the centrality that historians from the nineteenth century have long identified with processes of emigration, and indeed beyond the flows of refugees that increasingly span decidedly global itineraries? The hastily created map, which seemed to foreground, with its partners, the role of “guerrilla” cartographers in staging an abruptly provocative way of global re-visioning, subverting cartographic expectations and truisms, was that it gave the lie to the urgent imperative invested in wall-building as if it were a new response to a new problem that the nation has never faced: the policing of cross-border migration to national advantage to prevent, restrict, or direct migration of water and sediment–as well as people–was one of the grandest American national projects of the twentieth century.
21. While the transit and stoppage of refugees at the border has become a terrible spectator game in the Trump era, as we saw children in cages, heard about arrests and deportations, and holding camps across the border, mediatization of the border’s terrors were almost a tragically familiar distancing game. Filmed snippets showing refugees try to migrate across the Mediterranean, in improvised itineraries on dinghies, floating boats, or other vehicles, makes one return to 1984. Winston Smith’s head was so full of military music blaring from the telescreen, only writing entries of a diary entry “for future generations” offered at attempt to escape from what he detected was a “resales monologue” running through his head for years, against his will. Although his first attempts to start fail, his immersion in this monologue seems to begin as he described a night at the movies where newsreels–“war movies”–spectacularized the border of Oceania. He starts by describing how he was watching a film judged “a very good one of a ship being bombed somewhere in the Mediterranean,” with geographic vagueness, which seems to entertain its audience by the images of refugees seeking to escape unseen authorities: “audience much amused by a great huge fat man trying to swim away with a helicopter after him,” targeted from above but “wallowing in the water like a porpoise,” before he is seen “through the sights of aerial gunners,” and, as if being conditioned of a lack of empathy, provoked wild applause from seats occupied by Party members as the poor refugee vanishes, to remerge from the ocean, as a corpse floating “full of holes and the sea round him turned pink and he sank as suddenly as thought the holes had let in the water.”
The crowd’s collective rapture “shouting with laughter as he sank,” energies by the grotesque drama, channeled Kracauer on how “the films of a nation reflect its mentality”–if not Benjamin on film as a fascist medium. The disconnect of “refugees being bombed” in a site of historical migration, fates are flattened to bread and circuses entertainment, open Winston’s distance from Oceania’s totalitarian mediasphere, in an early self-consciousness. Winston notes, with little reflection, a pan to a lifeboat full of children and a Jewish-looking woman, her body still ”blue from flight,” in a separate boat, urgently cradling an infant between her breasts, under inevitable aerial fire. The scene ends with the arrival of a 20 kilo bomb, “in a terrific flash” and, slipping into the language of the ecstatic crowd in the Party seats, gasps and applause at a “wonderful shot of a child’s arm lifted up up into the air.” Orwell’s slight misogyny leads him to match the woman unable to protect her child at sea to the protest from the proletarian section as “a woman down in the prole part of the house who suddenly started kicking up a fuss and shouting ‘they didnt oughter of showed it not in front of kids they didnt it aint right not in front of kids it aint’ until the police turned her turned her out.” “Typical prole reaction,” Winston writes dismissively, before seeming to check himself, or have his body’s tacit knowledge of evil correct himself, with pain as if the very words of the woman in the theater in such detail percolated in his mind, as a sudden body cramp cuts him off from completing the thought he begins with the words, “They never–”, as if taking stock of the inhumanity of watching bombardment as mass entertainment.
We have been perhaps familiar with similar sights, as border crossing has become a spectator sport. The border wall, overblown in the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Trump administration, if long brewing in anti-migrant online rallying cries, might be best countered by drilling down to the grains of sand, I thought, that long drained from the upper hydrologic basin of the Colorado River into the Gulf of California. In part, the story of sediment is so overlooked and mundane to be removed from the dehumanization of the migrant experience: but the unquestioned logic of staking claims to national water rights and riverine energy in the Hoover Dam and subsequent projects of damming the Colorado River may have sanctioned the unilateral story told of mapping the river’s energy as part of the national territory of the United States, and seeing its flow within the context of the national waters of one nation. The logic of the allocation of the waters of the Colorado River in western states was broadly promoted as a national project in the postwar period. The damming of the Colorado, or American Nile, as it was known, became a project of the making of national identity as seamless with the narrative dominance of the Border Wall in identitarian politics that the current President seeks to promote. The hand-drawn map seemed the best idiom to trace the almost uncanny parallels between the construction of a Border Wall–then being begun atop the Colorado’s entry into Mexico.
If the logic of the allocation of waters as a resource was cast in a purely national optic, in the logic of engineers of the Hoover Dam, the map aimed to call attention to how the logic of such reallocation not only removed water from the distribution of sediment to the coastal ocean, but from the longstanding flow of of sediment from the Grand Canyon and Colorado plateaux into the Gulf of California. While the Border Wall was more accurately represented as a dot than a wall, I emphasized the blocking since the 1950s of sediment flow south of the border, past Yuma, AZ, as a red line blocking the flow of minerals down to the Gulf of California, once a flourishing ecosystem surrounded by farmlands. The re-engineering of the waters of the 1,450 mile once-mighty Colorado–which no longer reaches the sea!–were diverted for national interests to feed the Imperial Valley, Utah, Nevada and Arizona, to create farmlands north of the border, in an act of cartographic purification starving the coastal ocean, to create farmlands staffed and maintained by laborers who lived south of it.
If the vaunted “Border Wall” was better mapped as just a dot, in September 2019, it seemed deeply wrong not to map the blockage of the timeworn course of sediment migration that has been unilaterally ended, as if it were a matter of national economic security. While the logic of this map seemed best to set in the context of the collective project of the atlas, it must also be set in the grandiloquent magnification of the Border Wall in Presidential rhetoric to a project of re-engineering the nation, on unprecedented scale. The metaphor of re-engineering of the nation seemed framed openly in a rhetoric of white grievance–a search to Make America Great Again–imagined by the precedent of the engineering of a bountiful supply of water to all western states, a fulfillment of the national sense of entitlement that combined Manifest Destiny, racial difference, and imperialist claims to sovereign ownership, that converted the most elemental sense of the “commons”–a river and its flow–to the energy supply of four states.
22. If attention to the border as able to be defined by a “wall” seemed only to reinstate a divide of color and race, the project of “wall-building” that President Trump sought to define was the very inversion of a sense of the commons, a claim to the defense of the border by vigilantism of the border’s defense by Texan militia who invoke The Alamo as a line of defense as they imagine themselves to be pushing the Mexican troops south of the borderlands. Rather than acknowledge its utter conventionality as a territorial divide, the border wall promoted a divide of national import–and security–as President Trump misleadingly promoted it as a project of the nation as central to national identity. In the open lands that were once commons, the building of the Border Wall imposed a sense of state sovereignty as a determining axis, defined as a barrier of defense, and fortified it with munitions that made it akin to a firing range. What were once the interstitial border spaces, Trump managed to convince many, as trans-boundary regions were the scariest and least secure in the nation, lying outside of federal jurisdiction: expanding the unease of apparent inability of American authorities to control border-crossings, leading to an increased agitation for enhanced enforcement of a border zone but a fear of the “massive illegal immigration . . . fast leading to chaos on our border with Mexico,” as San Diego Union warned in a May 27, 1979 editorial, and across a five-part series of local coverage of “the Border Country” that revealed its lawlessness. By 1986, the same newspaper reported that “Cross-Border Flow of Aliens Becomes Flood,” adopting the powerful metaphorical conversion of migration to a natural disaster. The metaphors of an alluvial disaster, flowing upstream along the Colorado, as if in inversion of the natural course of things, became a compelling image that recast immigration not only as faceless and without identities or economic motivations or needs, but a catastrophe of biblical proportions that would try the nation.
The project of the border wall was, of course, a model of the sort of monumentality that Trump hoped to pursue. Trump’s hyperbolic comparison of the Border Wall to Eisenhower’s National Highway System overlooked the protectionist conceit preventing human migration he disguised as a project of national consolidation as analogous to jump-starting the Greatest Decade by the largest public works project to unite the nation ever imagined in American history. As a Presidential candidate, Trump announced the project along the model of the 1956 proposal of a federal highway system–even if Eisenhower did gain approval for the funding of the highway system by similarly promoting it as an issue of national defense, Trump seems to disguise priorities and deceptively cast them as a similarly visionary plan. While the Highway System was readily naturalized in our sense of the nation, however, Trump seems to have been boasting that the Border Wall would soon be naturalized as a part of our geography, in ways that would seem an early milestone in the definition of national contiguity–
–of the sort that the Highway System offered long ago, and would exist as a similar event enabling a great leap forward in our national economy and national productivity, which were indeed achieved by the highway infrastructure, although the Border Wall offers no similar infrastructural significance. The comparison suggests a short of shell-game, howver, as much as a sort of grandiosity. While Trump evokes Eisenhower as a model for his Border Wall, was Eisenhower’s promotion of a process of dam-building, by the triggering of explosions for the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in the Upper Colorado, not a better model for his resculpting of national lands, creating the very dam mapped behind him?
Grounds were lain for the dam may have been the Colorado River Compact of 1922, an interstate compact divided the rivers into its Lower Basin (Arizona, California, and Nevada) and Upper Basin unit (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming), but the massive post-war project of damming was extended into the Upper Basin in the postwar years, as a new national project that would benefit the water-hungry states of the upper basin, and for the first time extended the distribution of the Colorado’s waters bu the 1948 expansion of the “Law of the River” Compact to provide water on an ongoing annual basis from the Upper Basin– Colorado (52%); Utah (23%); Wyoming (14%); and New Mexico (11%). The pie chart buoyed Ike’s popularity in the West, opening development by a “Treasure Chest” of intermountain water redistribution and artificial lake quickly promoted as “tomorrow’s playground” for leisure vacations.”
The explosion triggered at a remove from the site opened a process of dam construction and concrete pouring five million cubic yards of concrete to block the river’s flow. The dam’s construction from 1960-63 submerged a rich environment of wildlife, Native American ruins, and natural arches, along the Upper Colorado River, as if it was a national good: is it not a better analogy to the environmental devastation of the collective project of building a massive Border Wall to stop the flow of migrants across the border, as if they were water, sand, or sediment? The damming projects that Bellow described as ongoing in the Punjab Valley as evidence of the “great things done by Americans” in an era of damming but not the precedent of remaking America around a dam that became a precedent for a global processes of damming, first rehearsed as a new process and logic of nation-building on the mighty Colorado River.
Was Trump’s celebration of a “Border Wall” as a project of national renewal not a recuperation of this feat of engineering, by which he must have been mesmerized as a child? He presented the Border Wall as having a similar explosive effect, immediately transforming and acting on the country and nation, if it was rarely grasped or even heeded as an actual scheme. Eagerly promoted by the overeager candidate who imagined it both as a ticket to the Oval Office as a way to preach a claim of national renewal, Trump hoped the border wall would be named after him, akin to the Eisenhower Highway System, echoing the promise that “Trump Will End Illegal Immigration”–a common bumper sticker in 2016, and a rallying cry, as if the stoppage of flow could be imagined as in sight, as if offering a new way to map our place in the world. Such claims of “stopping” immigration as a threat by a wall tapped paranoia and ignorance to activate deep-seated fears, casting migration as a form of destabilization. The repeated mismapping by proxies of Trumpism in American media followed he metaphors of spokespeople in casting Central American refugees and immigrants as natural disasters foreboding cataclysms of apocalyptic eschatology that is troubly dehumanizing as it is overwhelming in scope–“waves,” “floods,” or a “deluge” of children–that magnify the proportions of actual immigrants and dehumanize their plight, and suggest that a map cannot render the enormity of a disruptive threat that our government is in danger of not being able to respond to on a truly adequate scale.
Perhaps by looking with greater attention at the situation on the ground, less by hackneyed lenses of nationalism, we might uncover cartographic ethics of mapping global inhabitants outside of national divides–and suggest the increased relevance of reaching a new audiences through static maps, or launching, Guerrilla-style, exposing the way immigration has been demonized more than examined, let alone diagnosed as a global condition. The collective had hoped for launching a new sort of cartographic broadside in an age of ever-decreasing cartographic literacy–the perfect event for an atlas that we might compile in a day. If my family worried that a focus on silt was out of the scope for an issue of such human interest, the topic did not seem so removed from the extent of ecological disruption of the mega-project of damming–an early echo of the ecological and environmental disruption of building a border wall, ostensibly to block cross-border immigrants. For the transit of sediment transformed the Gulf of California one of the most fertile habitats and areas of settlement of marine ecology, a coastal ocean featuring a wealth of multiple marine habitats, distinct in the globe, by claiming the river’s flow as a national right or needs–as the Bureau of Land Reclamation redefined cross-border relations, in 1928, setting the basis for as much as the partitioning of the electricity and dammed-up water of the Colorado. The redirection of the river removed almost all of the river’s irrigation from Mexican territory, redirecting “more than 100,000 acres of irrigable land not yet irrigated” in the Imperial Valley, and the irrigable potential of New Mexico. The final appropriation of water rights authorized in 1956 as western states’ population grew, leading to the monumental 1963 decision, Arizona v. California, which if it acknowledged some rights to river water for Mexico, reaffirmed rights to river-water as an internal affair of allocation north of the boundary. The decision affirmed allocation of all the rain fell in the Upper Colorado Basin among states, creating a legal precedent and statute for allocating river flow.
While the map abandoned any sense of time, its red line drawn along the reduced flow that moved south of the Hoover Dam to Yuma reduced the course of the once-mighty Colorado and the sediment that had once nourished agrarian lands south of the border, making most all the agrarian lands dependent on fertilizer that fills much of the runoff that runs to wetlands south of the border, degraded water that arrives in Santa Clara, at the edge of the Gulf of California. What was once a center of biodiversity have become salt mud flats of reduced wetlands.
23. While my map does not reify the boundary, I wanted it to suggest an unseen or undetected confluence between river and boundary, historically exploited by the United States Bureau of Land Management in the attempt to increase water diversion from the Colorado to flow the Imperial Valley, even when the delta was still a vibrant site of riverine flow. The expansion of irrigation areas in the first projects of diverting cross-border flow to retain water–and water rights, anticipating later projects of diversion and energy, retaining the river’s flow powerful north of the border,–long before the Hoover Dam and projections of irrigation, construing water rights to cast a river long flowing across the boundary, carrying sediment, as a redistribution of water unable to be understood save in terms of a border–and the redirection of the river from its flow to the ocean.
I hoped my map would dislodge the insidious prominence of the border as a dividing line, and the distorting effects that it might create–as our atlas might, we optimistically imagined, help to dislodge the accretion of meaning about borders that atlases create. Rebecca Solnit argues that “to put up a fence is to suggest a difference when there is none (though there will be), and to build up a border is much the same thing.” Her words may discount the insidious power of maps to harden up of borders maps as preparatory for a political mindset; atlases in general may partake and endorse how we think of global geography and erase the presence of those who cross borders–or one did so. For when we map borders as if they were natural, we shift our patterns of thought, and the reality that is on the ground, blocking off continuous ands in almost oppositional terms that run against settled landscapes or at against the contours of their terrain. The below image, for example, employed the sparsely populated areas on the southwestern edge of the United States naturalize the border as a potential bulwark against the spread of homicides–as if this was a bucket or metric that told the stories of cross-border migrants, and was, effectively all that one needed to know to make public policy. The elevation of “immigration violations” and magnification of the need to stop “violating immigration policies”–policies we know violate constitutional due process–are enabled by terrifyingly crude data maps, which only conceal their own interests to alarm viewers with their apparent truths.
The false narrative that “open borders have been a disaster for this country” underscore the absence of foreign voices in our media ecologies. While boasting to have direct access to global information, the information on offer is skewed from a national perspective, even as the notion of national frontiers and borders has become increasingly secondary or tertiary in a globalized world. A cartographic counter-argument might be elegantly posed in David Lindroth’s instructive map of 2000 Census data–and revealing the importance of 2020 Census as a form of national counting–based on foreign-born in America.
For by coloring foreign-born population in verdant shades, Lindroth offers a meta-cartographic commentary of striking form: “That map explains a lot about America in a nutshell,” remarked a barista at the cafe I typed this blog. When I asked him to look at Lindroth’s map, he muttered, “at least they color us green,” as he stared blankly back at me, accustomed to imposition of categories of danger on migrants as himself. Despite the presence of green in Mexico’s flag, there is little correspondence between the green designating foreign born and a map of migrant’s region of birth. But maps’ colorations provide an invitation to examine how deep fears of migrants the narrative of open borders diffused in many old leftist strongholds that went “red” in 2016, and demand we drill deeper than the nation, exploring the pressures and narratives that shaped migration, to give meaning to migrants’ itineraries less as threats to be feared, or viewed from the perspectives of secure Americans, but rather as pressures–as well as it attests to a national prevalence of Latin American migration. That map you showed me sure explains a lot about this country,” as he continued to ponder the figure, adding “at least they colored us green” in ways that reminded me of the importance of telling stories in maps, and indeed the Guerrilla Cartography precept of trying to capture narratives about space in the maps we made, outside of a rhetoric of objectivity.
Scholastic helpfully paired Lindroth’s elegant map with a complementary county-by-county parsing of foreign-born prevalence in state populations, loosely grouped by continents, that demands the very narrative context we hope the maps in the atlas will offer or lead readers to demand. But this extremely informative map shows how broad areas might so willingly accept a narrative demonizing a collective group of immigrants–even by inaccurate, misleading over-generalizations of stereotype, reducing a complex, global issue, ever so perversely, through a purely local lens; drilling further down to illuminate migrant stories to remove immigration from a national lens became the rationale for the atlas. But it also reminds us of how closely we are a nation of immigrants, where racial grievance may be a trope to respond to actual demographic conditions, but has no place in our world.
The map also reminds us how very much a cartographer’s color-choices matter as tools of telling a story. For the map is not only a pedagogic tool, but space of engagement. The prevalence of foreign-born the Census Bureau and Scholastic asked Lindroth to render was brilliantly represented as a greening of the nation. It affords a map that captures much of the dysfunctions of America politics that demands an audience beyond grade school. The green is a practice of education, far from arbitrary, and foreign-born in counties that seems a needed background for the radio-truth hustle that Rush Limbaugh began in the 1990s, to be refined by Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannitty and Laura Ingraham for larger audiences by languages of national identity that cast borders as determinant truths, which had helped Donald Trump win the election, as much as foreign intervention and close study electoral maps.
24. My hand-drawn map described the nation in a counter-cartography to celebrating the apportionment of water. It rather mapped water’s arrival across space and the conceit of territorial boundaries, that the atlas of Immigration addressed: by attending to the shaping of itineraries of migration, pressures migrants faced, and by scratching under a map’s surface, rather than reinstate a frame of nation-state. By mapping the border in the lens of sedimentary history, I was less concerned with personal narratives, but sought to erode a sense of the nation as setting the buckets by which to understand migration; the partitioning of the waters of the Colorado River served to retain water within the bounds of the United States, as if water might remain within territorial confines by translating flow into a national good–by diverting water and generating power in one fell swoop. Was not denial of limiting withdrawals or diversions a form of maintaining a free market of electrical power? The remapping of the flow of the river seemed a way to counter-map the nation, less as endangered by cross-border movement, than as working to stop cross-border flow of river sediment that long fed the Gulf of California. If Trump’s vaunted “Border Wall” was better mapped when we met to create the atlas in September, 2019, as just a dot, it seemed right to map the blockage of the timeworn course of sediment migration that has been unilaterally ended, as a matter of national economic security, and to map that as a line that was imposed on the nation–or glossed in purely national terms.
I focused on the logic of allocating the waters of the Colorado River in western states that was so broadly promoted as a national project in the postwar period. The damming of the Colorado, or American Nile, as it was known, became a project of the making of national identity as seamless with the narrative dominance of the Border Wall in identitarian politics that the current President seeks to promote. The hand-drawn map seemed the best idiom to trace the almost uncanny parallels between the construction of a Border Wall–then being begun atop the Colorado’s entry into Mexico. If the logic of the allocation of waters as a resource was cast in a purely national optic, in the logic of engineers of the Hoover Dam, the map aimed to call attention to how the logic of such reallocation not only removed water from the distribution of sediment to the coastal ocean, but from the longstanding flow of of sediment from the Grand Canyon and Colorado plateaux into the Gulf of California. While the Border Wall was more accurately represented as a dot than a wall, I emphasized the blocking since the 1950s of sediment flow south of the border, past Yuma, AZ, as a red line blocking the flow of minerals down to the Gulf of California, once a flourishing ecosystem surrounded by farmlands. The re-engineering of the waters of the 1,450 mile once-mighty Colorado–which no longer reaches the sea!–were diverted for national interests to feed the Imperial Valley, Utah, Nevada and Arizona, to create farmlands north of the border, in an act of cartographic purification starving the coastal ocean, to create farmlands staffed and maintained by laborers who lived south of it.
I hoped an atlas of migration would be refreshingly post-national, and help create an epistemological terrain that dethroned the nation as a unit of geographic description. It would be less about authoritatively establishing, or encoding one perspective on the world, but allowing a multiplicity of perspectives on migration to be embraced, and the structuring experience of migration attempted to be embraced. In ways that continue the brave and inventive artistic atlases of Guerrilla Cartography, the maps would offer something new and compelling to see. The Colorado is itself shown as a blue traceries, following the system of irrigation that descends south from Lake Meade, feeding federal projects of water redistribution that trnasformed the arid lands of Arizona and the Imperial Valley that have come provide lettuce, canteloupe, alfalfa, sugar beets, and brassica that have adapted to desert conditions. Since the Second World War, the transformation of once parched communities in Nevada, Arizona, and California have been able to redirect water that would otherwise flow south of the border to Mexico in the River Compact already as one-sided as can be;almost unilaterally dictated in 1922 in Santa Fe, the River Compact was renegotiated in 1948, to guarantee a million acre feet flowed to Arizona–which now uses about 2.5 million acre feet. The river compact designed to ensure “expeditious agricultural development” was an engineering project itself, as great as the Hoover Dam.
Continued national negotiations over the Colorado River water raised the legal limit of Colorado River water flowing to Mexico. But the River Compact allowed Mexicans able to renegotiate a one-sided deal favoring U.S. development interests, increasingly expanding desalination plants on the river, whose water was already highly salinated in 1973. The hope was to desalinate the agrarian runoff that entered the Colorado from desert lands: the Yuma Desalting plant lowering the salinity of water flowing to Mexico from the Lower Basin in 1992, since expanding to clean 73 million gallons of brackish runoff, seemed established in 2010 to preserve American water rights: for each acre-foot of desalinated water reentering the river to flow to Mexico, three American states’ water agencies could divert an other acre-foot from the Colorado. If the river’s flow was less a measure of the border, the border provided a new way to understand water rights above the border.
I focus in my hand-drawn map on the cross-border sediment migration, highlighting the continued centrality of Yuma, AZ as a link to the current project of the Border Wall. Was it a coincidence that Yuma, AZ was indeed the very site President Trump seeks to commemorate construction of two hundred miles of a Border Wall promoted as a national project from launching his political candidacy for the highest national office? Trump recently promoted the vision border wall as an essential vital national divide by a visit to Yuma, where the unveiling of a section of what he referred to as “the wall” at the border-city where the Colorado flowed south emblematized how “strong borders made strong nations.” If the Colorado once used to flow to irrigate the delta lands, and enrich the Gulf of Mexico, as well as irrigate Mexican territories long settled by indigenous famers, the river has since gained a new prominence in the national memory as a river whose usufruct the nation uses to water the greater American West–albeit in a far different system than the model for water-sharing by which John Wesley Powell had imagined the drainage basins of the “Arid Basin” as a system of water-sharing among communities, along a fault line of the US-Mexico Border.
The cross-border calculus of water flow suggested an early form of border management. The southern flow of water and of sediment to the Gulf has been erased at the same time that the image or fantasy of a southern border grew in the national imaginary. Water diversion redefined stresses in the system as a whole by reframing of the centrality of diversion to a collective reimagining of space–and did so at the very site where Trump celebrated the construction of a small section of border wall. If the rise of the trans-border mobility is all too often cast in our national politics as a deviation from a lost norm, and borders both fetishized and asserted as if we simultaneously face a national emergency or a personalized threat, mobility between borders is all too often imagined, quite paradoxically, as if it weren’t happening in space, or in relation to space. In fact, migration is as conditioned by climate, or differentially experienced in ideas of place, and structured by class, race, and gender–or, perhaps most crucially, that climate change was not sparking flows of migration that are destined only to grow in coming years. The criminalization of migration, embodied in the geographical fiction of the border wall, and the false ties of migration to globalization that is a threat to the nation. The despicable casting of the impending arrival of human migration in terms of impending natural catastrophe–a “flood” or “tide”–of biblical proportions provides metaphors that loosen the world from individual experience, and feed into this religion of the nation as they echo sacred history, more than actual occurrences, or the experiences of migration. The explicit mis-mapping of migration,–as if the threats of grainy footage from Morocco captured the threats of the southwestern border–disarmingly played fast and loose with geography, in a bit to ratchet up “border fear.”
Although atlases historically have taken nation-states as their building blocks, the point of our atlas was to break that primacy by mapping the transnational and trans border that is increasingly defining our lives. And in assembling my map, I pored over datasets about rivers’ sediment flow and historical backgrounds, and, while I had not thought of them as a form of migration, clear parallels emerged between the dream of a federal mega-project like the Border Wall to that other obstacle to natural passage, the Hoover Dam–a monumental blocking of the traffic of sediment. An article of a South Asian historian helped me re-periodize global history in terms of Age of Impoundment, 1925-70, when dams worldwide were constructed with zeal and near abandon, and I realized that that period was a perfect period to map: at the apex of which the Hoover Dam was built, on the Nevada-Arizona border, which I had recently visited, on the river’s main stem in 1936, followed by the Imperial Dam in 1938, Parker Dam in 1938, and Davis Dam in 1951, and finally Glen Canyon Dam in 1966 on Lake Powell, in a massive effort of national collective re-engineering of the River, obstructing sediment flow, that had restructured the once flourishing habitat of the Gulf of California to such a huge extent that the Colorado River no longer reaches the sea, save in an artificially encouraged way, once a year.
25. The map I prepared for the Migration Atlas was in part a meta-map, but also a map of the absorption of the waters of the Colorado into what was redefined as a national right to the sheer energy of waterflow that coursed down the Colorado–cast in the early twentieth century as the American Nile, whose possessiveness lexically map its centrality in national waters–even if it once flowed into those of Mexico. While we have understood the river’s flow by the border, it seemed time to consider the restructuring of the broader hydrological basin as a build architecture, organized around the border and the prevention of water flowing south, across the border, through all those unirrigated lands that seemed ripe for potential farms. Was not the dismantling of sediment flow from this river, and indeed the erasure of the Delta, akin to the major projects of medieval earth-moving and wall-building to which the Border Wall so resembles? Indeed, the turn of the century naturalization of migration in America as a catastrophe–or in terms of a natural catastrophe–had partly led me to consider the impoundment of water-flow, by flipping the question of the ways borders divide “national ownership” of waters on the restructuring of water’s flow. My personal history makes me more familiar with the 1924 quota system enacted by the Johnson-Reed Act actively suppressed immigration into the United States in the wake of World War I and rising of a new wave of anti-immigrant fear, just after the creation of the intellectual artifact of the “illegal aliens,” responding to fear of the massive “exit” from Eastern Europe with the expansion of passage after World War I.
The Hoover Dam, long a topic of national fascination, was remapped as a site of impeding sediment flow, and conserving its energy and wealth for the nation. The dam has been long promoted as a grandiose statement of national sovereignty and domestication: my third grade daughter wrote an imaginary tourist booklet in elementary school to promote the monstrosity as an attraction demanding attention–“Visit the Wonderful Hoover Dam!” The massive effort of capital and redirection that had assembled a monumental three and one-quarter million cubic yards of poured concrete in ways that forged a new symbolic imaginary of the nation, demanded to be mapped as an obstruction of the migration of sediment from the Colorado’s sizable Upper Basin, from which drains 90% of the waters that once flowed so abundantly south. Was the dam, indeed, able to be seen as emblematic of an unbridled form of power? The massive dam had more than flooded a canyon. It had created a relative strangulation of the levels of sediment that arrived from the Colorado River that had for so long nourished the Gulf of California, as the “American Nile” was plundered as a resource to irrigate the fields of farmlands in Arizona, California and Nevada–promised in the concordat of 1928 to receive 37.3%, 58.7%, and 4% of the waters that flowed from the Upper Basin of the Colorado River at almost 400,000 cubic feet/second in the late nineteenth century (384,000), ending the flow of suspended sediment to the very site of Yuma AZ where the first section of a mere four hundred and fifty miles of “border wall” were proudly announced to have been constructed by September 11, 2019.
While I only knew the Hoover Dam as a tourist, save for the fact that it no longer reaches the coast that it once fed with sediment. But historical the fate of a mighty river of sediment transport that now never reaches the sea was widely known, as the multiple national treaties that divide the waterflow as if they could be reasonably redistributed along state borders, and national divides. And the construction of the Hoover Dam–straddling California and Nevada–made me envision that afternoon questions of the blocking migration of sands to the Gulf of California, the diminution of the historic Sea of Cortez, as a precedent in our sickened social imaginary of the image of blocking human migration. For the massive first mega-project had immediately blocked flow and historical migration to the coast of the Gulf of California of 7.64- 20.6 million tons/day of suspended sediment. The building of the dam is celebrated as an engineering of water diversion, but the Colorado, pre-Hoover Dam, is rarely mapped as other than a source for future irrigation; it demanded, I realized as I worked on the map, a counter-cartography in a globalized world, tracking the huge contribution that it made on migration–and an acceleration of cross-border global migration patterns.
26. The analogy of environmental management both create, as something that lent imagined legitimacy to the Border Wall planned for our southwestern border, and the dominance over human cross-border flow. Weren’t the two related in what one might call our social imaginary of the nation, if not a reflection of one another? The links wouldn’t ever be fleshed out in an afternoon, but a book proposal seemed to emerge in my head, whose précis might be accomplished in a drawn map fit for the audience of a new atlas of the world, calling attention to problems as yet unmapped in our assumptions of national integrity. Although I knew a bit about the division of water transfers among western states from living in California for over twenty years, a huge amount of which comes from the Colorado–and from the state of Colorado!–
–even if the largest sheer volume of water comes from California–which trades internally in a huge amount of water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin.
It was also true that since the definition of territorial waters and national rights to resources were remapped in the postwar period, the hydro basin of the Colorado, and indeed the flow of the Colorado, was measured by the Department of the Interior in powerfully consequential ways as lying north of the border, creating a sense of the migration of water that has been received as if it were part of the landscape, naturalized as a national good and resources for the development of agriculture in western states, and the basis for the expansion of areas that receive water from the Colorado that are not even proximate or contiguous with the hydrologic basin itself: the greater Denver area and of course Los Angeles county, as well as the entire Imperial and Coachella valleys, which have become the sites of agrarian expanse and of agricultural season laborers, often arriving from south of the border. The area served by the waters that collected in the basin was of course artificially expanded by projects of diversion, but the mechanics and technological wizardry of diversion concealed the fundamental role of the precedent of the border in preparing this terrain!
There was a buried narrative buried or eclipsed in the epidiectic accounts of the Hoover Dam far more closer to the ground, and it. was a story of enclosure, and a diversion of the commons, that was disguised as the provision of water across teh west: if the official number of fatalities in the construction of the dam was 96, from puddlers who stamped and settled eight cubic yards of concrete to ensure no air pockets would existed in the dam of enormous interlocking concrete blocks of 25 feet x 25 feet up to 25 feet x 60 feet, to restrain the natural flow of the mighty Colorado, to ensure diversion that allowed irrigation projects from Nevada to the Imperial Valley–where our winter lettuce would grow, with cantaloupes, picked by an almost entirely migrant community of workers of Mexican descent–that expanded a market for the migration of cheap agricultural labor.
This was the forgotten human history of the Hoover Dam, often erased as a product of the dialectic of diversion: the achievement of diversion created the story of seasonal migration, encouraged in the braceros program signed into law in 1943, in a series of laws and diplomatic agreements, initiated on August 4, 1942, unilaterally dictated in the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement: as the Sonoran Desert was transformed by the Imperial Diversion Dam sent waters into the Sonoran Desert to hydroengineer the Imperial Valley in 1938, transforming it to a site of winter vegetables, any map of hydro-engineering could not conceal the story of migrant labor movement at its root. The other part of the material dialectic, more buried, and more silent, was the diversion of sediment from the fields that the many of the same Mexican families from which workers in the Imperial Valley were descended worked: the diversion of sediment that created a rich riverine habitat, a once-flourishing gulf of whale, dolphins, and lush green foliage.
Focussing on this blocked migration, more than the migration of humans, seemed an eye-opening process not only of the coastal ocean, but the blindspots of national projects of water diversion and irrigation. that deserved to be rescued from the dustbin of history. If I admired that famous foregone mapping of the equitable distribution of local water rights that was suggested as a way to more equitably open the American west around the Colorado’s massive continental watershed by John Wesley Powell, the one-armed late nineteenth century evangelist of remaking the “Arid Region of the American West’s boundaries by the equitable distribution of the sustainable redistribution of water among discrete natural watersheds of the region where low precipitation falls–by round the clock placement of 5 million cubic yards of concrete from 1960-63, until September 13, when the 710 feet (216 m) high dam was completed.
I reflected about mapping the very process of impoundment as a red line engraved into the landscape, in an imaginary that was celebrated engineering of water flow around the border, water that would nourish the very flora and fauna for which the butterflies had long migrated south. For if the border has become a site of disinformation and presentist projection of national interests, in a collective map of national identity, didn’t the domination of the border begin with the diversion of water from Mexico–which was allowed only the smallest amount of irrigation water to flow from the concordats of dividing the ways water flowed from the Colorado, of only 1.5 million acre feet, after the Mesxican Water Treaty of 1944, by the Morelos Dam, built near the Delta, 1.1 miles downstream the Colorado from where the California-Baja California border intersects the river’s course, near Yuma, AZ. Is this one of the many treaties that enforce the inequalities of globalization? The treaty was only modified in 2007 to increase the extent of cross-border river management of the Colorado’s now diminished flow.
The treaty reminds us, yet again, how different regions of the world gain disproportionate influence in declaring borders–or the uneven distribution of the concept of the border. Although some restoration of the Delta was allowed by minutes that modify the water treaty that were adopted in September 2017, ensuring a continuous flow of river water to the Delta, to regrow its habitat, the strangulation of river sediment that long flowed downstream of 200,000 acre feet/year, the diversion of water that drain some 242,000 square miles, of the 7.5 million acre feet the is divided among Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming each year in the Upper Basin, and Arizona, California, and Nevada in the Lower Basin–of which California alone takes 4.4 million acre-feet, while 1.5 million acre-feet of the river’s water was allowed Mexico.
This volume of impounded water is now ending, with reservoirs drained to half-empty,–but the broad effects of sudden redirection and loss of water moving across borders demands to be better appreciated in broader historical context.
Water apportionment was less of interest to me than curtailment of the migration of sediment from the Colorado, which now never reaches the sea. The structure of the dam–that weighs over 6,600,000 tons, while the weight of the border wall promised to curb “illegal” migration, human trafficking, and drug smuggling is not known, it would be a similar dispersion of weight across the border.
The human narratives of hydro-engineering resonate powerfully with the human stories of engineering migration flows, as much as a narrative of irrigation or the paths of sediment flow. Indeed, the levels of blocked sediment and the blocked flow of water was evident during a recent visit to the Hoover Dam, and offered a powerful way to map my own experience onto the question of sediment migration.
Can one even get one’s mind around the incredible redirection of an incredible volume of water diverted from the upper Colorado Basin? The absence of water at Lake Meade maps in part the volume diverted to the once dry lands of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona–to fill a mandate of some 3.454 cubic km per year to Arizona alone, whose farmers we are only now starting to bemoan, as once-fertile agrarian lands are going dry, as the once-mighty Colorado River, billed in the early twentieth century as the American Nile, and source of western irrigation, is itself drying out, and the complex of canals that once carried water to the land of homesteaders have begun to run dry. Continued decline of river flow is evident in declining discharge volume, as measured in Coconino County, AZ at Lee’s Ferry.
Water is only, of course, part of the question. How to grasp the hubris of immobilizing such a sheer volume of water that was immobilized, impounded, and prevented from running south to the border, encompassing both the huge decline in the Colorado’s waters over recent years, to the amount below in the valley?
I marveled at the feet acre of water absent from Lake Meade, on the Arizona-California border, on our way to the Grand Canyon. On our way back, we saw police stopping and lining up a group of “illegal” farm workers who had their hands raised in the air near Watsonville. What sort of geography of the West had emerged over the twentieth century? Can the volume of water and blocked migration of sediment only be imagined by comparison to the mega project of the US Border Wall?
A similar fantasy of the management of migration patterns and indeed the hegemony of one side of the border over the other seemed a start. Was the volume of water a precedent that concretized the incredible project of such an unimaginable geographic re-engineering of space, around the hot-button issue of cross-border migration?
Was it only a coincidence that Donald Trump has begun to build his Border Wall in recent months over the very river whose long transport of sediment to the sea was blocked in the postwar period, by a dam of poured concrete and brutal modernism that looks akin to the monstrous Trump Tower in New York? We look now at the dam as a sign of modernism, pausing over the typography that, on the highway running above the dam, recalls nothing so much as the Chrysler building in New York City. A noted historian of European modernism with whom my path intersected the night after Trump’s election wondered, as we walked to our parked cars, if we’d come to see Trump Tower in the future with historical distance as a monument less repulsive, akin to the nostalgia we offer Soviet era statues, and find some sort of aesthetic redemption in its brutalist steel and glass–we could only smile at one another nervously. Will we ever come to see the Hoover Dam’s aesthetics of monumentality with nostalgia?
The modernist monstrosity of the Hoover Dam had reduced a maximum flow of half a million tons–according to USGS sampling stations of the 1920s–and presented a new map of past mega-project celebrated in US history in the context of environmental plunder, undercutting how the United States Geographic Society had presented this in encomiastic terms. The USGS surveyor had effectively tabulated the range of sediment the Colorado carried sought from Lake Meade, along the mighty Colorado, as if to register the impact on the river of the dams opened on the Colorado River from the Hoover Dam (1936), a river ably navigated by Powell and others in the second opening of the American West by and the claiming of Mexican lands by imagining massive projects of irrigation. C.S. Howard compiled from available USGS data of suspended sediment in the River through 1941. The sampling stations of sediment-levels of water below Lake Meade before the dams served as the prompt and basis of remapping the river, across the Upper Basin and Lower Basin of the Colorado down to Yuma AZ, and invite readers to imagine the Basin as transcending boundary lines of states, and indeed nations, by orienting them to the obstruction of sediment flow southward that the system of diversion created. Howard’s early USGS map of the River Basin from the 1940s’s stressed the borders among states which divided the vast bulk of the mighty river’s waters, the migration of water and of enriching sediment in the basin itself trumped boundary lines–in ways that has only gained increased poignancy as the waters and watersheds of the Colorado begin to dry:
The infectious pleasure of other cartographers with quite rudimentary tools made me work on the pictorial nature of my map: and to engage the construction of the Border Wall in a symbolically explicit manner. Whereas many maps of irrigation tend to stress the achievement of redistributing water as jump-starting the hydrological economy across arid pains for early homesteaders. The triumphalism of the conquest of a frontier is to an extent itself emblematized by the hydrological achievement of creating the bounty of Lake Meade in the midst of the Arizona desert, and transporting huge blocks of six million tons of poured concrete brought to the desert to build the Hoover Dam.
I wanted to imagine, in subtle terms, the grounds for mapping sediment as an issue of migration–and the ability to redirect, engineer, and alter historically normal migration from the friable terrains in the Colorado highlands of the Great Plains to the coast of the expansive Gulf of California, was a re-engineering not only of water, but of the natural migration of sediment to the coastal ocean. And what better map could be made for the completion of an atlas of what human and non-human movement could be mapped, to restore the centrality of that historical blockage of sediment flow to the Gulf of California, earlier known as the Sea of Cortez? The final transparency was rough–but the map of the redistribution of water and sediment from the Colorado watershed come out rather well, for a hand-drawn map! (I focussed on labeling places along the river, and in the upper and lower basin, but left the thirty-odd miles of erected wall as a red dot beside the Colorado, below the Yuma River.
In such a map, the coastal often was not included, but the conclusion was the tragic fate of the Gulf of California, and the reduction of ecosystems–and the implied decimation of flora and fauna that I decided to leave off the map. For the rationale of dividing the Colorado along state lines–and the reapportionment of its waters to California, Nevada, New Mexico, and a bit to Mexico suggested a true tragedy of hydro engineering that I might gesture to in a day as a misunderstanding of the river by states. (I had wanted to show the percentages of river water distributed to each state by inter-state/international convention, but the shifting amounts made this difficult, and the story of irrigation was different than the one this map would tell: the blue river against a blank map posed questions of how its sediment flow was mapped, as well as its water, that were explained in an accompanying text.)
The massive redistribution of water mostly coming from the Upper Basin, where some 90% of river flow derived, bearing sediment from the friable mountain terrain, some from the mineral-rich geography of the earth’s core, and carried south, was a massive story that had been told, to great extent, that I hoped my readers might now–at least that the Colorado never reached the sea.
Even if the course of the Colorado River is often understood in relation to the backdrop of national needs, evoking the dominance of state needs over the ecoregion of the West. The redistribution of water to dry lands across the western states, that might be understood by the “ecoregions” that The Nature Conservancy has suggested–as a redistribution of not only regional water but sediment from the rich upper Colorado Basin.
For as water is diverted to dry lands in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona (recipient of 3.454 cubic km, as well as much of California (reciepient of 5.43 cubic km)( and Nevada (.37 million cubic km)–as well as a small portion (1.85 cubic km) to Mexico, where they would arrive–we have by federal funding underwritten the creation of an expansive fresh-water ecoregion in the American west that wouldn’t otherwise have existed.
–the movement of water might be better understood as preventing the flow of suspended sediment from the High Plains to the ocean, denying the cross-border migration of sediment from the massive snowfall that had totaled two hundred million tons every year. The huge environmental consequences were not only of a remapping of the ecology of the Gulf of California, but of regional ecology, allowing the national border to have greater prominence on the flow of water and enrichment of coastal oceans in ways that were redirected to facilitate the irrigation of twenty thousand sq km of American lands, allowing water to flow in the taps of fifty million Americans and up to two million Mexicans who depend on who depend on its diversion.
The complex topology of the delta as a meeting of land and sea–a crucial and complex ecotone–the ecotonal contras was so fertile was itself transformed by the forced impoundment of sediment by the density of three final dams placed almost directly above the border that have transformed the lost lagoons of the River Delta itself, where the presence of the Imperial Dam, one of the wonders of the first Age of Impoundment of the 1930s, shunts water through concrete canals over eighty miles to the once barren Imperial Valley, that produces the vast bulk of the nation’s winter crops–providing some 80% of lettuce, sweet corn, broccoli, cauliflower–picked with cheap labor of migrants. But even Lake Meade faces the prospect of going dry, the impounded sediment has been dispersed to the north, its nutrients never able to reach the shore. The interruption of these dans in the lower Colorado, as the Imperial Dam, and Morelos Dam, were not included in a map I wanted to foreground the blocked sediment from the Hoover Dam within the 1, 450 mile flow of the Colorado from its source to the Gulf of California.
27. The logic of damming the flow of the Colorado River demands to be understood as a project controlling the movement across borders, and the false securing of dictating regional ecologies from behind borders. For by enriching formerly negligible land values in the southwest, it marginalized native claims to western lands. Obstruction of all that sediment from the flow of winter snowfall melt that sends 100,000 cu ft/sec from the Upper Colorado ended the natural wealth of a region oceanographer Jacques Cousteau had christened “the world’s aquarium,” and with it the economies, ecoystems, and agriculture of Delta lands.
The Gulf of California has not been fed by the waters of the Colorado River with real frequency since 1960, although it was long nourished by an annual delivery of 150 million tons of sediment annually. The waters of the Colorado have only reached the parched delta when a dam was temporarily lifted in the 1990s, in an attempt to allow sediment to again flow to increasingly depopulated lands where few birds, insects, or farmers now live. The Colorado had enriched sand bars to an extent which naturalist Aldo Leopold marveled when in 1922 he navigated them by canoe, imagining that the wealth of natural life “had lain forgotten since Hernando de Alarcón landed there in 1540,” an abundance of life that populated the Colorado River delta in “lagoons so diverse in wildlife–egrets, cormorants, skittering mullets, mallards, wigeons and coyote, as well as jaguar.” To the naturalist most familiar with the sand hills of Wisconsin, the Colorado River reveled a panoply of life. Leopold had bemoaned the fate of the pigeon, longtime natural inhabitant of the prairie; the immensity of the Colorado, the wealth of the river was both “nowhere and everywhere, containing hundreds of green lagoons that led to the Delta as a pristine wilderness.” The annual flooding of the river, which flooded annually each spring, enriched its soil, ended fifteen years after Leopold and explored the delta, curtailing the regular southward flow of sediment providing food supplies for native humpback chub, razorback sucker, and seabirds.
We would do well to revaluate the effects of such annual migration to the sea, as rainy seasons pump nutrients into the coastal oceans in California. Oceanographer Gary Griggs has chastised the effects of “hundreds of dams on California’s streams [that] have trapped millions of cubic yards of sand that carried to the shoreline under natural conditions nourished our beaches” as an impoverishment of the state’s oceans, in 2009. Griggs has speculated that as much as improving our ocarinas, the arrival of sand and sediment would have obviated the costly folly of the massive local expenditures on “beach nourishment,” a short-term fix as a waste of needed public funds for evanescent results–especially in the Southlands.
The longterm blocking migration of sediment to the Colorado might be more broadly seen as a model for the curtailment of sand and sediment in the Age of Impoundment that has strangulated what was rich farmland on the coast of the Gulf of California. The end of a rich habitat created by extensive sandbars and hundreds of green lagoons was not only due to the loss of water by river diversion; the scale of intervention in environmental dynamics created cascading effects that have only magnified as the impounding of sediment has strangled many ecosystems in ways that demand to be seen in the history of migration, and the hopes of blocking migration from south of the US-Mexico border. The notion of an inter-state compact, here noted by the dashed lines of states, effectively severed the Colorado River System from its own topography or ecosystem, defining a reserve of rainfall of an expansive watershed, as draining to the states that declared their ownership over the river and the power it generated, removing the river from its outflow into the Gulf that lay in foreign territorial waters, as if the geography of the river did not have its own integrity, but privileging the border which defined the region to which the water was redistributed–lest its bounty “migrate” south of the border.
It is not ironic that as the Upper Watershed of the Colorado had begun to dry, Donald Trump repeatedly returned to the site where the Colorado River crossed the US-Mexico border during his Presidency as a proclamation of victory. Yuma, AZ, became a site and soundstage for proclaiming his plans for building a Border Wall, even if this was by calling attention to the quite small section of Border Wall that was in fact constructed by the summer of 2019. Yuma was one of the only sites on which new border wall could be seen. The Border Wall is a dot in my map–hardly the line promised in the 2016 Presidential campaign and imagined to be by many red state voters responding to fears of migrants by supporting demands to construct an insurmountable Border Wall as a massive project of domestic infrastructure,–as if migration could ever be stopped, and as if doing so would be a sign of strength. In remapping the blocking of sediment on the Colorado helps us consider it as a precedent for the benefits of stopping migration.
Where better than the waters of the Colorado to stage the building of the first four hundred miles of the promised construction of a Border Wall? Not much more exists than a dot on my map, if the imagined expanse is far greater. In my hand-drawn map, I leave empty the extent of area that has annually been drained of sediment, and render the absence of this annual condensation of sediment by a prominent thin red line that so far was just a dot,–and not a continuous line as promised at all, bu ta reminder of the line of blocked sediment–a blockage of water that had taken a deep toll on the delta and its farming communities alike, as well as Mexicans who depend on its continued water flow.
This is intentionally a hand-drawn map, a counter-mapping of sorts in a time when we have been bombarded by data visualizations that distort the demands and effects of the border wall. President Trump repeatedly engaged in distorting and magnifying the cross-border transit of migrants, migrant workers, and immigrants seeking asylum in his Presidency, in tweets, distorting maps that depict the border as a divide or line violated by migrants who failed to respect its division of territorial claims as an affront to American sovereignty: he claimed, at a public roundtable on the border in 2019, that amplified the place of the border and the dangers of cross-border migration in the national imaginary. This psychogeography of the nation led President Trump to a rant that seemed addressed to the prospective immigrant, but voiced the anger of his constituency, imagining asylum and illegal immigration were identical and of personal advantage. He reminded his audience, even as seemed to address migrants, that the possibility of legal migration so exhausted–“The system is full. We can’t take you any more. Whether it’s asylum. Whether it’s illegal migration. Can’t take you any more.”–the hope was that the boundary at the border would command respect.
In point of fact, the Trump administration had, in July 2019, announced a change in asylum rules, by mandating that all asylum-seekers had to have made a previous claim for asylum while en route to the US-Mexico border to seek asylum: the effective shift of the border in practice ended asylum as it was known, by shifting the migration away from border-crossing, pre-empting and denying the legitimacy of their claims for asylum guaranteed by international law. When AG Barr insisted that the United States is both “a generous country” but without any guidelines or precedent for being “completely overwhelmed by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of aliens along the southern border,” he was appealing to a non-existent law of the border that denied asylum to those seeking to manipulate claims for asylum in what was a de facto generous system, according abundant liberties, save not to those who might be filtered out of the system of cross-border flows as he a “surge” of border apprehension was growing. Trump resurrected this geography of the border in a June 30, 2021 visit to the town of Pharr in southwestern Texas, accompanying local officials who trumpeted the need to “seal the border and close it down,” claiming that the incomplete border wall behind him was in fact an “unfinished border,” resurrecting the logic of the border that was long his political trademark.
The former President seemed oddly diminished in the context of the open-air rally, under a flag held by a crane, the unfinished border barrier seemed a poor soundstage, more a remnant of a past spatial imaginary, atavistic in nature, than, as it appears intended, a reminder of the unfinished massive project Trump had vowed he would complete.
The claims for completing a mega-project of border drawing, beneath an American flag, was a toxic rhetoric rooted in presuppositions of the nation’s good. The one-sided rhetoric hardly began with Trump, but were adopted by him. Irrigation is different from migration: but the assertion of a “right” of the river in a compact among American states performs a similar fait accompli and legal run around. Irrigation infrastructure is a human story, but demands to be understood, mapped, and seen on human scale as much as a technology of water diversion and energy-generation.
While the damming of the Colorado and its diversion seemed designed to keep the bulk of river-flow in the nation’s borders, the exhausting of rainfall in the river may be the true national emergency for the twenty-first century. The redistribution network that the persistent absence of precipitation across western states may now trigger would be new rewriting of the economy water across the west, so decreasing the groundwater of long-irrigated western states to demand a new mapping of the Arid Region, or to demand inventive models of water-sharing and reduction that would rewrite the networks of farming, food-distribution, property values, and indeed residential settlements across the west, as we continue to try to put out increasingly deadly and destructive fires across western states.