Tag Archives: water rights

The New Arid Region of the United States

The southwest and states east of the Sierras magnify the effects of global warming in the intensity of their aridity. But global warming reveals a new relation of regions to overheating, and reveals the depths of inflexibility to accommodate water scarcity, as well as the tragedy of its effects. As aridity of the soil and reduction of groundwater reaches unprecedented scales, our passivity is accentuated as we are suspended before maps that try to visualize unprecedented aridity that cannot comprehend the magnifying effects of warming. We must learn to magnify the effects of warming on the land and environment, on food supplies, agriculture, and livestock, but, beyond, on hydropower and natural disasters. For, increasingly, we face the threat of further fires more destructive than any in recorded history–potentially enough to energize an implausible recall effort in the state of California, where historic drought, mandated energy shortages, reduced water supplies, have led candidates who were global warming skeptics to question how drought and wildfire reflect poorl on Gavin Newsom’s gubernatorial competence, although they object to aggressive climate legislation aimed at emissions reduction, preferring a free market approach.

Yet the arid region has expanded, returning bigger and better than ever since it was described as extending west from the hundredth meridian by John Wesley Powell, in one of the foundational maps of climate aridity. In much of today’s parched ground of California, featuring dangerously low levels of rainfall across the central valley, we have yet to come to terms with the expanse of he “lands of the ‘Arid Region.'” The New Arid Region, afflicted by far more aridity and low soil moisture than at any time, parallel to increased global suffering of warming and increased heat, the persistence of private water “rights” to agrarian expanse stand increasingly on a collision course with global warming throughout the new arid West in ways we have yet to address, even as we recognize that we are facing a climate emergency of the sort without precedent in modern memory.

No single visualization can, perhaps, adequately come to terms as unprecedented aridity of the past twenty years. For no visualization can fully capture the cascading and magnified effects of declining water and soil health. But the terrifying nature of the intense aridity of western states in part lies in how we have seem to forgot the semi-arid nature of the region. Does selective amnesia underlie how we map the drying out of the west? Most data vis of rising temperatures and low rainfall across the western states is already magnifying and escalating the effects of unprecedented heat over twenty years in a deeply melancholic vein, daunted by the scale of dryness across such an interstate expanse, and passive before an absence of atmospheric moisture that seems a modern casualty of global over-heating. If we were already “living in the future” in California’s frequent and increasingly extreme fire regimes, the multi-hued data visualizations electrify the landscape–and not with power or hydro-energy, but by the all-too familiar color ramp of the extremes of climate change we have been trying hard not to normalize. These images chart a landscape that has gotten away from us, outside seasonality changes, making the American West a cautionary case study for global climate change inspires melancholy.

Even as we continue to hope that groundwater depletion won’t extend to the Upper Basin of the Colorado River to secure groundwater on which so many farmers–and thirty-five million north of the border and three million living in Mexico depend, across its Lower Basin, technologies of diversion have meant far less water reaches the lower basin–none reaches the river’s old delta–surface water and groundwater barely provide for the border region, as the almost unregulated overdraft of the basin’s aquifers have made trans-border water management a crisis often overlooked in favor of water management north of the border.

The additive logic and graphic syntax of maps, long before the separate map-“layers” that accommodate information from GPS, provided a basis to define the fungibility of water and the emergence of “rights” to water across the Arid Region, enabling the idea of governing the transference of water and water “rights” across the region, that separated water from the landscape and environment. The flow of water had long been understood and reconstrued in the west by a logic of irrigation needs–and the “rights” to unpolluted water for livestock raising, pasturage, and agricultural needs of land owners–that was removed from conserving groundwater needs. The increased nature of the fungibility of water as able to be transacted across basins, state lines, and counties reflects the legal fiction of considering water as a “good” tied to the needs of property owners, that, long before global warming, had already sanctioned the removing water from the ground.

If we use metaphors rooted in temporality that try to come to scale with the new era of global warming that cut down and perhaps minimize the era of water scarcity. in which we are entering–“heat waves,” for example, that broke records in states from Washington to Idaho in June and July, breaking or matching records of hot temperatures, the levels of aridity that have allowed the ground to grow arid and degrade have not only led to a spate of western wildfires, but have changed the levels of soil moisture over the long term in ways we have difficulty to map in the scale of our weather maps, or even the maps of the U.S. Drought Monitor, as the cascading influence of such unprecedentedly dry conditions–where stresses on river water create extraction of groundwater that stresses aquifers and groundwater supplies–can be scarcely imagined, or confined to the conventions and color ramps of weather maps.

We have struggled for decades to process the cascading effects of waves of unprecedented heat that over time have produced a drying out of soil and reservoirs over the past twenty years, resulting in an expanded and far more destructive fire season and parched lands whose effects we cannot fully come to terms or comprehend, as we have not seen or experienced the extent of dryness of subsoil, soil, and low rainfall which the US Drought Monitor seems to have mapped, as drought expanded not across the entire Pacific Northwest, from Oregon to Idaho, or 86% of Idaho–by the land’s combustibility, impossible to read without premonitions of lost forests–including old growth forests–melancholic fears more than tinged by an acute sense of a lack of agency.

The sense of struggle with an absence of agency–at the same time as an almost moral urgency–reflects the difficult to process such absence of water as a landscape we have inherited from the rapidly accelerating dynamics of climate change. The history of the increased aridity is all the more poignant as a source of melancholy not only because exceptional drought was the standard before President Trump, and a national emergency before his Presidency. We have failed to register this national emergency with the same immediacy, even as the theater of the border was magnified in disproportionate ways in public discourse on migration. The sense of melancholy is compounded as the map seems haunted, if only tacitly, and perhaps without acknowledgment, by the fact that the head of the USGS in 1890 admonishingly illustrated virtually the same basins now suffering severe and moderate drought as distinguished by semi-aridity–if the current levels are nothing like those faced over a century ago, when the transition of public to private lands. We have recently mapped the substantial threat of increased aridity to the Great Plains–less than a tenth of whose croplands are irrigated–where farmers depend entirely on rainfall to grow soybeans, sunflowers, cotton, and winter wheat, the fear of greater “dry spells” as anthropogenic emissions drive decreasing rainfall and groundwater reserves–a term that tries to convince us they are not permanent–led red flags to be drawn in broad brushstrokes in those states, where extreme and exceptional ‘drought’ .

But climate change has created a new concept of “water stress”–stresses best be pictured not by the isotherms of weather maps, but the watersheds and drainage districts that were the basis of Powell’s revolutionary map, and matching the very region of the Arid Zone where the soil scientist Powell turned viewers’ attention to the crucial index of ground and soil moisture, the true determinant of the future of agrarian settlement and the future of food. The regions determined of greatest future stress were the very basins that Powell mapped, and suggest the relevance of his map, as well as his caution of the difficulties of governance in an area of severe water stress-stress being understood and indexed as a relation between supply and demand, as well as rainfall, in national watersheds.

The “Arid Region” of the Untied States had been austerely and admonishingly described by John Wesley Powell as a geologist to caution against the administration of its future settlement with a level of clarity that reveals his Methodist upbringing. It is hard to know how clearly we can ever parse aridity, in an age when rising temperatures have unremittingly drained soil of water. As if informed by a deep respect for the map as a clarity of record, possessing the power to reorient readers to the world by preaching a new relation to the land, Powell had placed a premium on cartographic form as a tool to re-envision local governance–and prepared his striking eight-color map of the limited rainwater that arrives west of the hundredth meridian, the eastern border of what he baptized as the Arid Region, an almost zonal construction akin to a torrid zone.

The imposing title of this reclassification of the interior of the United States revealed Powell’s own keen sense of the map as a visual record of the territory, whose transparency as a record of the quality of the land would be a basis for all discussion of settlement. Powell parlayed his own deep study of the geography of the Colorado Basin to query the value of parsing the administration of water rights by state lines in 1890, convinced of the need to oversee later apportionment outside the jurisdiction of the arbitrary boundaries of western states, but joined them to his sense of duty of preparing a legible map of striking colors to convey the constraints and difficulties for its future settlement– not only by the scarcity of the threads of rivers curled against its topography, but the few watersheds.

Powell trusted the map might mark the opening of the “Great American Desert” in order to alert the US Congress that the dry lands west of the hundredth meridian was a divide. Even if the meridian no longer marking as clear a divide of reduced rainfall, as we confront the growth with unprecedented degree of global warming of a parched west–both in terms of reduced rainfall and declining soil quality–it may serve as a model for the map we need for the future governance and administration of already contested water rights. Powell’s place in the long story of soil quality reflects how neatly the American west as a microcosm of global warming is rooted in the conversion of public lands to private ownership, into which warming has thrown such a significant wrench.

Arid Region of the United States, Showing Drainage Basins (1890)

For the Arid Region’s aridity has since been unremittingly magnified, producing a region more arid than we have ever experienced and struggle to find an adequate color ramp adequate. But we would do well to try to map the forgetfulness of that arid region, even as we confront the quandary of the stubborn continuity of sustained dryness of a megadrought enduring multiple years, compounding the aridity of the soil, and multiplying fire dangers–and the conditions of combustibility of the region–far beyond what the west has ever known or Powell imagined possible. If aridity of soils and poor land quality has spiraled out of control due to “global warming,” raising questions about the future of farms and livestock, the absence of groundwater and surface water alike, global warming demand we shift from national lenses of water shortage to beyond American territory,–but also to discuss the warping nature of national lenses on the remaking of the sediment of the west–and Colorado Basin.

The difficulties of parsing river-flow by “states” as helpful political aggregations for future settlement was rebutted by the map, which sought to direct attention to the aridity of the ground’s soils to orient its administration in a region where water was destined to remain front and center on settlers’ and residents minds for the foreseeable future. The subsequent attempt to jerry-rig the question of scarcity of water by entitlements that rely on re-apportioning unused water escaped the constraints Powell located in the basic common denominator of groundwater.

As much as the region needs to be mapped outside a national context–despite the national nature of climate tracking–the hope of revealing imbalances of the drought indeed exist across borders, and impact water-sharing agreements, much as the smoke from recent northwest fires has traveled across the Pacific northwest. National territory is as meaningless an analytic category for global warming, or water scarcity, which, this blogpost argues, exists in a global contest of migration, as the migration or transborder transit of fires’ smoke.

The conditions of aridity that Powell described in the Colorado Basin and its neighbors offer an oddly productive image of the dryness of the ground, in an era before irrigation, that may be useful for how we can come to terms with the fear of a suspension of irrigation across western states. But it is as if the very definition of aridity was forgotten, as infrastructures of irrigation have re-mapped the region that John Wesley Powell in 1890 mapped as an area of difficult agrarian settlement, as farmlands of agrarian fertility and wealth. Powell proposed to view the “arid region” of the United States east of the Rockies with a clarity approaching scripture in a powerful eight-color map to instructively show how limited water constrained settlement of the region after surveying the Colorado Basin.

Powell probably imagined his map in somewhat revisionary as much as rebarbative, reorienting attention to the dry nature of the soil of the semi-arid region of the Colorado Basin by parsing it in areas by which the availability of water constrainted the settlement of the “open” government lands of the west, obscuring that they were seized from indigenous, to correct the mythic geography propounded by official state-sponsored geologists. Unlike Powell, most state geologists had boosterishly endorsed a site for future pasturage, to be enriched by unknown artesian springs, and ripe for settlement by homesteaders, and Powell’s map posed a more tempered image of resettlement that would obey the laws of the availability of water in the Colorado plateaux and other regions he knew so well, cautioning against the encouragement of settlement and sale to prospective farmers in ways that have improbably made the map something of an icon of conservationist thought. Against promise of prospective bucolic lands of pasture, the dry colors chasten viewers by communicating scarcity of water of drainage basins.

The arid region that Powell correctively propounded was long inscribed in the psycho-geography of the United States to be forgotten, but the arrival of irrigation infrastructure allowing irrigation of western states continues to inform, even in our own era of global warming, the return of the boosterist sloganwhere water flows, food grows,” that is still raised in Northern California’s San Joaquin Valley, to protest “cuts to farmwater” in the recent order of an “emergency curtailment” across rivers of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed — essentially the entire Central Valley. The recourse to an engineering “miracle” of making water flow uphill and redistributing more water from reservoirs contest calls for conservation–and only demand the further construction of dams, reservoirs, and water storage for better irrigation. The very promises that the flow of the Colorado River would irrigate lands, that made good on the promises made to homesteaders by describing the region to settlers as a New Canaan, where the growth of future streamflow and even rainfall that had never been documented, would make it suitable for the expansion of animal pasturing and farming, suggests a mythic geography of timeless bounty has replaced its actual conditions.

Friant-Kern Canal Flowing past Kern Dam/Septmeber 2020, Eric Paul Zamora, Fresno Bee

The mythic geography led to a rewriting of America’s irrigation infrastructure that in itself may be one of those pieces of infrastructure just no longer adaptable to extreme climate change. And as we face the scale of the national emergency of water shortages about to be triggered by falling reservoir levels, the crisis of using and recycling water, and the inefficiency of desalination plants of riverwater and groundwater, on which the world currently relies–and were predicted by the US Bureau of Reclamation back in 2003 to provide a “sustainable” solution to the dwindling water provided by the Colorado River, which had allowed the unexpected expansion of the settlement of western states. While desalination plants currently generate worldwide over 3.5 billion gallons daily, with 50 million gallons produced daily in Carlsbad, CA alone, desalination plants in one hundred and twenty counties, only half using sea-water, its energy expense justified as the Colorado River’s flow has declined, and is promoted as a “sustainable and drought-proof water supply in Southern California” in an era of climate change, as if to calm our concerns at the dramatically decreased groundwater across western states. And while Reclamation scientists assured the nation in 2016 of future recharge in the Upper Colorado Basin would offset temperature increases in their modeling scenarios through 2099, projecting basin-wide precipitation, the fears of the persistence of a mega-drought of extreme aridity with little recharge that may last decades has left fifty-sevens million living in drought conditions across the west according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, that has brought a new era of mega-fires. The thin blue line of the Colorado River is but a crack or thread coursing through a combustible landscape in this recent map of the expansion of unprecedented extreme drought in western states from National Geographic:

For all the disturbing and disquieting elegant if terrifying spread of deep red isotherms in Riley D. Champine’s map, the consequences of such exceptionally below-average levels of precipitation and aridity are difficult to comprehend as cumulative and deep in our nation’s history, as well as the effect of man-made climate change.

The utter saturation of this data vis of growing dryness of a region where rain far below previous norms fell forces the viewer to process an undue range of measures of aridity that they must struggle to process-if the deep orange and reds approaching emergency warning to suggest that surely a climate emergency is at hand. The absence of text in the visualization invites viewers to acknowledge they stand an eery remove of familiarity with an irrevocably landscape, posing unspoken if also unanswered questions about hydrological infrastructure in the Colorado basin, and greater west, that all but erases the geopolitical formation of this landscape–interruption of a rich color ramp at the southwestern border compartmentalize the large-scale decline in precipitation apart from national categories; but the danger lies in its focus on the economically developed north, more than the global south, as if it lacked adequate resources to prudently respond to groundwater shortages, but as an emergency for the developed world. The focus of the climate emergency is on a large scale, daunting the possibility of individual response, but focussing on prudence at a local level, even if its scale is not defined, questions whether state politics can even resolve the intensity of the dilemma of declining rainfall levels below a thirty-year norm, a deviation on so broad a scale to be impossible to process save in local terms, but that omits the way the basin has been engineered as a site where goundwater now all but fails to accumulate, increasing the basin’s deep aridity more than the color ramp reveals.

The trust that Powell placed in his maps stand in sharp contrast to the “purple” coloration of regions of extreme heat introduced across western states to suggest so many “red-flag” warnings of excessive heat. In a year already tied with 2017 for receiving “excessive heat” warnings from the National Weather Service, already in early summer at a rate that is increasingly alarming, purple designates the need for caution when leaving air-conditioned environments, and suggests the booming of electric cooling across the west: the metric of a prediction of temperatures reaching 105°F for a two-hour stretch has paralleled the debate in Washington on infrastructure spending that suggest a similar disconnect that Powell confronted when he tried to describe the need for constraints on planning settlement west of the hundredth meridian in 1890.

Four Excessive Heat Warnings issued from late May 2021 have introduced yet a new color to prominence in National Weather Service maps, the new deep purple was introduced in weather maps in 1997 as a venture of the NWS into health alerts; rarely used in other weather maps, which in recent years have shifted from urban areas to large stretches of the nation, shifting from a use of red to designate high temperatures to purple to designate risk of triple-digit temperatures, especially in man-made surfaces like asphalt (able to rise to 170°-180° Fahrenheit–territory of third-degree burns–or cars which can rise thirty degrees above air temperature.

Heat Advisories, July 11, 2021/National Weather Service

During the decade before 2003, the water-level of Lake Mead had begun to decline precipitously, inaugurating a historical decline that led it to fall to but 35% of its storage abilities. While the decline was not more precipitous than the two earlier declines in its water-levels in the reservoir from the mid-1950’s and mid-1960’s, the current decline in storage capacity of what is the largest reservoir of water in the United States has raised the unthinkable and unimaginable arrival of water cutbacks, as Arizona’s share of the Colorado River’s waters will be reduced by 7%, and Mexico–where the Colorado runs–will lose 5% of its share, in a scenario never foreseen in the dam’s history, but that reflects the increased aridity of the watershed from which the Colorado River draws. The decline to 1,075 feet in the reservoir’s depth that triggered the Tier 1 reductions in flow may only be a harbinger of the arrival of future Tier 2 reductions, should Lake Mead drop to 1,065 feet, as is expected in 2023, and raises the fear of a Tear 3 reduction, should the lake level fall below 1,025 feet, reducing the water allocated to western cities. In ways that the infrastructure of irrigating the Arid District of the United States could never have foreseen, the arrival of the driest period that the basin has ever experienced in 1200 years has brought longer periods of drier weather without rainfall that have reduced the riverwater that fills the reservoir.

The declining level of Lake Mead plunged below average lake elevation of 1173 feet, by 2003, in ways that should have sent alarms across the west, were we not consumed by a war against terror. The Bush administration’s attacks on global warming grew, questioning the science of global warming and the dangers of increasing aridity. But the disconnect between the expectation for irrigation by the farming industry and farming states was dismissed, with global warming and climate change, as temporary shifts that wouldn’t alter the landscape of irrigation or river flow.

Robert Simmon, based on data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

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Filed under border studies, climate change, data visualization, Global Warming, Mapping Ground Water

The Arid Region of the United States and its Afterlife: Beyond the 100th Meridian

The map may not be the territory.  But it shapes one’s relation to the territory–and to the presence of water in the land, as well as the land itself.  John Wesley Powell had a clear idea of the importance of mapping the sustainability of his audience’s relation to the new nature of the aridity of the plains states and western territories in the 1870s, when he used his deep knowledge of plants and foliage of the region that was distinguished by a deeply fragile economy of water to try to convince the U.S. Congress of re-organizing the region’s settlement, in the face of increasing hopes for its development:   by bounding the area beyond the hundredth meridian west as the “Arid Region,” as if it were a truly unknown land, not subject to the practices of surveying rectilinear boundary lines that the had extended west along the Mason-Dixon line, Powell sought to convey a better understanding of the permanence of drainage zones of the region as the best possible ways of understanding and planning its process of settlement in the way that would be most helpful to future residents, boosterism of the importance of young men going west to find futures notwithstanding.

Indeed, the mapping of how the “Arid Region” of the United States could be settled by John Wesley Powell created as the second Director of the United States Geological Survey, a post he held from 1881–1894, but which he had first expansively described in 1878.  The United States Congress followed Powell’s recommendation to consolidate the western surveys into the new U.S. Geological Survey, and he long sought to create a map capturing the fragile water ecology of the American West.  The completion of his classic report on the region first suggested a new relation to the distribution of water in the region in ways that would best serve all of its residents, and in his later map, he tried to articulate so clear a relation to the region’s future settlement.  Powell’s view on the need for systematic irrigation of the region stands in almost polemic relation to the place that the western states held in the spatial imaginary of the Homesteading Era:  indeed, his insistence that led to the charge to undertake a systematic irrigation survey of lands in the public domain of the wester United States in 1888, long a topic for which he had agitated, and his map of the region reflected a demand to integrate a topographic survey, hydrographic survey, and engineering survey of the region.  Perhaps the map offered a new sense of the territory, if “territory” includes the waterways that would be able to adequately irrigate all open lands.

Arid Region of US

For the reception of Major John Wesley Powell’s attempt to map what he called the “Arid Region of the United States” reveals both he difficulty in mapping the relation of water to the land, and the appeal that a piece of paper might gain over time.  The detailed map provided something of a ground plan and register of how the arid region might be best inhabited, and of the relation to the land and landwater of a region’s inhabitants.  And it provides an early recognition of problems of water management and distribution in the western states–captured in its naming simply as the “Arid Region” as if to set it apart from the plentiful water in other regions–that later eras began to appreciate in ways that Powell’s contemporaries were less able to see in his ambitious attempt to reorganize the management of its regions around its multiple inland watersheds that he had hoped to canalize.  For Powell’s ambitious 1890 remapping of lands west of the 100° meridian in the United States tried to encompass their unique aridity and to pose a solution for its future inhabitants with special attention to its drainage districts–as discreet riverine watersheds.

Arid Lands ReservationsArid Region of the United States (1890); detail

The best practices that motivated Powell’s map as a basis to orient the government to the land’s groundwater.  The distinctive scarcity of water in the western states became evident in a time of sustained drought, giving unexpected currency to how Powell’s map reoriented readers to the “Arid Region of the United States.”  The brightly colored map to which the explorer, geographer, and anthropologist not only dedicated an extreme amount of attention in his later life, and of which he became something of an evangelist, suggests a early recognition of the scarcity of water and its management, in an era when there is a specter of considerable anger around poor practices of water management in much of the western states, tempered by an expectation that groundwater would be available for farming and irrigation.

The rivers in the United States are quite widely distributed, leaving much of the western plateaux at a distance from riverine waterways–

Western Rivers.pngTim Sinott

–and the image of Virgin Land so deeply ingrained across that regions settlement that its unique character of low rainfall and widely dispersed water sources was erased in the spatial imaginary which replaced the detailed map Powell of the administration of groundwater in the western states that Powell had created with his surveying team as a guide to the region that he knew so well, and which he sought to communicate when he became second director of the United States Geographical Surveys (1881–1894).  The governmental office did not give him authority to organize , but to create a new map that might better organize the nation to the lesser rainwater in what was known as the Great American Desert.  For Powell attempted to re-orient homesteaders to the imperative of western migration through the map, by organizing water administration and the future prospect for canalization in order to grow prospects for the irrigation of the region and its future farmlands that have considerable ethical power to speak to us today.

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On the Proposed Balkanization of California

Timothy C. Draper fondly reminisced that “I grew up in the state that was number one in education, the number one place to do business and the best place to live.”  The venture capitalist who brought the nation hotmail, Skype, and Tesla was savoring the new mental landscape that he argues would be recaptured by remapping California as six separate states. That simple cartographic intervention, and the “autonomy” it would serve to return each region–or all of its six new states to be carved from it–would fulfill the ideals of a rapidly receding past, and allow each to independnetly confront the problems of a crumbling infrastructure, poorly performing public schools, and pension obligations for state workers, and taxation practices that he judges unfriendly to business.  The “start-up guy” sought to restart the project of California in 2014, spending $5.2 million to liberate each of the state’s six parts, which failed to make the ballot, if it gained the national spotlight thanks to Stephen Colbert. The self-defined “start-up guy” returned to the table to reparse the largest state in the union in 2018, when the notion of national division gained traction in the national news, with hopes to give a greater tax franchise to at least two of the regions–the rump “California” around Los Angeles and Orange County; “North California;” and “South California”–as if to allow citizens to self-sort themselves into their own “like-minded” communities and unique styles of governing, to reboot the largest state that had just become too populous into three.

The insistence of these aspirations to cartographic self-definition suggests, in other words, the fiction of independence that Silicon Valley has been selling the nation for some time. As Draper has argued American would be best by adopting Bitcoin as its national currency, cutting out the Federal Reserve as so much excess baggage, the big stakes questions as land maintenance, coastal commissions, and Fish & Wildlife would be deferred, as would many questions of ecological conservation and fire management that are currently on the front burners of most Californians. By persuading us to see the state as a set of discrete regions, however, bushy-eyebrowed Draper hopes to urge voters to realize his political strategy to divide California into six cantons of different hues.  And when he rolled out the project for dividing the state–and its resources and economy–once again into three states,  one named simply “California” on the coast below San Jose to Los Angeles, bounded by the “Northern” and “Southern” California, as if in an attempt to make the map look clearer, Draper seeks to persuade voters to overlook the complex web of natural resources (like water), but huge discrepancies in public education, pension plans, transportation needs, and water management that demand resolution in coming decades–and in effect heighten the levels of inequality already permeating the state, as well as diluting its political voice.

A six-color map of the state offered the rallying call to generate support for his map to renewed economic prosperity–a spectrum intent to underscore inherent differences between each region.  The cartographic division of the state became a logo for a movement, found a nice logo in six colors, designed to strike a key in reflect the parched nature of the more arid (purple; red; orange) and waterless or irrigated areas of the state, and to suggest they were best left to fend for themselves, especially, perhaps, the orange Southern California and the Imperial Valley and bright red Central California’s desert. The coastal communities would have their liberties, and the tax franchises that went with them.

New Map of California

Draper’s initiative to “divide” California into six California’s–six separate states–picks up the inventive cartographies of division that partition the United States into more “rational” or “reasonable” mega-regions, macro-states, or mini-countries, and betrays what little sense he has of the environmental or ecological status of the state.  His proposal stands at odds to how, back in 1837, the German-American jurist Franz Lieber famously doubted that merely altering hues of any map could affect its political economy. He doubted that “the face of our country would change” as a result, and saw little impact for changing a map’s color-scheme, and hoped that “if the engravers were able to sell their maps less boisterously painted and not as they are now, each county of each state in flaming red, bright yellow, or a flagrant orange dye arrayed, like the cover produced by the united efforts of a quilting match.”  Lieber had studied topographic mapping in Dresden before coming to America, and meant to contrast realities of political economy with the coloration of maps–probably contrasting the four-color maps of the United States to those of Prussia with his Berlin-trained mind’s eye; the flagrant color-scheme of a map, however, becomes a device for Draper to urge that we remake California into six “political entities” that most of those living in them wouldn’t actually recognize.

In treating California as a landmass whose extent is able to be parceled into six–or three–blocks, the iconic visualization presumes “California” is not a landscape bound by coastal rivers, streams, glacial ice-pack, or viaducts, but might be parsed as the graphic designer wishes, in what seems the utter alienation of map from place.  By converting California to six cantons, the hope is to remake the state as six more manageable mega-regions to bridge perceived distances between government and Californians.  Draper represents the remapping of the state as a means to reconnect its residents to a model of good government in something of an extension of the argument of states’ rights.  The graphical division of the Golden State into six entities, maxi-regions or mini-states, each emptied of local meaning and purged of cities, provides the rallying cry of the venture capitalist’s movement for the May 2016 ballot, having gained over 1.3 million signatories of in-state residents–at the time of its submission in mid-July–and of a charge that Draper hopes would open up the possibility that other states follow the lead of his movement to break into separate states as well.

The return to the map as an iconic form of taking self-consciousness as Draper urges is a bit odd, to be sure, for a libertarian. For the image of the map as an icon of national destiny–the pentagon of France; the “lebensraum” of Germany; the unity of China–has a distinctly nationalist heritage, as does the call for a Red-State America with disturbing similarities in its contours to the Confederate States of America. The map indeed conceals, by a nice slight of hand, how much of California is “open space” managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Defense, or Bureau of Land Management, in its attempt to carve up neat bundles of California in the hopes that these would align–or soon come to align–with independent interests. Fearing the administration of wilderness areas of the National Park Service or Forest Service during the Trump regime, Governor Jerry Brown had indeed not only filed a spate of twenty-four law suits against the Trump administration in 2017, the first year of the Trump Presidency, but questioned the validity of any attempt by the chief executive to sell or exchange land rights in the state, by pronouncing them void ab initio, without review by the State Land Commission, fearing the dismantling of hard-won environmental protections across the state.

The defense of undeveloped land that Brown holds dear and near was a pre-emptive strike that provoked a quick legal response from Jeff Sessions’ DOJ: “California was admitted to the Union upon the express condition that it would never interfere with the disposal of federal land,” he cautioned, defending the “rightful prerogatives” of the Interior Department, U.S. Military, and Bureau of Land Management “to buy, sell, exchange or donate federal properties in a lawful manner in the national interest” that should rightly make Californians fear the actual intent of the U.S. Government. While the admission of California to the United States in 1850 indeed stipulated that “the people of the said State, through their legislature or otherwise, shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the public lands within its limits,” the mandate for the state’s defense over those public lands may well be, in an era of accentuated climate change and fire danger, the rationale for rationale for administering public lands had so dramatically changed since the expropriation of public lands from indigenous tribes and mandates of public land management that the threat of their misadministration or maladministration by the rapacious Interior Dept. of the Trump era had grown pronounced–and fears of the placement of lands of the Bureau of Land Management and National Parks had been warranted, given the stunning removal of public lands protections in the first year of Trump’s administration, mostly directed to review the protections of federally owned lands from oil and gas drilling, groundwater mining, logging, and offshore drilling–all triggers for immediate protection–as well as removing responses to climate change from the administration of Park Service lands. The real fears of leasing lands for oil and gas extraction had led to the leasing of 223,200 acres of public lands to private individuals in FY 2014 alone, and the expansion of such leases would render the potential influx of cash as music to Draper’s libertarian ears.

While Draper’s initiative of the “Three Californias” was not openly framed by the tussle over land management over open spaces or wilderness areas, the fact of the federal management of 45% of California’s territory provoked fear of a slippage of protection of grazing rights, timber and forest management, and development of extractive industry that were cleverly concealed by the Three Californias, and which render California a fairly unique target of free market forces. The anger DOJ barely concealed in sniping at the “extreme state law attempting to frustrate federal policy” that Attorney General Sessions may have been born from venting about the state’s resistance to policies of border protection, and the incarceration of “illegal” migrants, with the pretense of drug enforcement, but created a unique opening for Draper’s initiative, an economic bottom-line of as limited ethical scope and compass one might associate with Don Draper, the fictional composite protagonist of “Mad Men,” but aligns closely with the brutal calculus of Tim Draper’s broad-strokes vision of governmental reform. Perhaps the true base-map, if often hidden, that lies beneath the busting up of California as a state are the network of environmental protections and protection of public lands and coasts, enforced by state regulations and commissions, that would be removed by the division of the state into cantons that would be open to the free market, pried from a vision of environmental stewardship.

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Filed under California, data visualizations, environmental stewardship, Six Californias, Timothy Draper