Water has always been one of the most compelling drivers of infrastructure in the American West. Natural sources of water have long been overburdened by the growing demands from consumer and agricultural development. Locals feel this pressure most acutely, but it affects the entire country through food and manufacturing that rely on western resources. Today, the Colorado River Basin and most of California’s watershed have been fully tapped, necessitating new ways to organize our lives – and our structures – around a finite supply of available water.
The Imperial Valley, the vast irrigated region of Southern California’s Sonoron desert, receives 20% of the annual flow of the Colorado River, thanks to water-rights laws enacted more than a century ago. After traveling through much of the American West, and nearly to the Mexican border, what remains of the Colorado is diverted at the Imperial Dam, and then transferred more than 80 miles westward, via the All American Canal, a feat of infrastructure engineering that is simple in its concept and yet profound in its consequences. The canal hugs the Mexican border until it releases its contents northward into hundreds of square miles of industrial farmland that sprouts copious green produce year-round, in one of the driest deserts on the North American continent.