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| Donald Worster on: Settling the West
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Donald Worster on: Settling the West
Donald Worster Q: At a certain point in his career, as a government scientist, many of the strands of his interests, influences come together in a vision of the West and how it should be settled, how it should proceed into the West. What was it that he saw about the West that dictated the way it should be settled, and how did he propose that we should move into that country.

DW: At the core of his understanding of the West was, the idea that it was a place of severe limits and natural resources, particularly in the vital natural resource of water. He thought this was a challenge, unlike anything Americans had experienced before. And, they would place severe limits, particularly on agricultural development and most people believed that settlement started with agriculture. That was the way we'd always settled the land, You didn't start with cities, you started with agriculture. And so, in order to settle the West, you had to begin with realistically accepting the idea that water would never be as abundant as people wanted it to be, that it would always be a severely limited quantity. It would place on the debris and the geography of agricultural settlement. So, the land laws of the country had to be significantly changed to address that realistically.

Every city in America, in the West today, from Phoenix on, has got the same sort of mentality - unlimited economic growth. Anything is possible to our technological imagination. If nature puts limits on us, in terms of water, well we will overcome them, somehow or other. We will bring water in, to dry places. We will make the deserts bloom, and we'll turn them into enormous food supply that will feed the world. Don't tell us that you know, that there isn't enough water here because we're Americans and we can overcome this. This was an attitude in the 19th century, it's an attitude today. I mean, they were thinking that, at some point, that you could put in hundreds of millions of people into these western valleys. Powell shared some of that. I mean he wasn't completely pessimistic about the possibilities of the West. He believed deeply in progress, just like the rest of his country. He believed in going West and settling in and developing homes there. I think, partly because he grew up in a family of more limited economic constraints on their own livelihood, he had a sense of limits that probably some of the railroad executives, some of the irrigation boosters, some of the Senators and Congressmen from the West, did not quite share.

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