"This map of rainfall demonstrated to John Wesley Powell that the rush to settle the plains and beyond was a disaster in the making. It was this stark visual evidence that inspired him to use maps to propose an alternative path for western development. Congress was intrigued, and briefly renewed his funding for research toward a comprehensive plan of irrigation. But Powell’s vision, however compellingly presented and argued, was simply too far removed from contemporary interests and assumptions about growth. It didn’t help matters that he was stubborn, and exuded the passion of an evangelist that rubbed many Senators the wrong way. Soon after his testimony, the Senate shut down Powell’s irrigation survey.
By the 1890s Powell’s ideas made him a household name among in California, though the irrigation enthusiasts had stripped away the cautious tone and replaced it with boundless enthusiasm for the future of agriculture. In the twentieth century, California’s vineyards and citrus groves became the envy of the world. At this moment, the entire state is in severe drought that extends across much of the southwest to Oklahoma, now in its driest year on record since the Dust Bowl in 1936. We might consider how different the west might look now had Powell’s ideas gained just a bit more traction over a century ago."
John Wesley Powell 19th Century Maps of the American West | New Republic