In 1968 the Texas Water Development Board submitted a dire report to the Legislature warning that the state would run out of water by 1985. This prediction—an update to the first water plan, produced seven years earlier—was accompanied by a map purporting to show a solution to the alleged problem: a network of hundreds of miles of canals carrying water from the lower reaches of the Mississippi River to the farthest corners of South and West Texas, an engineering feat roughly equivalent in scope and expense to building the Panama Canal.
The state’s engineers could be forgiven for thinking big. The sixties were a time, difficult to remember today, when governments at all levels made enormous investments in public works. Texas was in the midst of a dam-building boom that had begun in the aftermath of the water shortages of the fifties, when the worst multiyear drought in state history threatened the drinking supply as never before. With the