The Bureau of Water Management

The project proposes to repurpose and dramatically expand oil infrastructure for the management of subterranean and prehistoric regional water resources.

In developed nations, where complex networks, systems and processes are increasingly consolidated and interconnected, managerial and infrastructural frameworks become necessary as to provide and maintain the level of comfort that citizens have come to expect. Assuming an eventual decline in petroleum sources within the American interior, this projects foresees and proposes a repurposed oil infrastructure which adapts regional petroleum extraction logistics to control and refine groundwater sources.

The project repurposes oil derricks to drill to the depths necessary to capture water from deep natural aquifers on site, transforming both the fresh water and brackish – or saline – aquifers as ‘water banks’ and ‘water vaults’ for the purposes of managing water resources.  This new water infrastructure is to be administered by the Bureau of Water Management – a proposed entity evolved from the extant Bureau of Reclamation for the management of water in the US – imbued with a new charge to re-balance water resources across the nation.  Like the Federal Reserve, the BWM would set guarantees and standards for supply and demand for the new water economy.

This infrastructure will transition over time from a purely government enterprise to a public-private one which may even eventually flip America’s dependence on foreign oil to an overall exporter of hydrogen cells based from the simple splitting of the water molecules into its elemental parts.

TheSplitEstateThis project also sees itself as part of a history of the relationship between America’s water resources and its governmental instruments. During the settling of the American West, settlers had thought that the act of cultivating the earth would bring about rain, simply by breaking the ground and working it. This myth was of course quickly found to be false, and at the turn of the 20th century, the Bureau of Reclamation was created under the Department of the Interior to manage water resources in the west. Today, the Bureau of Reclamation is the largest wholesaler of water to the arid western states, defined by a jurisdiction which starts from North Dakota to travels all the way down to Texas.


The site for the project is situated at Wood River, Illinois, at a major juncture between the arable eastern lands and the drier western territories. This is also where the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and is a major node on the TransCanada Keystone XL oil pipeline.The project proposes to build upon the oil pipeline as a means to take water from the east to the west, taking advantage of  intermodal methods of distribution extant on site. A large freight train node, as well as a key location for barge traffic and easy access to the federal highway system allows not only fresh water, but also salt, hydrogen and even oxygen by-products of the water refinement process.

Similar to how oil infrastructure such as pipelines are monitored, water infrastructure must be monitored with a high level of scrutiny.  Water transit carries less environmental damage than oil, but is not without its own ecological changes to the environment. At the confluence of the Mississippi, natural flooding of the Plains maintains certain ecological qualities in the soil. In drilling and excavating for the water resources, there must be a multifaceted approach.

In the first phase of the project, the water excavation technology would be at risk from flooding. Therefore the initial spaces, pockets and smaller parcels of groundwater will be further excavated and established as water treatment chambers and as a point of extraction for other deeper sources of subsurface water. Each water treatment chamber is excavated and located in the upper 150 feet of earth, which sits above the bedrock. This upper region is occupied mainly by water treatment chambers.

The excavated earth from this new construction becomes material to build a large berm and levee to protect against flooding. Excavation continues in the bedrock to act as storage for dry commodities such as salt, while acting as a second unseen base of operations for deeper saline water extraction. As excavation increases and the water infrastructure grows into a more complex system of extraction, refinement, commoditisation and distribution, the berm along the Mississippi grows until it reaches a height of 50 feet. A large overflow ditch is proposed, that would form a last defense against 500 year floods. Excess soil and excavation can either be sold or used to further build levees in other flood prone areas. The large ditch separating the infrastructural hub from the local inhabitants is an explicit reminder of federal power and constituent responsibility.

Chan_7The Bureau of Water Management shall use eminent domain with the aim of providing clean and safe water as a right to all citizens in order to substantiate this new jurisdiction, unencumbered by municipal and state governments. This precinct is a contained but open framework and speculates on new relationships between classes of inhabitants and their relationship to the jurisdiction itself. Buildings relating to distribution, administration and financial exchanges operate on the surface level and act as the final node of the entire infrastructure. Most jobs and visibly coherent processes are located at this strata. As the water infrastructure grows downwards and outwards, some parts are left less secure then others, inviting squatters and outlaws who seek to take advantage of the infrastructure or even siphon off some of its production. ­Deeper, where air quality is tied to water by-production of oxygen, larger structures such as the drop structure which connects the surface level to large industrial excavation and extraction are appropriated for occasional religious events. Deeper still are closed production loops which ensure the best quality of water to the wealthiest and most politically connected citizenry. Beginning as a means to provide water to the west, the Bureau of Water Management becomes a speculative proposal, encompassing political, spatial, economic and infrastructural explorations to understand their conventional present-day counterparts. This project is a speculative lens, used to view infrastructure and extraction as a means to project into the future and understand the present.

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