Future Tense is the citizen’s guide to the future. A partnership among Arizona State University, Slate and the New America Foundation, Future Tense explores emerging technologies and their transformative effects on society and public policy.
Humans settle around water, especially in the desert. Indeed, our earliest civilizations developed around desert water bodies like the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates. With NASA’s recent discovery of evidence of liquid water on the desert planet Mars, a new extraterrestrial civilization could arise on Mars, and it will almost certainly be near a Martian lake, river, or well. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the water is potable, or at least can be treated and become usable for human purposes. In that case, who has the right to this water, and how should it be allocated? Perhaps the answer lies in a 19th-century U.S. water law policy designed to encourage the innovations and entrepreneurialism necessary to explore and colonize the American West.