Modeling districts according to watersheds is a fascinating idea. And Adam’s discussion of the why and how of his experiment was intriguing and well-done. We liked this map less than the one he did that earned him second place, obviously. But this qualifies as a great try featuring thoughtful creativity that we considered worthy of being honored.
At first glance, this doesn't look like a good congressional map for Pennsylvania. It's not especially compact, there are hardly any straight lines, the districts are all over the place.
So what gives? Well, this map was created with a single goal in mind: to group districts according to watersheds. There are no straight lines on this map because nature doesn't work in straight lines. Instead, the boundaries of the districts follow the geographic boundaries that create the different watersheds across our state.
The idea for using watersheds to create districts came from a friend near Pittsburgh when I was soliciting opinions on what values were most important to people for redistricting. Watershed-based districts was a surprising answer, but a great idea! Watersheds are communities of interest that are often overlooked as we look at political maps and the human-created boundaries they focus on, but watersheds represent the truest and oldest divisions across our state that predate even humanity itself, and as such, are immune to partisan gerrymandering.
By grouping districts according to watersheds, we can not only avoid gerrymandered maps, but we can help foster much-needed awareness of watersheds and their importance in relation to the clean water we all rely on.
Because of the need to create districts of nearly equal population, it was impossible to create district boundaries that perfectly match watershed boundaries in all cases but, in some, it was. For example, Districts 1-7 almost perfectly align with the boundaries of the Delaware River Watershed. District 1 represents the upper branches of the river, District 2, the middle branches, and Districts 3-7 represent the lower branches, further subdivided by the smaller watersheds of the creeks and rivers of the Philadelphia area.
Districts 8-12 broadly make up Pennsylvania's largest watershed - the Susquehanna. District 8 contains the easternmost and lowest branch of the Susquehanna along with the small Elk / Northeast Watershed, and District 9 includes the western part of the lower Susquehanna plus the entirety of the Potomac watershed. (The boundary between Districts 9 and 12 is nearly the exact boundary of the Potomac Watershed.) Districts 10 and 12 represent the middle and Juniata branches of the Susquehanna respectively, and District 11 contains the upper and middle branches.
District 13 is a multi-watershed district that includes the entire Genesee and Erie watersheds as well as the furthest tributaries of both the Susquehanna and the Ohio River Watersheds.
Districts 14-17 make up the Ohio River Watershed as a whole. District 14 contains the lowest part of the Allegheny River, District 15 contains the area in and around the Three Rivers of Pittsburgh, District 16 includes the westernmost part of the Ohio River, and District 17 includes the Youghiogheny and Monongahela Rivers.
Watershed-based mapping might make for weird-looking districts, but it is an important and overlooked perspective in district mapping. More than anything, I hope this map can serve as a reminder that the abstract political and demographic calculations that go into creating district maps should always be balanced with the very real and immutable geographic boundaries created by nature.