From the Desk of Garrison Keillor
A prolific writer, Garrison Keillor is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and abroad. To the right, you find a selection of articles published since 1989, and a few unpublished pieces.

Minnesota's Sensible Plan
From Time Magazine

September 11, 1995

This summer, in an unmarked office in the sub-basement of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, a team of young resource-management planners is fine-tuning the biggest water diversion project in the history of mankind and the largest transfer of wealth since Hernando Cortes acquired the Aztec Empire.

Its code name is Excelsior, the preliminary plan alone fills a portfolio the size of a breadbox, and if all goes according to plan, on November 4, 1999, the governor of Minnesota will stand on a platform in Duluth and pull a golden lanyard, opening the gates of the Superior Diversion Canal, a concrete waterway the size of the Suez. Water from Lake Superior will flood into the canal at a rate of three-hundred billion gallons an hour and go south.

It will flow into the St. Croix River, to the Mississippi, south to an aqueduct at Keokuk (FIGURE A), and from there, west to the Colorado River and into the Grand Canyon, filling it up to the rims, enough water to supply the parched Southwest from Los Angeles to Santa Fe, for more than fifty years.

In the past, Lake Superior, which represents one-tenth of the world's supply of fresh water, was considered "inviolable," but with environmental groups in retreat and a Republican Congress favoring "wise use" of natural resources, the Excelsior project is moving full-tilt toward O-Day.

"Nobody ever talks anymore about the great things this country can do," said one of the planners recently. "Excelsior is going to change that."

What will Excelsior mean? Two things.

First, America's retirees will be able to shower, flush toilets, and have lush green lawns around their swimming pools for decades to come.

Second, Minnesota will earn pots of money. Typically, residents of the Southwest today pay up to $41 per thousand cubic feet of water. That price may rise as the aquifers of the western plains recede and more rivers are diverted to irrigation. But assuming the price remains at $41 per thousand cubic feet --- the value of Lake Superior would be an astounding eighteen trillion dollars.

In addition, Minnesota would receive current market prices for the fish.

After deducting the billions spent on canal and aquaduct construction, the net profit for Minnesota will be seventeen and a half trillion, or four million dollars per person.

Placed in a trust fund earning 6 per cent interest divided 50-50 between individual citizen and state treasury, the sale of Lake Superior would provide an annual salary of $120,000 to every Minnesota resident.

To many Americans, whose only knowledge of the North Star State is that it is intensely cold and populated by Swedes and Holsteins , it will come as a surprise to wake up one morning in 2004 and read in the newspaper, "Half of U.S. Economy Now in Hands of Minnesota". But there is something inevitable about economics, and seventeen-point-five trillion dollars talks in a loud clear voice.

Overnight, Minnesota is transformed from Corn Belt to Money Belt. Gigantic glass skyscrapers rise in downtown St. Paul around the Capitol, home of the nation's wealthiest state legislature, and as the money floods in, Minnesota looks for acquisitions, IBM, UPS, USX, GTE, RJR Nabisco --- meanwhile, we take over banks, Minnecorp, J.P. Olson, Chase Minnesota. Presidential candidates will hold their big, $100,000-a-plate fundraisers in Minneapolis, and will pledge their support for water diversification, and mention that, conservative though they be, they've always had a soft spot in their hearts for Hubert Humphrey.

The term "Wall Street" becomes archaic slang, like "Route 66" --- people in the loop refer to "the Avenue," meaning Marquette Avenue in Minneapolis, home of the Minnesota Stock Exchange.

The big entrepreneurs, the Buffetts, the Eisners, the Gateses, jet off to Minnesota to line up financing for their future moves. And one day Donald Trump discovers that he is owned, lock, stock, and roulette wheel, by Lutheran Brotherhood, and must renegotiate his debt load with a committee of silent Norwegians who don't understand why anyone would pay more than $120 for a suit (FIGURE B)

Most Americans have never imagined such a project as the Superior Diversion, and that's why they have so many questions about it.

Q: Will Excelsior require state or local tax abatements, so the taxpayers wind up subsidizing the whole thing?

A: No way.

Q: Isn't there a danger of environmentalists blocking the project with a bunch of nuisance lawsuits?

A: Seventeen-point-five trillion dollars buys some powerful legal talent.

Q: Won't Minnesota be forced to share this windfall with neighboring states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, etc.?

A: See answer above.

Q. Whatever is a small state like Minnesota going to do with all that money anyway?

A: Create a social utopia, of course. A state with vast libraries, fabulous schools (free), sports centers, every home wired for interactive television, cradle-to-coffin medical care, and unemployment benefits equal to your previous year's salary, paid until you're sixty-eight.

Q: What will you do when the money runs out?

A: It won't. Minnesota is sitting on a lot of water. We have more lakes than there are names to call them --- there are forty Round Lakes, for example, thirty-three Big Lakes, nineteen Sandy Lakes, and fourteen Green Lakes --- and we can earn billions more by selling off the duplicates.

Q: How can I become a Minnesota resident?

A: Thirty days is all it takes. That, and four recommendations from current residents.

Lake Superior is a valuable asset, but the Superior Canyon will prove to be even more valuable than the Lake, according to people familiar with the situation.

"Look," said one of the resource-management planners, jabbing his finger at a graph. "Lake Superior isn't that important as a navigable body, and it isn't much of a tourist attraction. Who wants to come and look at 31,000 square miles of water? Nobody. The water's too cold for swimming, and frankly, lakes don't draw like canyons do. Ask Lake Mead. Lakes draw fishermen, a bunch of owly guys who drive in, buy a six-pack of beer and a bologna sandwich. Canyons draw families. And the Superior Canyon, without a doubt, will outdraw the Grand. It's bigger, for one thing, plus it has islands, and sites of famous shipwrecks. You'll have a monorail tour of the sites, with crumpled hulls of ships. Very respectful. But a major draw."

By 2006, Lake Superior will be gone, and its islands will be wooded buttes rising above the fertile coulees of the basin. A river will run through it, the Riviera River, and great glittering casinos like the Corn Palace, the Voyageur, the Big Kawishiwi, the Mukooda, the Tamarack Sands, the Clair de Lune, the Sileaux, the Garage Mahal, the Glacial Sands, the Temple of Denture, the Golden Mukooda, will lie across the basin like diamonds in a dish. Family-style casinos, with theme parks and sensational water rides on the rivers cascading over the North Rim, high-rise hotels and time-share condominiums --- with no building restrictions in Lake Superior, developers will be able to let their imaginations go free. High-rises in the shape of grain elevators. Casinos shaped like casserole dishes, accordions, automatic washers. (FIGURE) You'll see guys on the Letterman show who, when Dave asks, "Where you going to be next month, pal," will say, "I'll be in Minnesota, Dave. Playing four weeks at the Pokegama." Celebrities will flock to the Canyon.
Tourism'll jump a thousand percent. Guys on the red-eye from L.A. to New York will look out and see a blaze of light off the left wing, and ask the flight attendant, "What's that?" and she'll say, "Minnesota, of course."

The money is going to roll in for decades to come. Minnesota will be the Gravy Capitol of the United States.

What will Minnesota's vast wealth and pre-eminence mean for the rest of the country?

Almost nothing but good.

Minnesota is a state of public-spirited and polite people, where you can get a good cappucino and eat Thai food and find any book you want and yet live on a quiet tree-lined street with a backyard and send your kids to public school. When a state this good hits the jackpot, it can only be an inspiration to everybody. Of course there is bound to be resentment. But in the end, the changes will be for the good.

The media will change, as Minnesota buys up networks and cable companies. News will be less about politics, and more about civilization: history, art, literature, and sweet corn. And creamed onions. The movie business, as Minnesota buys major studies, will start to make pictures in which snow occurs as a normal part of life. Movies in which there is less machine-gunning and car-bombing and more scenes in which people enjoy a good meal and tell jokes.

The Superior Canyon project can help bring the country to its senses, putting a big chunk of the economy into the hands of modest and sensible people, people who have been through some hard winters and are the better for it. But winter isn't the only reason Minnesotans are as good as they are, it's also due to something in the drinking water. That's why the lake was named Superior.

Past Articles
  • Phil Keillor Benefit for the Tenney Park Shelter (04/17/09)
  • Bill Holm, 1943–2009 (02/26/09)
  • Happy New Year, Friends (12/29/08)
  • Talk of the Stacks (11/17/08)
  • What Makes St. Paul So Great? (09/03/08)
  • GK On Historic Preservation (10/05/07)
  • Welcome to St. Paul (09/23/06)
  • "Homegrown Democrat," Chapters 1-4 (08/10/04)
  • Sing the National Anthem—and Try it in the Key of G (07/02/04)
  • Holiday Greetings from Garrison Keillor (12/23/03)
  • Remembering Plimpton (10/01/03)
  • Crankiness in Decline, Says the Old Guy (04/19/02)
  • A Governor Works in Mysterious Ways (10/19/01)
  • In Praise of Laziness (09/10/01)
  • I Just Needed a Valve Job (09/13/01)
  • A Eulogy for Chet Atkins (07/03/01)
  • A Foot Soldier in God's Floating Orchestra (04/01)
  • Exile on Main Street (10/02/00)
  • Walking Down the Canyon (07/31/00)
  • The Mysteries of Prom Night (05/15/00)
  • How I Write (12/04/99)
  • The Christmas of the Great Flu (12/99)
  • Let Jesse Be Jesse (10/10/99)
  • The Rice, the Bat, the Baby (09/06/99)
  • Faith at the Speed of Life (06/14/99)
  • The Republicans Were Right, But (02/15/99)
  • Minnesota's Excellent Ventura (11/16/98)
  • The Dangers of Christmas (04/06/98)
  • Gasgate (11/10/97)
  • Talk Radio (10/97)
  • The Seven Principles of a Successful Christmas (09/08/97)
  • The Seven Deadly Sins—Envy (04/97)
  • You Say Potato (04/04/96)
  • The Poetry Judge (02/96)
  • With All the Trimmings (11/27/95)
  • In Autumn We Get Older (11/06/95)
  • Minnesota's Sensible Plan (09/11/95)
  • The Art of the Embrace (02/95)
  • The Voters are Angry (08/94)
  • Word Play (05/18/90)
  • We Are Still Married (12/18/89)
  • Elevator Tales
  • A Graduation Speech

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