USGS Launches Drought Visualization Site On California


The record drought in California has prompted the US Geological Survey to launch a new data visualization website that gives the public more detailed information about the scope of drought in the state. The website is part of the federal government’s Open Water Data Initiative. That project is designed to improve access to data and open exchange of water information in order to get a better picture of existing water resource issues and develop sustainable solutions through open data.

The goal of the Open Water Data Initiative is to integrate fragmented water information into a connected, national water data framework and leverage existing systems, infrastructure and tools to support greater innovation, modeling, and data sharing. The California drought site features high-tech graphics that illustrate the effect of drought on regional reservoir storage from 2011-2014.

For the visualization, drought data are integrated through space and time with maps and plots of reservoir storage. Reservoir levels can be seen to respond to seasonal drivers in each year. However, available water decreases overall as the drought persists. The connection between snowpack and reservoir levels is also displayed interactively. Current streamflow collected at USGS gaging stations is graphed relative to historic averages. Additionally, California’s water use profile is summarized.

California has been experiencing one of its most severe drought in over a century, and 2013 was the driest calendar year in the state’s 119-year recorded history. In January, California Governor, Jerry Brown, declared a State of Emergency to help officials manage the drought.

“The state and federal data presented are publicly available, as is the open-source software that supports the application,” said Emily Read, a USGS developer of the website. “The application allows the public to explore the drought not only as we’ve presented it, but because the software is open-source, anyone can easily open up the data and expand the story.”