OWF Initiative – Visualize Your River Basin


Service areas for irrigation companies and municipal water providers

Service areas for irrigation companies and municipal water providers

“There are two goals when presenting data: convey your story and establish credibility.”

– Edward Tufte

OWF understands that visual presentation of data can have a huge impact on understanding complex water issues and identifying opportunities for solutions. Data analysis and visualization can introduce misunderstanding and bias if presented without transparency. Visualizations also can be overwhelming if data layers are simply made available without providing context. For these reasons, OWF is developing visualization tools for river basins to provide integrated information that tells stories at a summary level and allows drill-down into data details. Our intent is to provide a data and information-rich platform that is neutral and increases understanding of complex water issues. The following examples illustrate how OWF is implementing tools to visualize river basins.


Visualizing Specific Water Systems within a River Basin

When water is plentiful, water providers such as ditch companies and cities within a river basin can focus on their own systems in order to provide certain deliveries to their customers or shareholders.  As can be expected, a large part of any system has complexity related to how the specific organization meets its water supply obligations.  Over time, a system also interacts more with neighboring systems.  For example, one water provider may exchange water with another provider and as water is transferred from agriculture, measures are taken to adjust the “plumbing” of a system.  The OWF is working to visualize water systems within river basins as follows:

  • OWF is developing interactive web-based visualization of municipal water provider systems, illustrating sources of raw water, amount of water diverted from sources, water use, wastewater treatment returns, agricultural rental water programs, water rights, and other data.
  • OWF is working with organizations to understand use of open data policies in order to make data available about water systems. Many government organizations provide access to their data, but not in forms that is useful for analysis.  OWF is helping by educating about open data and demonstrating effective implementation of policies and data access.
  • OWF is leveraging visualizations to help citizens, boards and commissions, and public servants learn about local water systems. We are trying to make the complex simpler to understand.

Visualizing River Basins as Integrated Systems

River Basin Dashboard

River Basin Dashboard

River basins are complex systems.  Water is diverted from rivers by human-constructed projects and is lost through natural processes.  Water enters rivers through reservoir releases, return flows from cities and agriculture, and natural processes.  Water is delivered from upstream sources to downstream uses while providing instream benefits during delivery.  Water is used for many purposes including municipal supply, industry, agriculture, recreation and the environment.  Water quality is impacted by many uses including human processes, ongoing environmental impacts (such as naturally occurring constituents), and impacts of natural disasters such as wildfires.  A use and impact in one area generally has an impact on other areas in the river basin.  With increasing competition for water supplies and increasing regulations to prevent injury, it is becoming increasingly necessary for stakeholders in a river basin to understand interactions between themselves and others in the basin.  The OWF is implementing software tools to visualize river basins as integrated systems:

  • OWF integrates the visualizations of individual systems, as described in the previous section, into a regional river basin interface, indicating the relationship between systems. OWF can host such interfaces in the cloud in cases where involved organizations provide data for their own systems.
  • OWF is developing visualizations for river basins that span time and space. For example, it is useful to understand current events in the context of historical data.  It is also useful to understand conditions throughout a river at a point in time.  Different questions and stories require different data and visualizations.  We seek to develop open reusable tools that can be implemented for many systems and can be maintained over time.
  • OWF integrates data from multiple sources to create visualizations. We work to provide metadata, documentation, and context for data so that users of the information gain knowledge and understanding about individual data components and interactions of components.

Using River Basin Visualizations for Education

The OWF works to develop platforms of data, information, and software that can be used to educate the public as well as those who are closer to water issues.  We understand that it is challenging for anyone to learn about complex water systems, retain that knowledge, and use the information in proper context in the work they do.   Our intent is to leverage data access and visualizations to help onboard staff, boards and commissions, and public servants.

  • OWF is interested in developing integrated visualizations and other materials to help organizations onboard their people. See the separate OWF initiative “Develop Onboarding Information Packages”.
  • OWF is interested in working with water education organizations, in order to provide access to real-world data and examples so that educational information connects concepts and practice, and that education considers data.
  • OWF is interested in increasing the level of education and engagement with students at all levels, by providing data and visualization tools that support educational programs.