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Seeing is Believing: Stanford Researchers Visualize California’s Drought

Water in the West

A page from the California Drought Visualization showing that most water utilities did not achieve the same conservation levels in 2016 after the mandatory water use restrictions enacted in 2015 were lifted. WATER IN THE WEST
 

By Devon Ryan

After the wettest winter on record in 122 years, California’s waterways and reservoirs are finally replenishing to reverse the previous years of drought. But as the memory of the driest four-year period in the state’s history fades, Stanford researchers warn not to relax water conservation practices.

Video: By visualizing data from water utilities during California’s drought, researchers hope to increase motivation for continued water conservation. Newsha Ajami, Director of Urban Water Policy, Patricia Gonzales, PhD student, and Kim Quesnel, PhD student, discuss and present the visualization.
 

A new web portal puts four years of California drought data into an interactive format, showing where regions met or missed water conservation goals. The idea is to motivate awareness and conservation.

“Out of the past 50 years, more than half have been dry years in California. So at a certain point, we’re going to have to accept that extremes are actually the norm and learn to adapt to our new climate reality,” said Newsha Ajami, Director of Urban Water Policy at Stanford’s Water in the West program. “The fear is that even though we just went through the worst drought in history, people are already losing momentum in conserving water and being prepared for the next dry period.”

In order to motivate continued action on water conservation and drought preparedness, Ajami and her team developed a new interactive web portal using data from almost 400 utilities from across the state that visualizes how they performed between 2014 and 2017.