4. Visualizing the Drought: California’s Water Shortage in the Spring of 2015

Now it’s Your Turn

In the comments, please ask questions or make suggestions that will help the cartographer improve the map. Key things to think about include:

  • Does the map orient the viewer?
  • Does the data tell a story?
  • Does the map support the story being told?
  • Does the map make assumptions?
  • How could the map be more readable?
  • Are there any errors or typos?
  • I like the idea and most of the execution, but part of what makes a small-multiple work is the ability to directly compare geographies and related value changes in the same eye span. Here the lake polygons are not doing any analysis work and are interrupted by the text anyway. Might be nice to explore a symbology for the lakes that reveals both normal and percent of normal areas in the lake symbol itself and move the text off the lakes to allow for more direct visual comparison.

  • Chuck Clark

    There are opportunities for visual simplification:
    consider eliminating “Volume (acre-feet)” and (max) from each entry and handling this info as, say, one footnote. This would give you much more white space to play with.

    Those supplementary paragraphs for the main map, on the right, are in columns that mimic the blocks for each individual lake. To my eyes this is not helpful, as it encouraged me to read the info as part of a large grid rather than a double top row and a double bottom row of lake data, separated by a main map. The similarity of font size and style encourages this misperception. Consider, say putting the lake names in all caps.

  • Tangnar

    First, I like the visualization, shows the widespread effects of the drought. I agree with Chuck, I think you could remove the volume numbers and still have a great map. The percentages tell the story, so the actual numbers aren’t really necessary. This would also free up space so you could separate the individual reservoirs from the California model a little more, making it more readable.

    It took me a little while to figure out the small circles at lower left of the reservoir maps… those are north arrows?

    • Aly DeGraff Ollivierre

      If those are north arrows, I would consider marking the first one (top, left) with an N or something to make it more clear (then the rest would be implied).

  • sarah dorrance

    I would leave max as it helped me to understand this map. I would remove volume and footnote it. Very informative map and easy for me to understand. I like the pie circles, very nice visualization. I would bold or darken lake names.

  • Sarah Shivers

    You seem to be showing volume for each reservoir (spring 15 and max) in two places, the pie charts and the models on the map. Instead, can you make the map of California fill the entirety of the page, take the models off, and then place the pie charts geographically on the map, with the size of the pie chart scaled for total volume? It seems this would simplify the visualization by not conveying the same information for each reservoir (on map and on pie chart) twice. Nice work!

    • Tangnar

      I like the models, even if it is a more novel approach. But circles aren’t great for comparing size, so I think the models might actually do better for this.

  • Kate Brauman

    Great visuals! Could you put the explanation of the map and the key to the pie charts at the top in a box or something so it’s easier to ID immediately?

    I would also love the see the names of the reservoirs next to the numbers on the map if there’s any way to fit them.

  • Aly DeGraff Ollivierre

    My first recommendation would be to remove the zeros before each of the numbers and percentages, it’s not necessary and doesn’t add anything to the map. In regards to fonts, I would consider making the volume text in italics or a different font to help it stand out, and maybe use a serif font for the name of each lake and the title. Personally, I would rather see a bit more color in the map itself, even if it is desaturated. Consider making the lakes a light shade of blue, then use a more saturated version of that blue (aka maintaining the color scheme) for inside of the pie chart. Or maybe even add a little difference in the font colors (e.g. lake names in black/dark blue, volume text in grey/light blue). I think you can maintain the muted color-scheme and still add a little more visual interest to the page! This map is very informative, you’ve clearly done a lot of research, congrats on a job well done!

  • Far too busy. Change the numbers into % and then into colored bars, maybe?

  • AD

    The pie charts and reservoir icons should have a legend that is more clear. I think I understand what it represents after looking at it for a bit now, but am still not sure. The reservoir capacity/size is indicated by grey, and blue is the water level? If so, it does seem the data is repeated. Depending on how much editing/revision to do, the pie chart sizes could be varied. Why Tahoe is at 0 is not clear. I really like seeing the shapes of the reservoirs, that’s pretty cool, and having them outside the state makes it possible to show them all at a perceptible scale … maybe they could point to the the actual size/location on the map. Not sure if the horizontal rotation of the state works … and perhaps vertical orientation would allow indication lines directly from the reservoir shapes and stats, rather than using numbers as an indirect indication. Another option might be to use reservoir shapes themselves as filled up or not to indicate water levels. Taking the 11 x 11 page overall, I like the emphasis on the reservoirs, which highlights their importance in California’s water system.

  • Daniel

    Wonderfully information rich! I like the idea of orienting viewers to a snapshot of the drought, but wonder how best–as Chuck and other commentators–to orient readers than by relating volume/actual levels of each lake/reservoir at different dates during the drought. Most dates are March/Apr 15, so can this time frame be listed boldly elsewhere? Since the map is a snapshot, a prominent time frame would produce a clearer relation to map–and repeat text less; bolding names of lakes *might* help eye travel the page. The visually striking pie charts are effective, but relation to elevations less evident. I love pie charts for each lake, but can you activate the silhouettes of reservoir/lakes to embody their presence–and make them a bit less ghostly? ON the overall color of the horizontal state/map: a dominant of grey may engage viewer less than you want–even if it communicates a dire situation. Wonder if you can relate to CA water policy, and the locks on different reservoirs and lakes? While the presence of “DRAFT” across horizontal state may make it hard to judge, wonder if (1) numbers can be placed in state; (2) state is best rendered grey; (3) topography might be crisper (4) grid-like lines on state are effective.

  • stephanie b

    Arrg, Disqus just threw away my comments. Here goes again..

    I love the concept and layout of this. I did find it confusing at first to decipher the meaning behind the reservoir model and the pie charts. I think making this more clear in the legend would aid in quickly taking this data in. I agree with previous comments about the removal of text–I think the “Volume acre-feet” isn’t necessary so many times. I love both the main portrayal of the reservoirs and the accompanying information, but I find them hard to relate spatially and visually. The pie charts are beautiful, but it might be helpful to try another type of chart to help indicate both size and %–maybe waffle charts?

    I wonder how it would look to turn the reservoir shapes into hex or another type of bin to simplify visually, and then have those shapes project out from the map the same as you do with the current symbols. I could see those shapes then potentially used instead of the current reservoir shapes, and filled in like waffle charts to indicate percentage. For me, that could help tie together the relative location and size, and keep wth your clean aesthetic. (I know that’s a lot of extra work and might not do the trick, but just a thought!) I really love your concept, and I’m excited to see how this ends up!