Yesterday we went to meet up with folks at Stamen to talk about the New California Water Atlas, and how they might be able to help us through coaching and mentoring.
Stamen recently launched this “Grasses of the Chesapeake Bay” interactive, and this is a very good example of what we mean when we say that we are making these new interactives. The qualities of these kinds of maps that are particularly helpful:
- The map is just about one thing (not dozens of layers) - the map is really about grasses… and shows how the grasses change over time.
- The information supports the story of the map.
- There is a time slider.
- Stamen also made their water a pop-out blue with a dark grey land mass.
- The interface is very simple…
For future Water Atlas maps - we’ll definitely be encouraging this… simplicity, singular focus. Our brains can’t really handle too much information at once.
We had a great lunch with Shawn, Beth, Seth and Mike — and everyone is very passionate about making more new great maps for our state - and for our future selves. I am noticing that our interests in water are highly varied — from being interested in the physicality of water, to the social and political dynamics, but there are a lot of people who are very passionate about great visualizations and how that could help us understand water in California.
The way I have been describing it is that we are ‘presenting data about our environment back to ourselves’ - to help us make decisions.
We talked about having a BoF meetup at State of the Map to talk about the relationship between the National Hydrography Dataset and Open Street Map. NHD has all of the stream data, Open Street Map has all of the various water related features that help the water system make more sense.
One thing we can do is to work on making really, really great water layers. From what I could see when we were watching PowerPoint presentations, water advocates make these really ugly, but really useful and important visualizations of where water is in trouble… these are the kinds of stories we want to tell… but you would need a lot of developer support to make a web-based map to make your case far and wide. So if we can do anything to make that better, we will be helping California out a lot more.
Water Rights Atlas
After lunch, we went back to the Stamen office and showed the team & also Eric our Water Rights Atlas. When they were giving us feedback, I had to pinch myself that this was really happening!! We had definitely worked really hard on that interactive, and got as far as we could. And we’ve been getting feedback from different kinds of people — water organizations, journalists, even the State Water Resource Control board. My friend Michael Evans had taken a look and gave me some tips on making the map interactions behave better (codewise.)
I shall post a pic of the postcard that Laci & I wrote notes on when we were on BART on the way back to the East Bay. But some of the really helpful feedback tips were:
- Add a ‘Report a Problem’ button: One issue we have been getting is that people are looking at water rights, and not finding them. (These are people who are keeping track of water rights, almost as watchdogs for their river or watersheds.)
Now, the data we have is the whole SWRCB dataset… but it seems that even still there are some that are missing. This could be for a lot of reasons. One way that we can collect information about what people think are missing is to add a form… and then we can give that info to the SWRCB all at once as suggestions of major problems that might want to be addressed. We can geolocate our problem report too — which might help if water rights are considered missing.
- The modal on the first screen — We still like the idea of presenting information in this way, but we’ve had a hard time framing this contentious problem in a way that really is neutral. (Our current version we thought was pretty neutral, but it turned out it wasn’t because people were misinterpreting it.) — Eric suggested we add a graphic. As in, an infographic.
- Annealed clustering: even though the water rights are now color-coded (and it’s possible the yellow pops too much) — one way to do clustering at the zoomed out levels would be to use an algorithm which just chooses the biggest values. We are still pretty attached to the idea of showing ALL of the water rights in the state, but it’s hard to navigate them because they are interactive, and you could see 25% of them and still get the same effect. And we do want to show the bigger water rights mainly… they are more important for our story.
- oh, and the main new feature: to have ajax/hash paths. If we add this, then we can create tours, of ‘water rights for san francisco’ or a dam, or napa valley, or a large water district, etc. This will help to support discovery — and our atlas is definitely for supporting Californians in discovering and understanding our water system. We don’t know what we are looking for, but we do know that we would like to understand water better. Also, this helps to teach everyone how to use the map.
- Making the stream weights better: NHD+ being easier to use — and Seth shared a tip to use the Plus FlowLine VAA dataset to get the Stream Order, so that our Water Rights Atlas can have weighted streams.) - if I do a database join, I’ll be able to get the Stream Order.
One thing I love about the feedback process. When you release a project to the world, and then get feedback. And then there is a period of digesting that feedback. And then we go back to designing it again, and the project just gets better.
So thank you so much to Stamen - we look forward to returning!
We could not think of better mentors for getting this community mapping project off the ground. This is why I had to pinch myself that this is really happening. And the awesome part is that it’s just getting started, and there are tons of maps to create, and we can all do something to pitch in.
Oh, also, they recommended that we blog more.