hydro status of now

week 1

We started the week by meeting our collaborators, sitting down and discussing ideas. The topic of water and the openness of the project had attracted much interest – we had over 10 collaborators who wanted to work with us. Unlike many of the other projects, we had not decided on a specific path (we had not selected our data set or sketched out visualisation ideas) but we did have a few questions we wanted to see if we could answer.

In the first few days we listened to stories from our collaborators and learnt about water issues in Spain. Examples include depleted groundwater due to excessive extraction, water being shipped from other countries (Spain sweats amid 'water wars'), draughts in Barcelona, the campaigns to lower water usage and laws which restrict certain uses of water. We also looked at existing campaigns, such as Melbourne's Target 155 and the campaign by the Catalan Water Agency to reduce water use during draughts.

We found a lot of data related to water from many different sources, including very granular data from the Catalan Water Agency. As we reviewed the information and our initial questions, we decided to turn our focus to the Target 155 campaign in Australia. What interested us about the campaign was the simple 155 litres figure (the campaign urges the people of Melbourne to reduce their use of water to keep it below 155 litres a day per person). We realised that for the government to produce this figure, it must calculate it from data on water availability and water use.


What interested us was not so much the figure itself but how it was reached. Our reasoning was that there are many laws and rules we all have to follow, but it's quite natural to question them and find out why they exist. The questioning will either result in an understanding which is more likely to produce the type of action being called for, or bring to light problems or conflicts of interest which can then be challenged. Applied to the 155 campaign, the questioning should reveal the amount of water available and the amount used by different sectors. We decided to try and focus our efforts on a visualization which would answer the ‘why?' question: Why should we limit our water use to a certain number of litres a day? The result would be a visualisation which either convinces people that action to reduce personal water use is necessary or shows that the problem lies elsewhere – e.g. unequal distribution, infrastructure, or excessive use by industry.

Having reached this point, we outlined the type of data we would need and began to look at sources to see if we could find data on availability and use to find out which countries are struggling to meet demand. We also figured if we had access to such data we would be able to not only understand how the 155 figure was reached but attempt to calculate a similar ‘sustainable' level for other countries based on their water availability and use.


Having searched for suitable data the closest sets we found were the World Water data on Total Renewable Freshwater Supply, by Country (2006 Update) and Freshwater Withdrawal, by Country and Sector (2006 Update). This data, unfortunately, does not tell us how much of the water is currently accessible – the first set tells us how much water is available in each country each year ("renewable surface water and groundwater supplies, including surface inflows from neighboring countries"). The second set tells us how much is withdrawn ("water taken from a water source for use"). Looking at the data we can see that many countries have a huge amount of renewable freshwater but very little withdrawal – what we cannot tell from the data is whether the amount withdrawn is due to limited access to freshwater, lack of infrastructure, or simply a sign that there's no shortage in a particular country. Furthermore, the data doesn't show us the internal struggles within countries for access to water – for example, the data cannot tell us that there are water shortages in Barcelona while the neighbouring region of Aragon has plenty of access.

These are complicated issues that have not only to do with water itself but also with politics, infrastructure and many other factors.


>> week 2

Hydro status of now project has been developed during the Visualizar09 workshop at Medialab Prado in November2009