El estado del agua de ahora

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Hidrostatus of now

more Information and full format images, visit: http://www.hydrostatusofnow.org

<video height="400" width="500" position="left" desc="Hydro Status of Now video by Felipe" id="7897557" type="vimeo" />


Descripción del proyecto / Description of the proyect

El proyecto aspira a visualizar la cantidad y el uso del agua basándose en las diferentes regiones y sus recursos. ¿De dónde tomamos el agua? ¿Cómo la estamos utilizando? ¿Cuánta estamos usando? (¿Cuánto agua consumimos al día?) ¿Qué hay de la calidad? ¿Está tan limpia como para beber del grifo? ¿Cuáles son las diferencias entre las regiones? ¿Y qué hay de la distribución global?

The original aim of the project was to explore issues related to water, especially water use and availability. Where do we get our water from? How are we using it? And how much are we using?" We had no fixed path at the outset so we envisioned an open process where we could discuss ideas and find a path forward with interested collaborators.stromanbieter vergleich erlangen

Preguntas iniciales / First day questionary

1. Describe the goal of the project in 3 sentences (which message do you want to carry? to whom?)

We are aiming for a visualisation where we want to compare water availability and its consumption in order to show the conflict between different types of demands on water. Where is the breaking point of a sustainable and nonsustainable use? And what are important factors that affect this breaking point, which ones have we overlooked?

2. What are the inspiring projects and theories; background, context, references?

  • Art
    • Hans Haacke, german artist dealing with environmental issues [1], Rhinewater Purification Plant 1972, http://greenmuseum.org/c/ecovention/rhine.html
    • Watershed Assembly, installation, 1500 plastic water bottles [2] [3]
    • Greg Schlanger: Water, installation addressing water consumption [4]
    • William Pye, Water fountain [5]
  • Other
    • Harvesting fog provides drinking water, article about a project in peruvian slums [6]

3. What is the short-term objective (what do you expect to finish in 2 weeks)?

Interactive, screen-based visualization that shows the relation between the resources and the different forms of consumption in Madrid. We will also think about possibilities to show the current status of water in public space.

4. What is the long term objective (what posterior development do you think of)?

At the moment we are focusing on the current community of Madrid, but in longer perspective it would be very interesting to work in a wider scale, going from the city to a region to a country or even global.

5. What are the data (status, where do they come from, who specifically owns the data?)

6. How will you convert data into some perceptual experience?

We haven't discussed this in great depth yet as so far focus has been on identifying an area to focus on.

7. Do you have any assumptions or previous hypothesis?

>> global perspective

For the fact of showing if a region or country is sustainable we have to compare how much water is there and how much is used?

The problem is, that there is figure of a total amount of available water in a region, basically because it is impossible to measure. Every country uses different methods and resources for water supply, some (like spain) use dams for collecting water (freshwater). Some countries like Sweden using a bigger amount of groundwater for their water supply. So, as soon as there is no data that shows us a total availability (which would be basically a sum of total amount of rainfall, amount of water in rivers, amount of groundwater, seawater in a region) an interesting indicator for water availability is the amount of renewable water per country/region. This can be measured and is available. A comparison between renewable freshwater and consumption (in total or more detailed splitted according to their usage) can show if a region or country uses more or less water over certain times and can give an indicator of the potential of use in each country.

HYPOTHESIS. The visualisation can show if a country or region is able to balance their needs and sources. Gaps and big differences in the figures will give an indicator of lacks in recycling water resources (which depends amongst others on infrastructure and technology)

>> local perspective (considering data from Madrid and Barcelona)

On a local scale we can consider much more detailed information about the availability of water. Here we can work with data from dams (capacity of dams, withdrawals from dams, critical points in times of draughts, ...). Part of this data is much more frequently available. The connection to dams as a concrete local resource of water tells us more about the local availability of water (where is it?) and their capacities which could be helpful e.g. in times of draughts.

Desarrollo / Development process

First week

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 (see BBC article, 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.

Second week

We started the second week by accepting that our data cannot be used to calculate a general sustainable level for each country. Nonetheless, we thought the world water data would still be interesting to visualize as it can highlight the potential for water use in the different countries and shows how much is currently withdrawn for domestic, industry and agriculture use.

The more granular data supplied by the Catalan Water Agency could be used to show water levels in the dams and how much is withdrawn from the dams for use over time. Talking with the guys from the agency we learnt that the most interesting period to visualise would be before, during and after the draughts in Barcelona.

Datos / Data

Below we list some of the data we looked at and considered for use in visualisation. We also list some of the recurring problems we had with data related to water.

  • World Water: renewable freshwater and withdrawal data for each country – averaged to show annual amounts
  • Eurostat: same as World Water, more granular but only for European countries – showing values each year
  • Catalan Water Agency: very granular data on dam levels, river flows and outgoing water for use – data in some of the sets we received showed values every 5 minutes and others once a day or week.

Data estructure

Visualisation will show 3 levels of data: World, Europe, Barcelona


Availability (average each year)

  • country
  • volume

Source: Total Renewable Freshwater Supply, by Country (Table 1)

Withdrawal (average each year)

  • country
  • volume
  • sector

Source: Freshwater Withdrawal, by Country and Sector (Table 2)


  • country
  • size

Source: Population by sex and urban/rural residence


Availability (per year)

  • country
  • volume
  • year

Source: Eurostat

Withdrawal (per year)

  • country
  • volume
  • year
  • sector

Source: Eurostat


  • country
  • size

Source: Population by sex and urban/rural residence

<u</u>Barcelona (metro)

Availability (per day)

  • volume (sum of volume in 5 dams) hm3
  • date

Source: Catalan Water Agency
File: 01 Dams_Volums_Ter_Llobregat_2005.txt

Withdrawal (per week)

  • flow (m3/s)
  • volume (can be calculated from flow)
  • date
  • average for reference period (period of normal rainfall - ie. not draught)

Source: Catalan Water Agency
File: 02 abstraction.xls

River flow (every 5 minutes)

  • flow (m3/s)
  • date
  • name of station

Source: Catalan Water Agency
File: 03 River Cabal 5min_Castellbell.txt
File: 03 River Cabal 5min_SantJoanDespí.txt


  • size: 4,865,753

Source: Idescat


  • Spain: Getting access to the necessary data can be difficult, depending on the region you're in. Even in the case of Barcelona, where we were lucky enough to have people from the Catalan Water Agency with us, getting data on how the water they treat is used required talks with another organisation.
  • World water: Global data is usually averaged over several years and so it's difficult to see changes over time. According to the World Water report: "Data on water use by regions and by different economic sectors are among the most sought after in the water resources area. Ironically, these data are often the least reliable and most inconsistent of all water-resources information."
  • Real-time data: Not easy to find, and in cases where it is available it has to be treated carefully as it relies on sensors affected by natural conditions – for example a leaf covering a sensor can result in erratic data being sent back.
  • Measuring supply and consumption can be very difficult in many countries where people drill and use wells to access water directly.


In terms of visualisation, we noted 3 areas of interest:

  • Global – using the world water data to show average renewable freshwater and withdrawal
    * Europe – using Eurostat to show the same as above but with the addition of the time factor (Eurostat has yearly figures on availability and withdrawal for each country in Europe)
    * Barcelona – using the data to show how draughts affect dam levels, river flow and water use (data from 2005 to 2009 available).

Due to lack of time we decided to focus on the global scale at first. Our initial idea was to represent countries as circles in the form of cells. An outer circle showing overall availability (renewable freshwater, not necessarily accessible) for one country and inner circles showing how water is used (domestic, industry, agriculture). We imagined two views: the first with circles appearing in a grid, the second with the circles mapped to their geographic positions.

Soon after starting work on this visualisation we realised that we had two problems:

  • Using absolute availability values to draw circles creates such a huge difference between countries that it becomes almost impossible to see the smaller circles and the big ones on the same screen.
  • The style of visualisation and the type of data used could lead some viewers to conclude that nearly all countries were using water well within their limits and therefore faced no shortage (except in a few minor cases, total renewable freshwater in a country is much greater than the amount withdrawn each year).

How to proceed from this point became a contentious issue. One of us wanted to stick with the circles and attempt to resolve the problems above, for example, by drawing availability in relation to population size or land area, and changing the style slightly to avoid misinterpretation. The other path was to rethink the visualisation and even consider new data.

One difference in our view of visualising data which emerged at this point was how far we were willing to go in extrapolating the data we had access to for the purposes of visualisation or to highlight future problems. One of us felt that for such a contentious issue to extrapolate would require a certain confidence in the factors that affect water availability and use. To do it and present it in the visual language of scientific charts could end up being very misleading. This was an issue we could not agree on and resulted in us taking divergent paths at the very end of the process.

  • midpresentation 19/11/2009
    * final presentation 26/11/2009


"The world's water crisis is not related to the physical availability of water, but to unbalanced power relations, poverty and related inequalities." (Stockholm International Water Institute)

One thing we've learned in these last few weeks is just how difficult and contentious the issues surrounding water availability and use are. The situation is different in every country and a global visualisation using the data sets we have cannot explain these difficulties and struggles and often hides them from view.

Spain water.jpg

In the case of Spain, for example, the Aragon region has river flowing through which provides people with easy access. The neighbouring Catalonia region often lacks water and has to negotiate with Aragon for access. In 2008 Barcelona resorted to shipping in water from France to try and meet demands.


Another example is the recent Amnesty International report criticizing Israel for unfair distribution of water (Israel rations Palestinians to trickle of water): "Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies." As for Gaza: "90 to 95 per cent of the water from its only water resource, the Coastal Aquifer, is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Yet, Israel does not allow the transfer of water from the Mountain Aquifer in the West Bank to Gaza."

Tecnologías / Tecnologies

Illustrator, processing, SQLite (para la base de datos), ActionScript

Estado actual / Current Status

The project resulted in a number of experimental, static visualisations related to physical water availability and use. We also made available a document explaining what wecovered in the two week workshop and some of the issues we encountered.

Autor/es del proyecto / Author(s) of the proyect

Katrin Caspar and Keyvan Minoukadeh

Colaboradores / Collaborators

Javier Tardáguila, Juan Galván, Felipe Gutiérrez, Marco A. Velasco, Guergana Tzatchkova, Inés Rodríguez, Eeva-Liisa Puhakka, Jamie Goodhill, Cesc Ballesté, Francesca Bardaro, Tom Schofield.



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