An interesting project from Center for American Progress, The Disappearing West “maps a rapidly changing landscape, explores what is being lost, and profiles a new movement for conservation that is gaining ground.”  The project documents both land and rivers, with an eye on the impacts of development (urban, dams, mines, and more) on these systems, and provides data and maps on their current conditions.  From a water point of view, this information provides a new level of detail on river health in the Western United states.

Through the Disappearing Rivers project, the Center for American Progress is providing the first comprehensive snapshot of the condition of Western rivers. “

The documentation is compelling, and punctuated with some fun graphics, as seen in the amount of rivers modified from their natural states, including levels of headwaters, smaller rivers and streams, and major rivers. The results are staggering. “Often portrayed as continuous lines on a map, modern-day rivers are fragmented and impaired versions of their former selves. Waterways that once supported navigation and enabled adventurers to explore the West are no longer passable in their entirety. In fact, the average length of a river in the West has been reduced by 84 percent.”  

And some of the graphics have a bit of whimsy – highlighting the impacts of dams on fish… and reinforcing what we already knew, that it is oh, so very sad that they just wait, and wait for that dam to be removed.

The maps as part of this project are the focus of what I wanted to include, as they are compelling visually.  I first heard of this project via Twitter, from a link from the mapmaker John Gage from Gage Cartographics, (via Twitter @gageCarto) who described using 400,000 flowlines from the National Hydrography Dataset to create the mapping for the entire west coast (see header image above) with layers of embedded data using the amazing suite of tools from Mapbox GL.  Stream-level data, like this snapshot of the Portland area and extent of floodplain alteration, sit on a dark background for good contrast, and shift with a gradient from red (high degrees of alteration) to blue (low degree), and highlighting the impacts of urban development on rivers and streams in a beautifully tragic way.

The same view, again of Portland, showing flow restriction, which is less problematic, but is highlighted with some key spots, interestingly enough the outflow from the Sandy River east of Portland.

Larger, thematic maps provide watershed and other coverage, including extent of floodplain alteration. As you can see from the Seattle image below, the extent of alteration of urban floodplains, not surprisingly, is greatest in urban areas, and the Salish Sea coastal areas show up to 90-100% levels of alteration.

There’s also mapping of dams by size of their capacity, again with a dark background highlighting the point data.

The map functionality allows for selecting layers and different base maps, along with extracting specific information from map elements.

The use of hover pop-ups is great as well, conveying location-specific information such as stream info, or watershed-level data for impacts in Washington like the map below showing irrigated lands.

My focus is on some northwest zones, but the project spans the entire west, and there’s also an animated tour of the Colorado River, which employs some interesting story mapping techniques.  The animated slides take you through the story of what is “…Sometimes called ‘America’s hardest working river,'” and describes the conditions that cause “…over half (54%) of the Colorado River is dammed, diverted or otherwise altered from its natural state.”  Using a number of different maps themes, views, and animations, along with text and photos, it paints a compelling story of the impacts of the river, including a major impact, dams.

There’s a ton of info, including links to download the map data as well, via a site for the Disappearing Rivers of the Western United States, which “Disappearing Rivers is the culmination of an analysis by Conservation Science Partners, in association with the Center for American Progress, to investigate how human development has altered rivers in the eleven western states. The objective of Disappearing Rivers is to quantify the degree to which human activities have altered rivers in the western US. We separated this objective into two primary components: flow alteration and floodplain alteration. The Disappearing Rivers gallery contains river and stream flowlines data with associated flow and floodplain alteration attributes.”  The site is loaded with good info, and the maps and graphics help tell a compelling story that complements the data.  The power of maps, and the overall ability to convey tons of information on easy to use, online maps, still blows me away.  Check this out – worth some time.

HEADER: Snapshot of West Coast Flow Restriction – Disappearing Rivers

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