California Water Geek-Out, Maps Edition

A couple years ago, I made up what I don’t mind saying is a pretty cool Google Maps map outlining where the proceeds of a planned $11 billion California water bond would go (here’s the link). Not to shortchange the amazing capacity of Google Maps, but once you’d played with them for awhile you want to do more. And if you’re adept with code, you can muck around and do something more sophisticated with Google Maps. I am not allergic or adverse to code, but neither am I adept and it would probably take me a while to learn even the basics. But I am impatient and want to find a shortcut.

So, searching around for online mapping tools today, I happened across the National Atlas. There is no such thing as a map that’s not cool (or at least interesting in some way), but the site and basic outline map on the Map Maker page are a little plain vanilla. But then I started to play with it a little: I drilled in on California, then selected some data layers–highways, lakes and rivers, average precipitation. OK–the result was both useful, if I had a use for it, and kind of pretty (precipitation data will do that every time). Then I saw a layer for dams, and added that. Instantaneously, I had a view of the region that both answered and provoked my curiosity (there are at least 1,200 dams under state jurisdiction here–meaning they’re at least 25 feet or store at least 50 acre feet of water). That is a lot of dams, and when you click on individual structures on the map, you realize how few of them you know anything about. I can’t find a way to embed the map here, but here’s the link. Below is a screen shot (click for larger version); every inverted triangle is a dam.


Another layer you could add to the map: A grid that depicts an index of aerial maps. I superimposed the grid to take a look at an aerial photograph of the area of Lake Berryessa, the large elongated body of water at lower center, just west of Interstate 505. The lake (the state’s seventh largest reservoir, with a capacity of 1.6 million acre feet) is formed by Monticello Dam, which impounds a stream called Putah Creek about seven miles as the crow flies west of the town of Winters. I know the dam and the road that passes it from many bike rides from Davis, and one outstanding feature of the little visitors area at the top of the dam is the Glory Hole. It’s a circular intake for the reservoir’s spillway, which empties into Putah Creek.

So, once I found the aerial image (you need to superimpose the aerial photograph grid from the map layers, click on the “Identify” tab above the map, then click again on the spot you want to take a look at; the link to the image is in the “Identify” pop-up window; and as I write this I see how complicated it might seem to the ordinary user), I drilled down to Monticello Dam. Here’s the image (click for a larger version):


See that round thing to the left of the lower edge of the dam? That’s the Glory Hole. What’s remarkable here is that it’s high and dry. It does not overflow every year, but here it looks like it’s unusually exposed. It turns out the picture is dated June 16, 1993, and though the reservoir level had bounced back from the effects of a string of dry years that had shrunk it to just a third of capacity in 1991 and 1992, on this date the lake was little more than half full.

For a contrast, here’s a New Age-y slideshow on the Glory Hole in wet and dry times:

The Dog on Ground-Hog’s Day

We're out the front door.
The sky is clear.
He sees his shadow,
But reads nothing into that,
No early spring, no late winter,
Sees only his place in the day
And the stretch of sidewalk to the corner.

Part boarder,
Part collie,
Part astute sharp-nosed observer of the passing scene
And whatever's been left behind,
He trots ahead, stopping to inhale every scent and aroma,
To partake of every stink,
Every unspeakably eloquent stench

"Come on, now. Come on, let's go."
The acute feeling coursing through my being–
"I said let's go."–
Comes not from the coupling of senses
With the low-down odors
Rising from lawn, flowerbed, shrub, and verge.

No. Time is wasting.
The walk is punctuated by full stops.
The dog pauses, lowers his frosted muzzle, inhales, inhales some more.
Taking in the bouquet of a medley of canine urines,
Finely balanced, well aged.
He considers his response,
Offered with precision to a tuft of winter grass,
Shifts so he can raise his right leg–
No–now turns to spray from his left.
Or maybe right is better.
He's done, and we move on.

The dog shambles on,
Rounding the next-to-last corner home.
Ah–a favorite patch of dirt.
He delicately lifts a chunk,
Trots on, briefly peruses a half-eaten apple,
The only piece of sidewalk fruit I see him pass up.
I wonder what sense of refinement or secret knowledge of produce
Causes him to forego this treat.
(Did it not pass his smell test?)

We round that last corner.
He sees his shadow and maybe indoor shade ahead.
I see my afternoon stretching before me,
Time, seasonless, before me,
And look for my place in it,
Time wasting.