Infographic Of The Day: Where Does Your Water Come From?

Hold on to your freaking hat: This is easily the most astonishing data viz project we’ve seen all month.

Infographic Of The Day: Where Does Your Water Come From?

We take it for granted that water comes from the tap, but we don’t appreciate that it often has to travel hundreds, even thousands of miles from its source to get where it’s ultimately consumed. David Wicks, a masters student at UCLA, set about to fill that void, with Drawing Water, a project that’s equal parts data viz and art project.


The data is composed of two parts: The government’s data on rainfall, overlaid with data about drinking water consumption. Those two data sets are then merged using computer scripts. As he writes:

Each line in a print corresponds to a daily rainfall measurement. The length of the line and its initial placement are determined by the amount of rainfall measured and where it fell. The final placement and color of each line are determined by the influence of urban water consumers. The more water a city uses, the stronger its pull on the rainfall. As rainfall is pulled farther from where it fell, it changes color from blue to black.

Thus, what you get isn’t quite a literal exploration of water flows, but rather a metaphorical one that shows the often vast disconnect between where our resources lie and where they’re ultimately consumed. In pursuing that idea, the fittingly named Wicks makes a lovely point about our long held attitudes toward water:

Drawing Water plays a bit upon the 19th-century theory that “rain follows the plow.” At the time of its inception, that theory promoted Westward expansion, under the belief that plowing fields encouraged cloud formation and rainfall. As long as people plowed fields, they believed, water would come to them. Although we recognize climatological reality isn’t influenced by our farming (in the manner hoped), Americans still live with an illusion of resource availability following need.

So while this isn’t an actual vision of what’s happening in the world, it’s perhaps something more: An attempt to layer intelligent interpretation over the data that we do have, to create something far more powerful.


[Patterns from last winter]


[Detail of the Southwest]

Wicks is showing off Drawing Water for his master’s thesis at UCLA; according to Creative Applications, he plans to turn it into an iPad app, so we’ll let you know when he does. But they already exist as a series of prints. David, pretty please, can you make them available for sale?

[Via Creative Applications]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.