Data visualization as a tool for groundwater management : bridging science and policy

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Ballew, Natalie Jean

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Groundwater resources in Texas are a contentious topic in social and political arenas. As ongoing drought and growing populations put stress on surface water supplies, more water users turn to groundwater to meet increased water demands. It is critical to manage groundwater supplies to meet current and future water demands from agriculture, industry, growing urban centers, and the environment. Data visualizations can serve as an effective tool to make informed policy decisions for groundwater resource management. Incorporating uncertainty into groundwater models and into the visualizations used to convey scientific information can aid in making well-informed decisions. Groundwater availability models and scientific information are used as guides for creating policy, but data from scientific sources and tools, displayed in maps, graphs, charts, etc., are often difficult to understand without a background in hydrology or a water resource management. Water management is not restricted to the scientists who produce data; it reaches into a broader arena of stakeholders and policy makers. What is lacking are approaches to present groundwater information such that visualizations create a base level of understanding among all actors involved in decision-making processes while retaining key elements to convey scientific uncertainty in the data. This research presents statistical analyses of uncertainty interpretations for a large dataset in the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer in Central Texas. Results explore visualization approaches for groundwater information that are based on graphic design principles. Visualizations are presented that display results of uncertainty analysis as a means to support science-based discussions among stakeholders about future water plans and policies.



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