Friday, November 16, 2012

Google Maps Water Policy

As residents of the Western United States are probably aware, there have been a number of drought years with negative results on both the crops that need irrigation and on recreational users that like to go waterskiing on the state's reservoirs.

Just recently we returned from a vacation in Sequoia National Park and on our way out we passed Lake Kaweah, one of the many reservoirs at the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  What we saw at the east end of the lake looking west was this. A mostly dry lake.  The remaining water was mostly near the dam.  The whole reservoir looked like it was at no more than 20 percent capacity.

Back home, I went on google maps to see what amount of water was actually left.  Surprisingly, on google maps, the lake looked 100 percent full.
In a way, it made sense for the map makers to fill the lake with virtual water since on maps, the convention is to show lakes up to design capacity.  So it also make sense to make the pictures match the maps. But on zooming in, I also found that while map makers wanted to show water where it was supposed to be and not where it actually was they did at the same time have a desire to show the latest road data.

And here it is, real roads under virtual water.  The deal is, if people are going to be able to launch their boats, you're going to have to build roads up to the edge of where the water actually is, that is several tens of feet below the surface of the virtual lake.
So map makers past fake water on top of the dry lake bed.

Curiously, in this particular case,  the surface of the virtual water had a cool vortex right in the middle of one of the bays.
I was intrigued and curious if Google followed the same policy of topping off reservoirs with virtual water all around the state of California.  I moved over to San Luis Reservoir just west of Los Banos.  This reservoir was also way down the last time I drove by it. 

The long view again showed a lake topped off to the brim.

But the closeups showed an un-doctored view, bathtub rings showing previous lake levels and trees growing on former lake bottom.
Research on this topic is continuing.

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