Tuesday, January 31, 2023

A new water cycle

water cycle diagram

When the U.S. Geological Survey in October released the first update to its water cycle diagram in 20 years, it included a new force influencing how water moves through the world: humans.

Since the diagram was last updated in 2000, it has been used to teach hundreds of thousands of students across the country how water cycles through its different phases across different environments. But it failed to include the many ways to human activity affects water processes.

After consulting with educators and hydrology experts, USGS remedied the glaring oversight and released a far more detailed diagram.

“So much about the water cycle is influenced by our actions, and it’s important that we clearly see the role that each of us can play in sustainable water use amid a changing climate,” a top U.S. Department of Interior official said when the new schematic was published.

The visual now includes industrial, domestic agricultural and urban water use and runoff. The graphic depicts a dam holding back a large reservoir that collects snowmelt from mountains above. It shows farms and industrial centers pulling water from the ground and releasing spent water into rivers.

“We alter the water cycle,” the new diagram states plainly. “We redirect rivers. We build dams. We drain water from wetlands for development, We use water from rivers, lakes, reservoirs and groundwater aquifers… to supply our homes and communities.”

Read more about the update in this article from Eos.

In a release announcing the new diagram, USGS highlighted “the water cycle as a complex interplay of small, interconnected cycles that people interact with and influence, rather than one big circle.”

Check out the interactive diagram online. It’s a vertiable “I Spy” for hydro-nerds.

Image on top: The new USGS Water Cycle Diagram updated in October.

This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.


2 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Great!! Kids need to learn early on about fresh water diversion for cities and agriculture, and what happens when the fresh water supply dries up. I suspect many will become very knowledgeable on the subject in their lifetime. I wish them luck.

  2. seymour preston jr says:

    Dear Zach: Thanks for this article and your many over the years. I have a question, though. Where is there any explanation, here or in the USGS announcement, of “it’s important that we clearly see the role that each of us can play in sustainable water use amid a changing climate”? Regards, Seymour, a regular reader

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