Quench: November/December 2018

Page 20

GIS and Your Utility By Jason Knobloch, Environmental Services Director, Texas Rural Water Association

W

hat is GIS? GIS stands for Geographic Information System and is a program used to capture, manipulate, manage and graphically display a collection of geographical, spatial and statistical data. The tools within the software pull information from the geodatabase created and reference it to a specific location on earth using GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates. Various layers of information can overlap and complement one another to allow the user to analyze and operate key components of their system. GIS combines GPS and mapping to help utilities create an elaborate source of information in a digital format that can be used to identify and manage features in your system. Though GIS has been around for decades, the use of it in rural water and wastewater utilities has recently become more popular as an asset management tool. The idea of marrying data to geography has allowed utilities the ability to identify growth and prioritize capital improvement projects in their distribution system. The American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) 2017 State of the Water Industry Report suggests that water and wastewater infrastructure is the primary concern for utilities. In many cases, the utility is unaware of what their infrastructure consists. By adding multiple layers, a utility can begin marking line breaks and logging customer complaints to help diagnose issues caused from aging lines and undersized water mains. The implementation of GIS allows a utility to collect information about their system to better inform decision makers of needed improvements and helps justify actions taken to remedy the problems. Mapping is a central function of GIS and provides a visual interpretation of data. Having access to clear and accurate maps is not only a benefit to managers and decision makers regarding future planning, but it is also beneficial to office and field staff for operation and maintenance. Once GIS has been implemented and accurate GPS coordinates of essential features have been collected, field staff can pin point buried valves, find hidden flush valves and locate meters that have been covered 20

Quench — November / December 2018

or grown over. In many cases, these features are currently being referenced by landmarks — next to the tree, in front of the old car, along the road, etc. What happens when the tree falls, the old car is removed or the road is widened? Another growing concern with the aging workforce in the water industry is what happens when the employees that are knowledgeable of where everything is in the system retire or leave? Information collected and stored using GIS doesn’t change unless you change it and is easily accessible by multiple people. It is important to note that the coordinate identified is only as accurate as the GPS hardware or software you use will allow it to be. The built-in GPS on your phone or a low-end unit purchased in a sporting goods store is great to get you down the road, find your car in a parking lot or mark your favorite fishing spot on the lake, but the average accuracy range is 15-30 feet. When an operator is called out at night to make a line repair, being able to easily locate an isolation valve is worth the expense of precision. Maps and the data contained within the GIS are also beneficial for information sharing. If a utility has their system mapped out, data can easily be exported and shared with engineers to conduct water models and run a pressure analysis, insert flow conditions to provide hypothetical scenarios and provide suggestions in prioritizing your next improvements. System data can also be shared between neighboring utilities, communication and cable providers, county maintenance, emergency management and local fire departments, and TxDOT for highway projects. If you have ever been called out to locate miles and miles of water line for a shoulder widening project, just to have to go out again after six weeks and mark it again, you would appreciate the ability to provide this information digitally. In addition to sharing data, there is a great deal of information available to retrieve online, as well as from your local county appraisal districts and Council of Governments. Additional sources of information, such as parcel data, can allow you to overlay property boundaries and retrieve landowner information. The Texas Water Development Board