You probably didn’t know that Wednesday is National GIS Day. In fact, many of you are probably scratching your heads and thinking, “I don’t even know what GIS is!”
GIS, or Geographic Information System, is a way to capture, manage, analyze and present geographically referenced data. In short, it’s a type of computerized mapping system. The use of GIS spans many industries — from water resources to transportation and beyond.
Waze, a popular app for IOS and Android, is a great example of a transportation GIS. The end-user — you — can mark traffic disturbances on your daily commute. This allows other users of the application in your area see what’s going on ahead of their location — and gives them the ability to alter their route to avoid the traffic incident. You probably didn’t even realize that you’re using GIS to communicate these messages to others!
In the water industry, location is key for planning, construction and maintaining a large system — everything ties back to location. GIS is crucial to our work at LCA, because it enables us to look deeper into data, such as identifying patterns, trends and relationships to help make better-informed decisions for our future.
Mark Bowen, who manages LCA’s GIS & computerized maintenance management system, relies on GIS to help monitor database performance and web services, which translate geographic information for multiple uses by LCA’s staff. We’ve implemented several data collection applications that our field staff use to collect information on new and existing assets, such as water mains, treatment and storage systems. Bowen reviews this data to ensure accuracy and quality, and analyzes the data for internal reporting.
LCA’s GIS system serves as the backbone for our asset management system and our hydraulic modeling program, which allows us to determine where our customers connect to our system, and the size of the distribution mains in relation to those connections. We cannot physically see all of our assets, so it is essential to create a digital “twin” instead and track all work performed. This allows our staff to use the data to better forecast and plan, and helps our engineers plan for new construction and ensure LCA can meet our customers’ needs. With a robust GIS system, LCA staff can see the entire system in digital form.
Many of our blog posts have focused on infrastructure — the system of pipes that carry drinking water and wastewater. The only true way for us to understand our buried infrastructure is with GIS. We can view important information and analyze work costs performed against each asset to help plan our capital projects. We can also identify assets at high risk for failure.
Today, utilities are challenged with rapid growth, development, aging infrastructure and ever-changing regulations. By using GIS, we can better plan, develop and report to ensure safe drinking water for generations. And if there’s a problem, GIS enables us to respond faster and reduce costs by quickly locating assets in the field, isolating the incident, and communicating to our customers.
LCA has maintained a robust GIS system for the past two decades, and we’re one of the more advanced GIS users in the water industry. We try to constantly evolve and adapt to new technologies — within the past three years alone, the GIS team has implemented mobile and web solutions to provide our team with the most up-to-date data in the form of interactive web maps and mobile applications.
You’ve probably seen our crews performing our yearly water main flushing program. One of our system updates last year was to implement a tool called an ArcGIS Collector to help crews locate and record flushing results. In the past, field technicians were required to write data down on check sheets and hand them in for filing. It was a very time-consuming process, and the information was never stored in a database for analysis.
LCA’s Capital Works Department wanted to capture and analyze this data for planning purposes. The GIS Team developed some customer fields to capture the data needed for analysis, such as hydrant flows, condition and flow times. The team was then able to map the performance of the hydrants for Capital Works planning.
Another update was the recent purchase of a drone to assist with inspections of our water tanks. When our crews complete the tank inspection, our GIS team creates a 3D model of the tank based on those drone images to identify defects.
This Wednesday, we hope you’ll join us as we give a shout-out to the system that helps us to bring you safe, reliable drinking water and wastewater services!