GIS: Getting Started with the Water Quality Accountability Act

By Elizabeth Bell

Girl drinking from water fountain

As more processes and documents are being moved to web-based programs, it makes sense that local government, an industry with many complicated procedures, would gravitate to do the same. And with the Water Quality Accountability Act requiring owners of water distribution systems to GPS locate utilities, there’s a need to move online more than ever. A geographic information system (GIS) is just what the doctor ordered. But with a utility’s exhaustive history, how does one start the migration to such a system? To answer this question, we teamed up with the New Jersey Water Association (NJWA) in a series of free training sessions.

What is GIS?

The Water Quality Accountability Act has several requirements that can be satisfied using GIS and GPS technology. But before we can jump into implementing GIS, we need to first understand what it is. Our own Suzanne Zitzman explains.

Sue Zitzman speaks at NJWA-GIS-training-Maser-Consulting

In an average municipal setting, there are thousands of infrastructure assets that need to be monitored and managed for the duration of their life cycle. GIS at its best is built on a system of map layers. Once you have an interactive base map, you can overlay information about the corresponding street system that might show the location of valves, fire hydrants, storm drains, outfalls, stop signs, etc. As a result, details of these assets can be accessed in real time. This enables field staff to select asset characteristics such as the manufacturer, condition, repair history, replacement scheduling, service requests and who performed the work.

How accurate is the data?

GPS is a space-based radio navigation system that provides geolocation and time information to a GPS receiver anywhere on or near the Earth. “Because GIS uses GPS, you can tag an asset in the GIS program with a 1-centimeter accuracy,” says Samuel Firmenich. The current NJDEP horizontal accuracy standard for locations determined through GPS is within 5 meters. “It’s safe to say this information is quite accurate.”

As today’s GIS programs are web-based and mobile device friendly, GPS enables the users to use something as simple as an iPad to collect and send data to a secure web server in real time. This is made possible by an external antenna that connects to your device via Bluetooth.

NJWA-GIS-training seminar-Maser-Consulting

How do we get started?

The first step is to perform a GIS needs assessment. The process analyzes an organization’s existing procedures, data and technology. But most importantly, it determines the priorities, limitations and budget. Afterwards, it’s time to create a personalized plan. This road map tells an organization how to employ an asset management program at their own pace. The final step? Implementation!

The GPS requirements of the Water Quality Accountability Act make it an ideal opportunity to begin implementing a GIS asset management program. “Because GIS is scalable, clients can start to meet these requirements and then grow it from there,” says Michael Kolody. One stipulation requires water purveyors to GPS locate most valves and hydrants. As GIS can be used as the system of record for managing all utility assets, it makes sense to introduce the GIS system at the same time as performing the field work to collect the GPS location data. While some clients may be hesitant due to costs, grants and zero interest loans can make this an achievable goal.

To read more about GIS and what it does, click here.

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