Mapping Wastewater Systems with GIS

Posted by on Apr 14, 2015

manhole coverIt’s not unusual for counties and cities to have old, outdated information about their systems, such as water and wastewater utility systems. I’ve seen these situations many times through the years, and a Geographical Information System (GIS) is a perfect solution for turning the existing data into something that’s much more useful.

In a project we worked on recently, the client had CAD data that was in pretty bad shape and needed to be converted into a GIS. The basics of doing that involved setting up a database for all of the existing information, cleaning it up and converting it into functioning GIS that they could use to maintain their sanitary sewer system.

We used aerial photography to make sure our data was as accurate as possible, and without having to go out into the field, we were able to validate much of the information and make sure it gave the most accurate representation possible. Going manhole to manhole would have been much more time consuming and cost prohibitive.

The ability to better manage the systems was one of the biggest goals for the project. The client wanted to understand what they had and be able to access the information more readily. With GIS, they are able to not only see what their assets are, but they can also link as-built construction drawings to easily see details on those parts of the system as well. They also now have information on the features of the wastewater system, such as size, materials, pipe, depths of manholes, etc., allowing them to run analysis functions on their system.

When it comes to sanitary sewer systems or other utility or transportation systems, municipalities are better able to handle their infrastructure for maintenance purposes, accountability purposes, generating reports, etc. Having GIS for these systems is also beneficial for service crews that need to have confidence in where they can find manholes or valves for maintenance and emergency response purposes.

This project was a pilot project for an area of Shelby County that is managed by Southwest Water. Because they oversee several other systems in the area, some of which are much larger, we hope to help them with others once their management sees how valuable it is to have that information in the GIS system instead of paper drawings or CAD files.

There are many counties and cities that still use old paper maps or CAD files, especially those with smaller systems. It’s harder for these areas to hire staff members to do GIS or purchase the necessary software. With a much smaller investment, our GIS Division at Sain Associates can easily handle the conversion and management so even small organizations can have the benefits of GIS.

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