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Water Resources Uses GPS for Asset Management


The Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner's staff is utilizing Global Positioning System (GPS) and mobile GIS technology to build a highly accurate digital drain map and better track service requests. The new system provides field staff with tools to inventory the components of the county's drainage infrastructure and link that information to office records that track customer service requests, proactive maintenance, and construction permits.

The Water Resources Commissioner's Office (Drains) began this process in July of 2003. Using specialized funding from the County Board of Commissioners, Drains purchased several Trimble GeoExplorer handhelds with integrated Global Positioning System capabilities. These small, sleek mobile devices have the capability to obtain latitude/longitude coordinates with sub-meter accuracy. They use the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system and a field version of GIS mapping software called ArcPad from Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). Using these devices, Drains field staff can identify the location of drains and drain structures and collect information on structure type, condition, and maintenance completed with a click of a button. Once back in the office, Drains can quickly and easily download all the maps, notes and data from the day and see that incorporated into the main mapping system.

The new system is so easy to use that collecting coordinates and information about each catch basin, culvert, and manhole in the county has become standard practice for each drain inspector and engineer. As a result, Drains staff is continuously building an all-digital, seamless representation of the county's drainage plans. The field equipment allows inspection teams to verify as-built drawings and collect current information about systems that were established decades ago. A typical inspection situation allows field staff members to bring a paperless drainage plan with aerial photos into the field, conduct a final inspection or maintenance inspection, and enter the details into dropdown menus all while tracking exact locations. The mobile unit implementation has been so successful that in February of 2004 two additional mobile devices were purchased, with grant funding for the federally mandated Illicit Discharge Elimination Plan (IDEP) tracking activities.

A recent example of the implementation of this technology occurred in January/February of 2005. The drain staff spent several weeks verifying the location and condition of each component of the Beyer Relief drainage district located in northeastern Ypsilanti Township. Established in 1978, this system extends over two square miles and includes approximately 350 manholes, 515 catch basins, several culverts, and is responsible for draining at least 2,500 properties. Coordinates were collected for each structure, along with a number of useful attributes including the size of the structure, material, the depth, and direction of drainage. After field inspections were completed, the information and coordinates were loaded onto the county's main GIS server and made accessible to county GIS users. Basic information about drain features is accessed via the county online mapping websites (MapWashtenaw and WashCoGIS) while more detailed information can be accessed by the Drain staff via their PCs. Each small piece of a digital as-built drawing can be referenced to the overall management plan of the department and viewed or searched. The data management system allows the staff to query upcoming projects that may be due for an inspection, and view a map of exactly where and at which specific structure(s) the inspections are supposed to occur. Over time as more and more information is added to the GIS system, the Drain Commissioners staff and local unit officials will be able to make more informed decisions about future development, maintenance, and sustainability of existing systems.

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