Flood and Water Supply Maps Make Floridians Waterwise

May 20, 2016

By Steve Dicks, Chief, Information Technology Bureau, Southwest Florida Water Management District

  Florida's sea level elevation invites floods into nearly every city in the state. Floods swamp canal-side homes in Fort Lauderdale, submerge roads in Miami, and turn neighborhoods in the Keys into kayaking lanes. Flooding during high tide is an all-too-common event for Floridians living along the coast. Two major bodies of water surround the state, while more than 1,700 lakes, rivers, and streams crisscross its landscape. Flood inundation impacts infrastructure, property, and water quality.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District oversees water resources from Orlando to the Florida Keys. Esri technology helps the district understand the region's hydrology. Using the Esri platform, staff create accurate flood risk maps, manage land acquisition operations, and design intelligent water supply plans. The district also uses the platform for the permit program and various research studies.

The district relies on geospatial intelligence for managing water supply and protecting water quality and natural systems. The platform enables the district to provide local and federal government with valuable information for flood planning and decision making. Esri platform technology transforms hydrologic data from the district's water resources databases into industry-standard software packages, which the district provides to other agencies. By integrating database files, such as parcel boundaries, CAD files, and orthoimagery, the system generates more exact data and accurate location intelligence.

The district has used Esri technology for its operations since 1987. Today, 150–200 staff members work with the platform on a frequent basis to meet the district's water management goals. It helps them complete day-to-day tasks including cartography, data editing, data visualization, and statistical and spatial data analysis.

Esri technology makes the district more efficient. Automated workflows have eliminated many manual data entry processes and have saved staff time and improved data accuracy. 

Understanding Flood Risk

Southwest Florida's flat and karst topography interconnects surface and groundwater systems. Working with Esri, the district's engineering and GIS staff built models to depict how water flows between the surface and groundwater systems. These models incorporate lidar, topographic data, drainage structures, and natural surface water flow patterns.

The platform processes different data types such as rainfall, soils, aquifer characteristics, well locations and pumping amounts, and evapotranspiration. Using the output from surface and groundwater hydrologic models, staff visualize the results on a digital map. In this way, researchers better understand relationships such as how changing water levels in the aquifer affect lakes and streams. Planners use these map products as the basis for planning long-range synoptic water supply management of regions covering thousands of square miles.

Well drillers use the Permits map to see estimated depths below land surface and between aquifer systems.

Maps for Local Flood Management

The district's website hosts interactive maps. It also provides a portal to open data about landownership, water use and well construction, connectivity, and other pertinent information.

By putting data into the hands of organizations and the public via online, user-friendly, interactive maps, the district turns science into actionable information. Homeowners use these maps to make better decisions about protecting property. Communities have needed insight for managing floodplains, wetlands, water resources, and disasters. Models demonstrate how pumping proposals could impact neighboring water users. Environmental permit evaluators use the floodplain map as a reference during the surface water permitting process. Staff refer to intelligent maps for their water use and well construction permitting activities.

By integrating Esri technology with other core systems, IT staff designed an online permitting system that incorporates data management, document management, and automated workflows. Permit evaluators find much of the information they need through the district's internal online data portal. As a gateway, the portal provides staff members with access to geographic information.

Managing Flood Risk

Year after year, the National Flood Insurance Program has cited Florida as having the most flood claims in the country. As a technical partner of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the district provides up-to-date digital flood maps that integrate with FEMA's GIS platform, also built with Esri technology. In addition, the district works with local engineers and government to keep insurance rate maps updated.

Anyone who needs the latest flood risk information can see it via an easy-to-use, online interactive map. Insurance companies use the flood data to help homeowners assess risks and calculate flood insurance premiums. Finance managers rely on the flood risk map to show areas where the law requires property owners to obtain flood insurance. This geographic information helps banks and lenders protect borrowers and manage loans.

Land management plays a role in effective flood management and water quality. The district owns and manages over 300,000 acres of public lands that provide flood protection or enhance water quality. The district's land acquisition group uses Esri GIS tools and models to analyze property features, such as vegetation, hydrography, and landownership, to ensure that new land opportunities meet the district's acquisition criteria.

This map displays land acquisitions and proposed acquisitions.

Through the years, Esri has added value to the district's land operations and acquisition and surplus management. For instance, land managers were using suitability models in the early 1990s and again in the early 2000s to identify lands that met water resource protection requirements. These models served as the basis for developing a multiyear acquisition plan.

Currently the land department uses the platform for monitoring habitat restoration, planning controlled burns, and performing other routine land management tasks. Land managers map asset information and show where to replace gates, repair fences, and build culvert bridges. They refer to intelligent maps when they lease land for timber harvest, recreational hunting, and cattle range.

Often the district purchases lands as a package deal and then sells the land from the deal that it does not need. For example, the district might buy a 1,000-acre tract that includes 975 acres of pristine wetlands and 25 acres of highly disturbed lands (e.g., agriculture, urban, mining). Land managers run a GIS model to ascertain whether or not the 25 acres can be restored or if the land has sufficient environmental value to keep. If not, then the district sells those acres as surplus property and can use the revenue to buy land with higher water resource value.

Esri helps water districts throughout the nation improve daily operations and make intelligent decisions about the future.