Many of Maine's small and rural water districts are facing the known and impending retirement of a generation of workers, who hold vast knowledge of the districts' infrastructure. One consultancy is helping each district map and modernize its system. In many cases, the districts had little or no experience with geographic information system (GIS) technology, and the consultancy sets them up for everything from preparing for a new generation of employers as well as new regulations.
Maine is home to a heavily forested landscape, as well as many rural water districts. Al Schaeffer, president of Northern Forests, LLC, founded his GIS consultancy with the idea that he would serve forest managers. But he wound up finding a greater demand somewhere unexpected.
"It turns out water districts have a greater need," he said.
His clients' most pressing need was to preserve infrastructure knowledge before older workers retired. Sometimes, according to Schaeffer, data dating back to the early 1900s lived only inside his clients' notebooks and "between their two ears." Schaeffer needed an easy way to map what would become, for many clients, their first digital GIS.
Eos Positioning Systems (Eos) is an award-winning Esri Silver partner and the exclusive manufacturer of the Arrow Series GNSS (GPS) receivers for the GIS market. With decades of experience in GPS, the Eos technical team is credited with creating the world's first Bluetooth GPS receiver capable of centimeter accuracy that works on any commercial smartphone or tablet (e.g., iOS, Android, Windows). Arrow receivers work seamlessly with Esri mobile apps for high-accuracy data collection.
"One person can buy a license of ArcGIS Online, do all kinds of field data collection and processing, sign on in the office or online in the field, and see their entire water system." — Al Schaeffer, President, Northern Forests, LLC
Schaeffer chose the iPad because of its bright screen, solid Bluetooth capability, and ease of use. He selected Esri's Survey123 for ArcGIS app for field data collection because it was well suited for digitizing paper workflows to mobile ones. Survey123 also wrote data to ArcGIS Online in real time and allowed for image annotation to be an intrinsic part of the field data collection. This is valuable to record "swing ties" to assist in hardware location through triangulation from buildings, hydrants, and other known objects. Swing ties provide valuable backup for field techs to locate hardware when cell phone access is limited.
"ArcGIS Online is one of the best deals out there," Schaeffer said. "One person can buy a license of ArcGIS Online, do all kinds of field data collection and processing, sign on in the office or online in the field, and see their entire water system."
To enhance the iPad's location accuracy, Schaeffer chose the Eos Arrow 100 GPS receiver.
"The Arrow 100 gave me submeter accuracy with free WAAS differential correction without the need to connect to an RTK network," Schaeffer says. "That was more than accurate for mapping manholes, valves, and hydrants."
To start, Schaeffer and his team map all the districts' asset points. Then he sits down with his clients to "connect the dots" in ArcGIS Online and create the network representation. Finally, he performs a knowledge transfer with each district's superintendent.
"My goal is for them to have the understanding of the software and all the valuable information it can provide," Schaeffer said.
Beyond creating the first GIS, Schaeffer intends to set them up for long-term success. He educates them about the value of integrating their GIS with other utility systems, such as work-order management, customer information, billing, and facilities-management systems.
"Having attributes, such as the length of a pipeline, attached to the GIS makes it easier to go out and perform routine replacements and repairs," he said.
Finally, Schaeffer makes sure his clients are able to meet the increasingly strict state regulations for mapping and reporting water assets.
"If a state or federal organization comes in and says, 'You have to replace all the pipes that date back to a specific time,' these districts can respond positively," Schaeffer said. "They have the resources to do this now."