ORWA: Supporting Members with Digital Mapping
By: Joseph Pheil, Executive Director - Ohio Rural Water Association
Since 1976, the Ohio Rural Water Association (ORWA) has been providing free on-site technical assistance to Ohio's rural communities with water and wastewater systems. Nearly every day, ORWA's field technicians are hard at work traveling across the great State of Ohio, providing on-site technical assistance and training. They help ensure that Ohio's rural water and wastewater systems provide safe drinking water and that its natural waterways are protected. Combined, ORWA system members provide water and/or wastewater services to over two million Ohioans.
"I'm not scratching my head looking for valves anymore, I know now the precise location of every aspect of my distribution system. I see what valves have been exercised. I'm aware of the status of work being done. We will never go back to paper. ArcGIS has enabled us to be compliant and to better manage our system." — Allen Wobler, Village of Payne
Senate Bill 2
In October 2017, the Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 2. This bill was significant because it required all public water systems to demonstrate technical, managerial, and financial capability through the implementation of an asset management program. In short, public water systems needed to show that they know what assets they have, where they are located, and how they are going to be maintained.
Prior to Senate Bill 2's passage, ORWA had begun considering how it could assist members in meeting the new regulatory requirements. It was clear that each member would need to create an asset management plan, so that's where we started. We had heard about geographic information system (GIS) technology and knew that it was a strong tool for supporting an asset management program. We looked into several GIS options, some free and some that required software to be purchased. The GIS needed to provide increased efficiencies, be affordable, and be of good quality. It also needed to be easy to use. ORWA members needed a tool that would support them now and into the future; which led to the decision of utilizing Esri's ArcGIS. The challenge then was how to fund the program, and that is where the Ohio Water Development Authority (OWDA) became an essential partner of ORWA. After writing a proposal and submitting it to OWDA's Board of Directors, the board determined that ORWA's approach to assisting Ohio's public water systems with asset management was something that fit right in line with its mission. The directors voted unanimously to provide us with all the funds we requested.
A Data Collection Solution
Although it is not free; the big win with ArcGIS is the ability to use it in the cloud with applications to collect and update information from the field. ORWA members can use the apps easily and with little training. What really helped us to decide was that Esri allowed system members' staff to collect data in the field and see it appear on their map instantaneously. There was no waiting for weeks or involvement from some other location to add the data to the map. Seeing the fruits of their labor, having the ability to edit data, and creating a map as they work help staff feel accomplished and encourages them to be successful. They know that their work is making a difference and contributing to the future prosperity of their system.
ORWA had never used ArcGIS before and neither had I. I contacted Esri about getting the software and was able to work with its water team to set up our ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online accounts. As we considered what rural systems would need in a GIS map, I began to build a template that could support our staff needs, yet simplistic enough to adopt easily. Multiple versions were created and shared with staff to test. Over the process, I became very familiar with ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online. This was good because, if needed, it allows me to be a support resource to our members.
Providing Easy to Use Applications
Our next challenge was getting members started and comfortable with the software. What would be the easiest way to support them? I met with Esri staff at the Rural Water Association 2018 WaterPro Conference to find out what options there were for licensing. We had the funds available, thanks to the grant we received from OWDA, which we wanted to use to purchase GIS software for systems members that wanted to get started with mapping. Esri worked with ORWA to create an agreement that allowed us to purchase the first year of ArcGIS Online for Ohio's rural water systems. After the first year, members would decide if they wanted to continue and take responsibility for the license, or if they wanted to go another route; and that was exactly what we needed!
The licensing agreement with Esri works well because it allows ORWA staff to support our members by setting up a map, sharing the template, and training members to use Collector for ArcGIS, enabling data collection in the field. Each organization signs an asset management assistance agreement that certifies they are members and public water systems. The agreement specifies that they have a primary role in creating an asset management program for their system and that ORWA can purchase the software on their behalf. The member signs the agreement and then receives an email to create an ArcGIS Online account. ORWA staff spend time training members on how to use the software and provide additional support if needed. Members have ownership and complete control of their map and data from the moment it is created. They can add and remove data, create new maps, and add and delete users, etc. We are there to support them. But ultimately, they are building a map, they are creating a system of record for their assets, they are preparing for the future.
Making Friends and Making a Difference
Michael Copeland, Circuit Rider, ORWA, had taken a couple of GIS classes in college, but nothing could have prepared him for the audacious task that would be put before him. When ORWA began rolling out its asset management program to support its members, Copeland was very interested in being involved with GIS mapping. He started by launching a pilot project to create a water distribution map of his neighborhood system. He expanded his knowledge quickly, with guidance from ORWA's executive director, utilizing online resources. Copeland has become an expert at collecting data, syncing data from the field, using ArcGIS Collector on multiple devices and different versions of operating systems, and increasing accuracy by pairing with GPS receivers.
"ArcGIS Collector was very user-friendly. I found it to be intuitive and easy to learn."—Mike Copeland, Ohio Rural Water Association
For Copeland, this isn't just a job. He becomes invested in each of the communities that he works with. Each community is gaining intimate knowledge of their system: locating their assets, identifying maintenance needs, creating a view into their work that they didn't have before. At the end of a day of training in the field, members can see what they have accomplished.
Copeland is helping to make a difference, one community at a time.
Getting More Than a Map
The Village of Payne, originally called Flatrock City, is located in northwestern Ohio, about 24 miles east of Fort Wayne, Indiana. It is a small village, encompassing roughly one square mile. The Water and Sewer Department serves 1,200 customers.
Allen Wobler, Water and Sewer Department operator, maintained the water and sewer systems with paper maps that were 40–50 years old until recently when he learned about ArcGIS. Wobler needed to update his maps. The location of some assets, valves, for example, were up to 500 feet away from where they were shown on existing maps. He needed a way to build a new map with more accurate information, so he reached out to ORWA.
ORWA sent Mike Copeland to the Village of Payne to meet with Wobler and train him to use ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Collector. Copeland and Wobler spent a day doing hands-on training. They drove around the water system in a golf cart, collecting asset information and locations. At the end of the day, Wobler was able to view the location of each valve and the information about each valve within a digital map on his Microsoft Surface Pro tablet.
Having a digital map that can be accessed via smart devices makes it easier for Wobler to do his job. It increased field efficiencies by 50 percent, it's continually improving information about the system, and it helps to get grants by being accurate and easy to reference. It also helps to bring them into compliance with Senate Bill 2.
"I'm not scratching my head looking for valves anymore, I know now the precise location of every aspect of my distribution system. I see what valves have been exercised. I'm aware of the status of work being done. We will never go back to paper. ArcGIS has enabled us to be compliant and to better manage our system."—Allen Wobler, Village of Payne
Collecting Data and Knowledge
The Village of Belle Center is located between the cities of Bellefontaine and Kenton. The village began as a water stop for the railroad and was officially incorporated by the Ohio General Assembly in 1851. Belle Center has a total area of .71 square miles and is home to a community of 811 people.
Brandon Bingham, water superintendent, started with the Village of Belle Center in the summer of 2017. At that time, everything was on paper. He carried paper maps in his truck. The maps were useful, but not all information was written down. Sometimes the information that he needed wasn't found, and he would have to call the previous employee, who had retired. Bingham started working to collect information on his computer—but he needed help.
The Village of Belle Center has been a member of Ohio Rural Water Association for about two years. Bingham knew that ORWA was helping members to move into digital maps, so he contacted ORWA for help. Mike Copeland met with Bingham, and they worked together for about three hours. Copeland showed Bingham ArcGIS Collector and trained him how to collect data using his smartphone. The training was very straightforward and allowed data to be collected much faster than before.
Bingham is happy using the ArcGIS Collector application. It enables him to collect asset locations and information in the field. ArcGIS also helps him manage the system more efficiently. Because the map is available on the phone, he has immediate access to information and doesn't need to return to the plant to retrieve it. It also provides a way to gather and review information about leaks, maintenance activities, and more. And, last but not least, using ArcGIS has assisted the village with meeting the asset management requirements of Senate Bill 2.
"The work that has been done not only enables us to meet the Senate Bill requirements, [but] it also supports our system management, allowing me to perform and track preventative maintenance, avoiding emergency situations."—Brandon Bingham, Village of Belle Center
This isn't just a job. I get to help people. At the end of a day training in the field, members can see what they have accomplished.