Engaging Stakeholders with Visualization and Analytics
By Charles Walsh and Patrick Callahan, Office of Information Technology, Prince George's County
The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act (CWA), helps address water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into the waters of the United States.
In adherence with the NPDES Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) permit program, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is required by law to report stormwater management and watershed restoration activity. Multiple agencies in the county, supported by various consultants, work together to ensure stormwater management compliance as well as plan and execute projects to improve the watershed health in Prince George's County. As part of this program, Prince George's County is required to track stormwater management facilities installed within the county. These facilities are known as best management practices (BMPs).
All watershed restoration projects are implemented by the Prince George's County Capital Improvement Program (CIP) section and its consultants. County agencies and consulting firms supporting the NPDES program had their own versions of the data; there was no consistency across datasets, and there was no standard or requirement for sharing and updating data on a regular basis. The reporting template the MDE provided was a written narrative and a geodatabase that consisted of various related feature classes and associated tables. This made it difficult for teams to organize their data as needed.
To effectively coordinate the work to build and maintain stormwater management assets and produce a comprehensive annual report, it was obvious that the county needed to develop a central database. This central database would support the planning and engineering workflows, standardize data collection and entry, perform summary analytics to track permit compliance, and allow the MDE geodatabase to be updated annually. This information would be used in the annual report and supplemental reports submitted to the MDE and the county council.
The Prince George's County Office of Information Technology GIS (OIT-GIS) team and the Stormwater Management Division of the Department of the Environment (DoE) envisioned a solution that would incorporate an enterprise geodatabase and various geographic information system (GIS) technology-based applications. OIT-GIS and DoE requested that Esri take part in a needs assessment to identify the gaps in data collection, reporting, and analysis for the CIP section. A project scope was determined based on the needs assessment findings.
OIT-GIS and DoE worked with stakeholders and county administration to push the enterprise GIS project forward, with Esri's Kathryn Browning and Rama Atluri acting as senior consultants. OIT-GIS and DoE worked with Esri to design an enterprise geodatabase. They used the data model that incorporated elements from the existing MDE geodatabase as well as various county agencies' and consultant datasets and water industry best practices. The result was the Enterprise Stormwater Management (ESM) geodatabase, where all stakeholders enter data and access a common view of all information. This eliminated the need to reconcile data differences between agencies, consultants, and the annual MS4 report. The data was also used in four different operations dashboards designed for decision-makers to visualize watershed-restoration summaries. OIT-GIS and DoE worked with Esri to configure over 60 ArcGIS Data Reviewer checks to ensure data accuracy and expedite the QC process. All editors or submitters can append or directly edit data and know that their submittal conforms to the schema required by MDE. The editor tracker enables the data owner to understand who did what as well as when it was done.
Once the Enterprise Stormwater Management geodatabase was completed and all data had passed quality review, county and Esri staff began creating web maps and configuring apps that would support the watershed-restoration project teams. Two teams are engaged in watershed restoration: the county's CIP and the Clean Water Partnership, a public-private partnership between Prince George's County and various consulting firms. A BMP system map was created, visualizing all known stormwater management BMPs and storm drain infrastructure. This map was then used within a web app that enables designers and engineers on both teams to understand the existing conditions on a site.
Providing a Web App
The BMP System Map web app was developed specifically as a tool to support stormwater management engineering design and program management staff. The app enables them to view and access all information and understand the existing conditions of a site. They are able to review the site of interest and all associated data.
Having land ownership, easement, and existing infrastructure data is essential to site selection for stormwater management. Giving design engineers the ability to see this information on a potential site is crucial to the planning of any project. The Draw widget lets them sketch points, lines, and polygons to represent proposed stormwater management features for the site. The sketched features can have measurements such as length and area displayed, essential for understanding the dimensions of pipes or drainage areas. A preconfigured map layout from the Print widget makes the resultant product cartographically sound and ready to be shared with other collaborators as a PDF.
This is a great improvement over the previous process, in which design engineers had to notify the DoE GIS staff to pull up the site of interest using ArcMap or ArcGIS Pro; ask them to digitize features for the sketch; then make a map with a legend and publish the map as a PDF and/or print it on paper. The new app gives design engineers what they need, when they need it. The DoE GIS staff no longer get constant requests for site sketches, each of which would take approximately 40 minutes to complete. DoE GIS staff now reallocate the time saved to other work. The engineers are using their time more efficiently because they are no longer waiting for their request to be fulfilled.
"The ESM geodatabase and the BMP System Map enables sophisticated analysis which provides a better understanding of the spatial, vertical and horizontal constraints for project implementation, before setting foot on site. I am able to identify patterns and relationships that help me to make informed decisions. Creating an engaging and effective spatial visualization of a project site is extremely valuable for communications within the network of stakeholders involved with each project. The ability to resolve complex challenges and communicate effectively is a great benefit." - Doina Pastinica, Project Manager - Engineer III, Stormwater Management Division
Achieving Increased Efficiency
Program managers and directors are often responding to requests from elected officials and other stakeholders. These are often based on inquiries about the condition of certain assets within the county's BMP and storm drain infrastructure inventories. Traditionally, the managers would send an email with an address of the asset in question and ask the OIT-GIS staff to see if there are existing BMPs, storm drain infrastructure, easements, and so forth at the location. Today, they can use the System Map app and the search widget to find the location and get the answers themselves. The widget uses the county's geocoding and public lands services, which make it easy to search by the name of a school or a park in addition to address. Program managers are then able to print a map and share it with the stakeholder who made the request.
Nongovernmental stakeholders, local municipalities within the county, consultants, and other county divisions can also use the System Map app as a resource to view and understand stormwater management information. The Permitting Department can use it to view existing conditions on a site when a permit application is received. Incorporated cities can use it to understand how many BMPs and county-owned infrastructure items are within their boundaries. Consultants supporting the Stormwater Management Division can use it as a reference for work they will perform.
Stakeholders no longer wonder what the latest and greatest data is, because it is at their fingertips!
Simultaneously managing hundreds of projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars from strategic planning to design, construction and maintenance requires the exceptional visual and data management tools available in our ArcGIS BMP System Map Application and Enterprise Stormwater Management database, that instantaneously provide the intelligence necessary to drive decisions that meet regulatory compliance, cost effectiveness and community progress.