[Having Esri's] support has meant the world to me, because the tools, applications, and the support provided has really helped. Esri Services has been so vital to [our] getting applications out quickly. I would say it wouldn't be possible without them.
Lower Valley Water District's Journey to Becoming Geospatially Driven
Founded in 1986, the Lower Valley Water District (LVWD) offers water, wastewater, and solid waste services to residents across 210 square miles of El Paso County, Texas. Whether providing safe drinking water, sanitation, and sewer services or practicing water conservation for a better quality of life, LVWD is committed to the highest-quality service for its customers and employees.
In 2018, the LVWD leadership team, under the new IT director Ryan Rodriguez, saw an opportunity to modernize water management offerings by becoming a geospatially driven organization. Simply put, much of the work that LVWD does daily is location based. The team made the strategic decision to incorporate geographic information system (GIS) technology into multiple facets of the business. This would address challenges and improve workflow efficiencies to propel the organization ahead.
"I am a problem-solver, Rodriguez says, and whenever there is a challenge, people look to me to see what we can do. The first thing I look at is GIS and see the tools that [Esri] provides to figure out a solution because it is a great tool."
But the journey to becoming a geospatially driven organization would not be easy, and it's still an evolving process. Implementing an organization-wide adoption, with users ranging from the mobile workforce to billing, would have to be done from the ground up. As such, Rodriguez turned to the experts for help. Leveraging resources available through the Esri Advantage Program for support, education, and more, Rodriguez and his team began their geospatial journey.
Learning to Use New Tools and Problem-Solving for a Foundation of Success
When Rodriguez joined LVWD, the organization didn't have a dedicated GIS team or analyst. This presented an immediate challenge to implementing Rodriguez's vision of a geospatially driven organization. After connecting with Esri Services, Rodriguez met with his dedicated Esri Advisor to formulate a plan to create a lasting GIS foundation for LVWD. At the advice of his advisor, Rodriguez first met with stakeholders, mobile workforce and team leaders, and other potential users to focus on identifying key business problems. He then went back to his advisor, and together they came up with many solutions to address the identified challenges. Ideas included app creation, data visualization with dashboards, data migration, database upgrades, and updates to workflows to improve data quality.
Leadership at the Lower Valley Water District (LVWD) wanted to modernize the utility's water systems and services by becoming a geospatially driven organization.
LVWD's IT team leveraged education courses, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products, and the guidance of experts from the Esri Advantage Program for water management modernization including systems, workflows, and data.
While the journey is ongoing, current changes have resulted in the creation of new apps, an improved water rights management system, and ArcGIS adoption by more than 80 users across the organization, from customer service to the mobile workforce.
"Honestly, [my advisor is] the one that's helped me through everything," says Rodriguez. "Our process was, I would first come up with these crazy ideas of what we could do to solve a problem, but together we would look at the problem to figure out the best solution."
For GIS to be fully utilized organization-wide, employees across departments would need training with ArcGIS. This experience would empower staff to be more familiar, confident, and capable with the technology. Rodriguez's advisor connected him with the team from Esri Services to develop a training plan for employees. The plan focused on courses ranging from beginner to advanced and was built around the business goals that Rodriguez had outlined. The training plan also included essential instructor-led training course recommendations addressing key GIS workflows—foundational concepts, data management, field data collection (mobile GIS), map design and visualization, spatial analytics, and enterprise administration to enable agile access to maps and apps in a secure environment.
"Coming into this IT director role, I became busy quickly and was unable to set aside the time to train other staff," continues Rodriguez. "So I connected with my advisor and support team, sent them the names of the employees needing training, and what their levels of experience were. The team then set up courses for my staff to take based on their experience and what they could learn for their positions that could help them."
To provide the best training to his staff and grow his own GIS skills, Rodriguez also completed six instructor-led training courses.
"One thing that I have to say really helped me is the training that I took," says Rodriguez. "I got certifications with the instructor-led courses and then just worked through technical sessions to get things done. So as far as completing projects, I think it was a mixture of my persistence and the expertise that Esri brings."
The First Win: Applying ArcGIS for Water Rights Management App
As staff were being trained in GIS, Rodriguez also focused on the goal of water management modernization. He and the leadership team started by considering areas where water loss occurs. An example is managing water rights, a task that LVWD had struggled with over the years. In the past, mobile workers used paper maps and manually tracked information about violators.
Water districts, such as El Paso Water, partner with water utilities, like LVWD, to monitor water rights and usage. In recent years, El Paso Water noticed a water usage increase and asked LVWD to investigate. Water rights staff found that even though residents had sold their rights, many were in violation by using pumps, digging canals, and flooding their land. Rodriguez's IT team was tasked to identify a technological solution that transitioned both the paper-based workflow and manual violation tracking to an efficient digital system.
"The [water rights] department had seen what we were doing with other departments as far as creating applications, and they came to us and they said they wanted one too. They wanted something to just keep track of who's in violation and who's not," says Rodriguez.
After meeting with staff from the water rights department to assess the current process and future needs, Rodriguez brought the challenge to his Esri Advisor for help. Having previously used ArcGIS Collector for other department apps, Rodriguez was advised to use it as the solution. A mobile data collection app, ArcGIS Collector can store all the customer account information along with details on the ditches and canals in the city. The information integrates with ArcGIS Pro, a single desktop GIS application, to create a data layered map.
The application allows users to edit canals and submit photos and videos, enabling field personnel to take pictures of violations and attach them to a report. The reports supply water rights management with vital real-time data. Additionally, the app has fillable fields so the user can enter notes, an account number, inspection date and time, and the inspector's name.
"It's just a simple Collector application, and we have these guys set up with iPads, and they can go out there and document what's going on," continues Rodriguez. "They were so excited because they wanted to just leave and go catch [potential violators]."
Collaboration between the water rights staff, Rodriguez, and Esri Services yielded positive results. The application provides mobile workers with easy access to customer information and citation issue capabilities. It allows them to capture proof of stolen water with imagery. And the technology upgrade empowers better collaboration between field and office staff. So far, the application has resulted in the collection of 92 violations, allowing the organization to issue penalization fees and respond to violators.
"We're able to prove that users are stealing water. Field personnel would show them the picture on an iPad . . . and there is proof in the picture," says Rodriguez. "A picture says a thousand words."
Rodriguez and his team received positive feedback for their work using the app, which has encouraged more departments to reach out with requests for similar applications.
"[Water rights staff] are just loving the application because it made their job so much easier, and I know they're going to be using it more," says Rodriguez. "If anything, it probably created a little bit more work for us because they realized how quickly we can make applications."
He adds, "But what we do in IT is, we support everybody. So if we can build an application or we can help fix a business rule or the flow of things, that's what we're here to do."
What's Next for LVWD's Geospatial Journey
After successfully implementing training, adopting ArcGIS technology, and building unique apps like the water rights app—GIS use is growing at LVWD. While in progress, the geospatial journey has increased GIS use overall. The organization has seen ArcGIS user growth from 15 to more than 80 ranging across departments. Rodriguez and the team see more possibilities for the technology, including billing, tracking unreported hydrant use, maintaining meters across the district, and even expanding into solid waste management.
"I think [GIS] has made everyone more efficient and just drove more adoption of the technology," says Rodriguez. "Everyone is using it now. I feel that whenever a problem arises, people come to me to see if I can figure out a solution."
With a growing list of projects, Rodriguez hopes to continue collaboration with Esri Services as his organization works toward becoming geospatially driven.
"[Having Esri's] support has meant the world to me," Rodriguez says, "because the tools, applications, and the support provided has really helped. Esri Services has been so vital to [our] getting applications out quickly. I would say it wouldn't be possible without them."