We were traveling down an uncharted path. Knowing that I could rely on the help of Esri Services, it’s priceless.
How Pueblo Water Embraced GIS to Improve Operations
- Pueblo Water wanted to modernize its data and asset management systems, setting a foundation that would improve its services today and in the future.
- Staff leveraged educational courses, GIS software, and expert guidance to modernize their water utility network’s systems, workflows, and data.
For 113,000 residents in Pueblo, Colorado, the water they use for showering, doing laundry, or watering plants comes from the mountains above Leadville, Colorado, and then flows into the Arkansas River. This water is then treated and sent through 586 miles of pipes to homes and businesses throughout Pueblo, a process overseen by Pueblo Water.
The utility has undergone revitalization since 2020, led by Pueblo Water GIS developer Kent Cooper, to modernize its water management services. To resolve workflow challenges and enhance customer service to Pueblo residents, Cooper has shifted the utility’s reliance on computer-aided design (CAD) data to using geographic information system (GIS) technology.
“Moving forward, we wanted the capabilities to collect and use data in a way we hadn’t before,” said Cooper. “GIS empowers us to make analytical decisions for now and decades to come, and that was our goal.”
For support in becoming a geospatial data-driven utility, Cooper turned to the specialists and resources available through Esri’s Advantage Program to help Pueblo Water envision and execute a plan to reach its goals.
Creating a Geospatial Foundation That Inspires Lasting Solutions
For the first few years that Cooper worked for Pueblo Water, the organization didn't have a dedicated GIS team or an analyst. Many workflows and tasks were completed via paper-based systems and AutoCAD maps. When the opportunity arose for Cooper to manage GIS across the organization, he leaped at it.
“I felt like we were missing a lot of dynamic data. We could collect information and store it, but no one knew where it was or how to compile it to make it useful for planning. We were missing this whole opportunity to map where everything was. GIS could do that,” said Cooper.
By 2020, Pueblo Water was using GIS tools, but Cooper was eager to implement a more robust enterprise GIS. Through the Advantage Program, Cooper connected with his dedicated advisor to set goals like establishing a multiuser geodatabase, visualizing data with dashboards, migrating data, and digitizing workflows to improve organizational efficiency.
Next, Cooper and his advisor collaborated with a team of GIS experts from Esri Services to formulate a multiyear implementation plan and learning strategy to meet the utility’s diverse needs. The team recommended first building a geospatial foundation using ArcGIS Enterprise, a complete GIS software system that helps users manage, map, visualize, and analyze their data.
At the same time, Cooper began expanding his GIS and ArcGIS knowledge with training. His dedicated senior training consultant helped him select and access Esri courses to support the long-term goals established in the planning phase. Throughout the multiyear plan, Cooper participated in a mix of self-guided and instructor-led training sessions that would teach him the process he was about to embark on and empower him with the expertise needed to manage GIS operations and structure in the future. Course topics spanned foundational concepts in enterprise data management and administration, spatial analysis, and data migration to working with and configuring utility networks with ArcGIS.
“One of the biggest challenges is just the overall amount of training that really needed to take place to understand how each one of these aspects works for GIS,” said Cooper. “It can be frustrating not really knowing how something is working, but those classes helped me go from a little knowledge of GIS to being able to understand and build what was needed to get off the ground.”
Cooper spent a year working with the Esri Services team to build Pueblo Water’s enterprise GIS. This involved digitizing more than 200 basemaps and their related files, as well as cleaning up the data. Then Pueblo Water’s IT staff ran into an obstacle. They had to move their enterprise GIS to a new domain. Esri Services teamed up with Pueblo Water’s IT team to reconstruct it on the new domain within three days. “It was a remarkable process. I cannot speak highly enough about the Esri team and how they worked with our IT team,” said Cooper.
Once ArcGIS Enterprise was launched for Pueblo Water, Cooper then focused on deploying ArcGIS Utility Network, a configurable system that leverages ArcGIS Enterprise alongside ArcGIS Pro for advanced asset modeling, analysis, business integration, and communications.
For the next phase, Cooper worked with the Esri Services team to make sure his data was ready for those deployments. This included collecting any missing data, cleaning it up, and creating new data. “It could be overwhelming at times, but it was great to know that I could send an email with a question to the Esri team for guidance and just tap into their experience and knowledge,” said Cooper.
Authoritative Data Inspires Strategic Mobile Applications
As part of his training program, Cooper learned how to collect field data and make mobile GIS applications. With an authoritative enterprise GIS infrastructure now in place, Cooper could focus on strategic goals such as developing mobile inspection applications for different assets and training utility staff to use them.
Water utilities, including Pueblo Water, regularly inspect fire hydrants. Traditionally, inspection was a multistep process: submit a ticket, gain supervisor approval, repeat visits as needed, and collect data. Cooper condensed the inspection into one step using ArcGIS Field Maps—an all-in-one app that uses data-driven maps to help with data collection.
Now, when staff inspect a fire hydrant, they can use a map on their mobile device to accurately guide them to the hydrant's location then use the fillable fields to indicate whether the hydrant meets the criteria for maintenance or if further investigation by a technician is necessary. The GIS app also enables staff to take photos of any nearby vegetation that could be obscuring the hydrant. By digitally transforming this workflow, staff can more quickly complete their inspections and update the system in real time.
“These apps are eliminating human error by having this one source of truth for every asset. We can go into the field with access to all the records for a single item and have the ability to update information to establish a history,” Cooper said.
The success of the fire hydrant application has inspired a list of more than 50 GIS-based apps that Cooper intends to develop to facilitate tasks such as inspecting tanks, taking water samples, maintaining pumps, and utilizing chemicals. “We wanted everybody to have mapping at their fingertips, whether it was out in the field or in a meeting. We wanted our staff to access everything they needed when they needed it,” said Cooper.
The Future of GIS at Pueblo Water
Introducing ArcGIS technology has been a game-changer for Pueblo Water, with 30 new GIS users spanning multiple departments. “Whether it’s logging into a dashboard or a map, our supervisors, managers, and directors love seeing that instant result from the work our crew is doing in the field,” said Cooper.
While the geospatial journey continues, Cooper plans to work with Esri Services to use apps, dashboards, surveys, and Web GIS to meet his growing list of objectives. He hopes to deploy GIS solutions for monitoring chemical consumption used during the water treatment process, tank inspections, field engineer reports, main break outages, and cathodic protection management.
“It’s really about getting the information out to our users to help them in the field and to help our managers understand what is going on to make us a better organization today and in the future. GIS gave us the foundation to do that,” said Cooper.
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