Getting Started with GIS for Small Utilities

A few days ago I was talking to a manager at a small combined water and wastewater utility who wanted to know with a limited budget, how can they implement GIS and where should they get started?

That’s a question we often get.  No doubt, most large and small utilities implement their GIS as a series of ongoing projects.  Most of the time utilities set aside a yearly budget for GIS to fund things like data creation, software purchase & maintenance, hardware and training.  Often small utilities will focus their data creation efforts on creating a few new layers a year.  This holds true whether they do the data creation themselves or hire a consultant to create their data.

The starting place for the majority of water, wastewater and storm water utility GIS projects is asset management.  This means both using your GIS as the system of record to store your assets information and then using that asset information to make decisions about when is the optimal time to repair rehabilitate or replace an asset.  If you are implementing an Enterprise Asset Management System (EAM) than both your GIS and your work orders are part of a system of record for your assets.

So if you are a small utility, what is an example of a high level process to get started with GIS?

  • 1. Download the ESRI Simplified Water Sewer Datamodel A data model is the structure (GIS people call this a schema) of how to store data in GIS. ESRI with a consortium of utilities and consultants has identified the best practices for storing water, wastewater and stormwater data in GIS and posted them on our website as data models you can download for free. The ESRI W/WW & SW data models were the first freely available data models for these industries and have become the de facto industry standard for how to store these types of utility data in a GIS. By using these data models as a starting place for your GIS you will save money and time and will not be reinventing the wheel.
  • 2. Compare the assets you own with the layers (GIS people call these feature classes) in the data model. Also make sure that data model can hold the descriptive information you need about each of your assets (GIS people call this attributes). So in the sewer data model you’d have a feature class for gravity sewer mains that would have attributes such as diameter, material and installation date. The data models have been in use for years and have most of the common assets in use at W/WW utilities, so more than likely you’d identify features in the data model that your utility does not own and remove them and add some attributes that your utility wants to track.
  • 3. Modify the data model you download to have the exact set of asset and attributes that you’ve identified your utility needs in your GIS. You may want to have a consultant do steps 1 to 3 for you or with appropriate training before attempting this task you can do this in house. Some utilities choose to have a consultant do a data model workshop where all of asset management stakeholders (the people in the utility that will use the information in the GIS) identify what specific information they need. Engaging all of the asset management stakeholders in modifying the data model is good investment for utilities.
  • 4. Get base mapping data – Base mapping data is data that you want to lay your utility asset data on top of in a map. There is a tremendous amount of free GIS data you can get from places like the cities or counties your utility serves. ESRI also provides free base map content through ArcGIS online.
  • 5. Identify data sources that you want to use to populate your GIS – such as hard copy maps, construction plans, as-builts, field maps, CAD files, data from spread sheets, etc. If you don’t have any good source data to start with then you may want to consider doing GPS data collection
  • 6. Do a pilot – Start to put data into your asset data into the data model. If you are doing wastewater assets, select part of your collector system (such as one sewer shed). At the end of creating pilot data use your GIS to make some maps and do some analysis – ask the questions you need answered to make better asset management decisions of your new data. Doing a pilot makes sure that any changes you made to the data model suit your needs and also helps you become comfortable with GIS. Identify any lessons learned through the pilot and then modify your approach if needed. Also identify some steps to do quality control of your new GIS data.
  • 7. After the pilot keep populating your asset data in GIS and maintaining the asset data you’ve already created. Now you have a production GIS for asset management. If you are a small utility with limited budget you may want to break your GIS up into phases – such as doing 1 sewer shed each year or doing your water distribution system in the 1st year and then your wastewater system the next year.

By investing in training or hiring someone with GIS knowledge you can achieve these tasks yourself.  Also many small utilities use an ESRI business partner to help them get started with their GIS.   Understanding the steps above will help you better engage with a GIS consultant.

While asset management has been the traditional starting place of W/WW & Stormwater GIS, we’ve seen an interesting trend emerge over the past few years where some utilities have made vehicle routing or a management dashboard their first GIS project.  By starting with something like vehicle routing, water utilities can have a quick win with GIS (who can argue with the benefit of fuel savings & reducing vehicle miles driven) and become comfortable with GIS as technology before moving forward with getting your assets into GIS.

As always, if you have anything to share on this topic please post a comment or send an email to:

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Web Mapping: An interview with Jack Dangermond

By Aileen Buckley, Mapping Center Lead

Zoom Levels Thumb

Someone pointed out to me that Esri’s CEO, Jack Dangermond recently did an interview that focused on web mapping. You can read and hear it here: Continue reading

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Exploring Crane Lake and the Crane Lake Web cam

(submitted by Carla Wheeler, ESRI ArcWatch editor)

As a professional editor and writer covering a wide variety of GIS topics I still sometimes feel like a GIS novice when it comes to using software. But even a GIS novice will find ArcGIS Explorer easy to use, and in this particular case easy to share near real-time geographic information with colleagues, organizations, or friends.

I looked at an earlier post on this blog and read about how to add a live Web cam to Explorer. Using what I learned there I was able to add my own live Web cam, in this case from a location close to my hometown near Crane Lake, Minnesota.

This time of year many people in the northern United States and Canada wait with baited breath for the ice to go out on the lakes so they can begin to plan trips to catch walleye, northern pike, and crappies. Like seeing the first robin of the year, a sure sign of spring up north is the ice disappearing from the lakes. 

Many resorts operate Web cams that face the lake so the current conditions can be viewed online. But I wanted to take that a step further and view the Web cam in a better geographic context, and also share my results with others.

I used the Find Place task to enter ”Crane Lake, MN” and zoomed to the lake.


This got me quickly to the general area, and from there I zoomed in further. Handberg’s is a local resort that has a Web cam facing the docks and water.  I visited the resort’s Web site, clicked the Web cam tab, and then copied the URL for that page.

I then went back to my Explorer map of Crane Lake, and navigated to the dock where the cam was placed.  Using Create Notes I added a point at the cam location. A red pushpin appeared where I pointed, and I right-clicked the pushpin to open its properties. I pasted the URL for the cam there, then hit OK.

Now when I click the pushpin the Web cam appears in the popup, showing a live view of the lake. Last week the ice was in. Today when I checked the ice was out, which means it’s time to buy a new rod and reel.

I wanted to share this with some colleagues and doing that was easy. I just right-clicked the pushpin and chose E-mail to send it along (of course keeping my best fishing holes a secret).

The E-mail is automatically created – the result is added as an attachment and the E-mail text with instructions is automatically inserted. Easy enough even for a crappie fisherman!

And don’t forget to bookmark the ESRI ArcWatch site. If you’re fishing for interesting news and information, you’ll find it there!

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Welcome to the Java Resource Center

When I entered college at UCLA, I remember that they had a weekend orientation for incoming freshmen. It was held in the summer before the fall quarter was to begin. It was great – you got to meet other incoming freshmen, make friends, and learn about the processes and procedures. I am not sure I would have ever figured out how to enroll in classes without the help of the orientation. The information was available in manuals and guides but it wasn’t in a form that was easily understood by incoming freshmen and it wasn’t easy to find the information.

That’s what we are trying to do at the Java Resource Center. We have a great community of Java developers and a ton of great information available for Java developers but we have never had an orientation that gets you started. On the Java Resource center we have striven to use language that Java Developers will understand and take you to the content for the most common tasks.

Let me take you through the some of the highlights of the Java Resource Center:

  • The ArcGIS Java Blog is an opportunity for us at ESRI to share best practices, solicit your feedback, and highlight product features that hopefully will make your life easier.
  • The Help tab points you to the latest documentation that’s relevant for Java developers. I personally have this one bookmarked.
  • The welcome page is the page that should help get you oriented, leading you to the resources you need to build web apps, consume soap services, build Swing apps, and extend ArcGIS.
  • The Communities tab takes you to the existing communities we have for the ArcGIS Server Web ADF and ArcGIS Engine. There you will find a code gallery where developers like you are sharing their code, a media gallery from presentations we have given, and forums to get answers to questions.

To complete the welcome to the Java Resouce Center I would like to share a photo of a lot of the development folks working on Java and Unix products at ESRI.


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Spatial Statistics: What’s so HOT about Spatial Pattern Analysis?

This blog post was written by Lauren Scott, Geoprocessing/Spatial Statistics Product Engineer in the Software Products Group at ESRI in Redlands.

Hot Spot Analysis is just one of the pattern analysis tools in the Spatial Statistics Toolbox.You can use these tools to explore spatial patterns in order to answer questions like:

  • Where are crime rates unexpectedly high?
  • Are there regions in the country where people live longer
  • Where do we find anomalous spending patterns?
  • Are there sharp boundaries between affluence and poverty?
  • Is the disease remaining geographically fixed or is it spreading?
  • Which features are most concentrated?
  • Does the spatial pattern of the virus mirror the spatial pattern of the population at risk?
  • Which site is most accessible?
  • Where is the population center?
  • Which species has the broadest territory?

To learn more about spatial pattern analysis, check out some of these resources:

- The ESRI Guide to GIS Analysis, Volume 2
- Understanding Spatial Statistics in ArcGIS 9, a free one-hour Web seminar
- The Spatial Statistics Toolbox online documentation
- View a five-minute video showing a hot-spot analysis of 911 emergency call data (click on “Using Spatial Statistics Tools”)
- Download a hot-spot analysis model from the Geoprocessing Resource Center.
- Extend Crime Analysis with ArcGIS Spatial Statistics Tools , Spatial Statistics Provide New Insights, or Spatial Patterns of Disease Inspire New Ideas on Possible Causes in ArcUser Online
- Spatial Pattern Analysis concepts are discussed in the ArcGIS 9.3 Web help and include Modeling Spatial Relations, What is a Z Score?  What is a P value?, and Spatial Weights.
- Technical workshop slides are available from the ESRI Public Health and Homeland Security Conferences.

Have fun!

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Spatial Statistics: Free Virtual Campus Web Seminar on Regression Analysis Basics

This blog post was written by Lauren Scott, Geoprocessing/Spatial Statistics Product Engineer in the Software Products Group at ESRI in Redlands.

There are a number of good resources where you can learn about the new regression analysis tools in ArcGIS 9.3.  The newest resource is a free one-hour Web seminar,  Regression Analysis Basics in ArcGIS 9.3, available for download from the ESRI Virtual Campus.

 Other Regression Analysis resources include:


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How can I receive information on Esri product updates?

by Maia Pawooskar

The ArcGIS Business Analyst team routinely makes updates to its suite of solutions, services and products. You can use this Esri Support Notifications service to keep informed of updates to ArcGIS Business Analyst and many other Esri products. Here’s how:

1. Go to Esri’s support site. (or choose the Support tab on the Esri home page, which you already may have in your Favorites. If not, please be sure to add to your Favorites)

2. Choose Login on the Support site.

3. Login using your ESRI Global Account. If you do not have a Global Account with Esri, no worries, you can create one easily.


4. Logging in using your Esri Global Account will bring up this screen. Click on the Support Notifications link.

5. This brings up the Support Notifications page. Subscribe to all or from any of the Esri’s growing family of products, solutions, services including the Business Solutions products.

If you have not subscribed for this convenient Esri service, please do so at your earliest, it is great way to receive news on topics of your interest.

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Questions and answers about ArcGIS Server 9.3.1 map services

In a previous post Design patterns for Web maps, we talked about strategies and challenges for displaying different types of map layers on the Web for the best performance. Caching is the fastest way to serve Web maps, but requires an initial time investment for cache creation. Also, datasets that change often and cover a broad extent cannot be cached and require a (typically slower) dynamically drawn service. Continue reading

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Water Utilities Resource Center and the Geodatabase


As we have highlighted in earlier blog posts the resource centers are a great place for user resources which span the different ArcGIS products and workflows. One interesting aspect to this are the community or industry specific sites. The first such resource center, the Water Utilities Resource Center, has been up for months and will keep getting better as more content is added.

The geodatabase is really the foundation to a sucessful utility implementation. How the Water Utilities Resource Center ties into the geodatabase is probably best highlighted in a series of posts on the Water Utility blog:

Building and Maintaining Water Utility Geodatabases: Part 1Part 2

The videos in the media gallery are another great resource which explain how to leverage some of the work the Water Utilities team has completed. This is just the first of many community specific resource centers which will be added to the Resource Center in the near future.



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Updated 2009/2014 Demographic Data Available in ArcGIS Business Analyst Online

 by Brenda Wolfe

The Demographic and Income Profile and Market Profile reports (Esri’s two most popular reports) have been updated with 2009 estimates and 2014 projections.  Subscribers to ArcGIS Business Analyst Online can access the updated reports via the new beta.

Note: the updated reports are only located in the beta, and not in previous versions of Business Analyst Online. How’s that for incentive to come on over to the new version?

More reports will be coming out in a couple of weeks, but we wanted to give users an early look at the data given the urgency of getting solid information in today’s economy.

If you don’t have a subscription right now, just call 800-292-2224.  They can hook you up.  Mention this blog for a 10% discount on your subscription, by the way.

Once you are logged in, you can find the updated reports are listed on the Get Reports tab.  Just go to ”2009/2014 Reports” from the dropdown in the Get Reports tab as shown here:

For those of you following the beta progress, here are some additional highlights.

- For those of you who like to be in control (and you know who you are), you can now set Preferences using the link in the upper right of Business Analyst Online. 

- Importing of shapefiles is now available. You now have the option to treat multiple polygons within the shapefile as one area or treat them as separate features to analyze.

- You can check your account status under My Account

Check it out and let us know what you think. You can send us feedback here too:

Enjoy the new numbers!

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