GIS to the Rescue!


    New Jersey’s Water Quality Accountability Act is prompting municipalities to inventory and manage water distribution assets.

    Water distribution systems consist of water storage facilities, pipes, and asset components that are responsible for the safe and reliable delivery of water to communities. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are more than 1 million miles of water distribution piping networks throughout the U.S. that require daily maintenance and operational activities to keep them running properly. As water distribution systems are aging throughout the nation, management of those systems becomes critical in order to maintain the delivery of clean water to homes, schools, hospitals, businesses, and industrial facilities.

    Water distribution system owners have the American Water Works Association (AWWA; to educate and provide effective management standards for maintaining their systems. AWWA is an international, nonprofit, scientific and educational society dedicated to providing total water solutions to assure effective water management. Founded in 1881, the association is the largest organization of water supply professionals in the world. Its membership includes more than 3,900 utilities that supply roughly 80 percent of the nation’s drinking water and treat almost half of the nation’s wastewater. AWWA has helped in establishing two preeminent organizations dedicated to safe water, the Water Research Foundation ( in 1966 and Water For People ( in 1991.

    Using web-based GIS programs, asset data can be accessed and updated in the field through hand-held devices. For example, maps can be generated for a visual tool for field staff to follow as hydrant flushing takes place.

    Recent enactment of the New Jersey Water Quality Accountability Act (WQAA) has prompted the inventorying of water distribution assets, coupled with an asset management plan to track operation and maintenance of distribution systems throughout the state following AWWA standards, resulting in a replacement plan for assets that are past their life expectancy.

    Enactment of the WQAA (N.J.S.A. 58:31-1 et seq.) has established new requirements for purveyors of public water in New Jersey to improve the safety, reliability, and administrative oversight of water infrastructure. Municipalities that own and operate a potable water system with more than 500 service connections will be affected and there’s not much time in which to comply. Effective Oct. 19, 2017, these new standards must be met by April 2019.

    A little history about asset management

    The WQAA’s initiative is focused on facilitating development and implementation of an asset management plan for inspection, maintenance, repair, and rehabilitation of the infrastructure. The sheer number of assets that need to be located, maintained, and tracked is one thing, but keeping the details related to each asset from year to year at their fingertips has been a longtime struggle for asset managers. Over time, system owners have used a variety of methods to keep their assets maintained, from using manual drawn record documents to database inventories of their systems.

    Historically, to gain information about system assets, conventional boots-on-the ground survey methods were used to collect asset information in the field. Hand written field books were used to describe features with station and offsets to surrounding surface features or road centerlines. As the maps were hand-drawn from this information, corresponding tables were typed out showing coordinate locations (x,y,z), materials of those assets, and sizes of pipes. These maps and tables were stored in a manageable fashion, either rolled up in tubes or in space-eating flat files. Detailed asset maps had corresponding key maps showing the spatial location of each feature, which could be more than 100 maps.

    At the time, a paper system was the best way to manage inventory, but it was cumbersome, hindered streamlined communications, and sometimes even the integrity of the data from field-to-office. While moving toward an electronic system was a good way to move forward, early technology wasn’t perfect either, and over time, the rate at which technology grew left many users with disjointed systems. It’s been a constant struggle to keep up with software updates, newer programs and hardware, application differences, and systems that don’t talk to each other because their platforms aren’t compatible.

    To make it worse, some managers may be using a combination of electronic and paper systems, or even multiple electronic systems that don’t communicate. Introduction of a geographic information system (GIS) that encompasses all needs and can easily handle everything from data collection to storage has made all of this a thing of the past.

    A GIS technician gathers real-time GPS data on a stormwater conveyance system for a municipality’s GIS asset management program.

    What does GIS do?

    Before implementing GIS, it is necessary first to understand what it is. In an average water distribution system, thousands of infrastructure assets need to be monitored and managed for the duration of their life cycle. The WQAA has mandated verification of the location of existing assets using GPS technology. However, several requirements can be satisfied using a combination of GPS and GIS.

    For utilities with an exhaustive history, confirming asset location using GPS and condition can be a daunting task. But, if you’re dedicating valuable time and staff to making this gigantic effort to satisfy the WQAA, adding the GIS component into the mix at the same time not only makes sense, it’s the most efficient way to track and maintain assets going forward.

    The end product is an interactive GIS base map to which layers of information can be added as an overlay to show information about the corresponding street system that might show the location of valves, fire hydrants, storm drains, outfalls, stop signs, etc. These overlays enable users to see assets as a whole or individually by type. Each asset has a drop-down box that, when clicked on, reveals information about that asset such as model number, date installed, repaired, replaced, and inspected. Even service requests can be made on-the-fly from the field when using GIS. Plus, any number of characteristics can be customized into the program.

    While some water distribution system owners may be hesitant due to costs, grants and zero-interest loans can make this an achievable goal. Utilizing Esri software and web applications along with third-party asset management programs such as VUEWorks Asset Management software will give system owners a powerful tool to help them maintain and plan for system updates throughout the life of their assets.

    Asset inventory requirements

    The WQAA’s directives begin with program development for inspection and maintenance of all water supply and treatment facilities, detailed engineering analysis of asset condition, and estimated service lives of water mains and replacement program. Then it continues down the line to the location verification, inspection, identification of valves and hydrants, and program development for annual testing and flushing, and repair or replacement.

    As the assets are field-verified for their location, operating checks are collected. A field observation can be captured into a GIS program using mobile applications. A simple field form can be created using Esri Survey123 for ArcGIS for identifying the need for clearing of the area around the valve to ensure full access to the valve for operating purposes. A simple Pass/Fail or Yes/No answer can be acquired through a mobile field form to alert the supervisor of the need for field maintenance. Work order assignments for clearing around a valve or cleaning of the valve box can be deployed through mobile work order applications such as Esri Workforce for ArcGIS or VUEWorks MobileVUE. The GIS program is highly customizable and can capture additional information such as the amount of turns for exercising the valve and what fire hydrant is controlled by the valve.

    After collecting the location of fire hydrants, assignment of flushing IDs can be added to the GIS hydrant dataset. Maps can be generated for a visual tool for field staff to follow as flushing takes place. A recorded date of flushing along with condition inventory of the hydrant can be captured through Esri Survey123 for ArcGIS and Esri Workforce for ArcGIS.

    Web-based GIS

    Today’s GIS programs are also web-based, which gives users the capability to store a large amount of data within a secure web server (the cloud). This means that asset data can be accessed and updated in the field through hand-held devices with platforms such as Windows, iOS, and Android. As the data is collected or edited, it is sent to a secure web server in real time for simultaneous use in the office. It also can be configured to enable staff to launch live service requests, manage, and report on the status of those work assignments directly from the field.

    The beauty of a GPS/GIS-based asset management program is that, while it takes a lot of initial input to get up and running, once it’s done, not only will the program be configured to exact specifications, but it puts system information literally at your fingertips. Because information about critical infrastructure is now being stored in the cloud, another component of the WQAA requires the adoption of a cybersecurity program to be integrated with any internet-connected control system.

    Since GIS captures data related to positions on the earth’s surface, it can also provide aerial imagery. Having an accurate snapshot of asset location stored on the cloud before a disaster occurs, such as a hurricane or severe flooding, can help expedite post-storm repairs because you have an exact record of what previously existed. Even if fire or flooding were to destroy original documents and computer files, having them stored in the web-based GIS server cloud would keep them safely intact. GIS programs are also a valuable tool because they offer design tools for creation of construction documents and as-built plans.

    Data accuracy

    The current New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) horizontal accuracy standards for GPS location is within 5 meters. However, since GPS is a space-based radio navigation system, it provides geolocation and time information to a GPS receiver anywhere on or near the Earth. Because GIS uses GPS, you can tag an asset in the GIS program within a 1-centimeter accuracy when coupling your device with an external GPS antenna meeting positional accuracy needs.


    Using GIS asset management solutions provides one access point for viewing, maintaining, and managing assets. While the initial implementation of a GIS application takes a little leg work to set up, once it is up and running it is well worth the investment to have the depth of detail regarding assets and an improvement in the ability to manage them.

    Additionally, throughout 2018, New Jersey is offering free training at various locations around the state to educate water distribution system owners through the New Jersey Water Association (NJWA). Maser Consulting P.A. has teamed with the NJWA to show them how they can implement GIS asset management technology to manage the requirements mandated by the WQAA for compliance.

    The training also covers how to get started with GIS and GPS programs by using Esri software applications coupled with web-based asset management programs. The course not only provides education on the WQAA requirements of mapping and maintaining a water system, but also is a credited course for New Jersey-licensed water and wastewater operators.

    Suzanne M. Zitzman, GISP, is GIS Asset Management Services Division leader with Maser Consulting P.A. Maraliese Beveridge is public relations specialist with Maser Consulting. (