GIS plays key role in improving water resource management, sources find

Oct. 14, 2014
Stephen A. McElroy, Ph.D., GIS program chair at American Sentinel University, discusses how geographic information systems can help reduce water scarcity and ultimately improve water resource management.

AURORA, CO, Oct. 14, 2014 -- According to the U.S. Department of Economic and Social Affairs' (UNDESA) 2006 Human Development Report, nearly 1.2 billion people -- approximately one-fifth of the world's population -- reside in areas where water is insufficient. As such, geographic information systems (GIS) are a critical tool for establishing water resource solutions, which include assessing water quality and management.

"The UNDESA states that by 2025, some 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity," said Stephen A. McElroy, Ph.D., GIS program chair at American Sentinel University. "There is a social responsibility to become more efficient stewards of all aspects of water resource management, as two-thirds of the world's population is predicted to be under these stress conditions.

"Topics such as rate structures, allocation, consumption, conservation, water harvesting, runoff capture, recharge rates, and storage options have all come under increased scrutiny," he said. "The diversity of water inputs and outputs requires a systematic means of managing water resources, and GIS data provides the mechanism for addressing all aspects of the water management scenario."

GIS Provides Broader Strategic View about Water Usage

The spatial location of water infrastructure assets is the starting point. Geospatial professionals with advanced GIS expertise are at the forefront of the water management industry because the ability to manage the infrastructure is predicated on knowing what is where -- from freshwater reservoirs and detention recharge basins to wastewater treatment facilities, water and sewer lines and local points of service, McElroy said.

Water utility companies can manage, share and utilize spatial data through the use of an effective enterprise GIS system. This implementation addresses all aspects of the water delivery, treatment, recharge, and management process. "Enterprise GIS offers a single authoritative data source for all water-related infrastructure and resources that allows for integrated data analysis to monitor climate impacts, determine seasonal surpluses or deficits and manage supply and demand based on historical trends," noted McElroy.

GIS Reduces Water Stress by Tapping Alternative Solutions

Wastewater is a growing concern as water supplies become scarcer. Ongoing developments in the application of the smart grid technology to the water industry include the placement of flow monitors, valve sensors and remote meter readers to quickly pinpoint areas of seepage, water loss or unexpected consumption spikes. The geographic coordinates of all of these sensors allow field crews to isolate the spatial location of the problem.

Repairs are efficiently addressed when crews can plot and monitor water mains and water pipes, which reduce the amount of water that has been wasted. "Plot drainage and a city can collect runoff water, redirecting it to constructive use. Modeling can also shed light on how runoff affects groundwater recharging -- an important factor in availability when needed," McElroy said.

Accordingly, he points out that rather than seeking alternative water sources, GIS can be used more effectively to estimate impervious surface areas to calculate appropriate stormwater runoff tax rates or to identify properties with large lawns that could benefit from a conversion to low water use xeriscaping.

McElroy noted that municipal building codes requiring runoff detention basins adjacent to commercial parking lots or zoning codes that allow for residential rooftop water harvesting are simple strategies to utilize existing water resources more efficiently. "When water supplies get scarce, people will want to know where every drop is, so expect more communities, cities, counties, states, and countries to more actively use GIS to manage their water resources and usage patterns," he explained.

See also:

"GIS offers valuable insight into water resource management"

"The Role of Wireless Technologies in the Water Utility Industry"

About American Sentinel University

American Sentinel University delivers the competitive advantages of accredited associate, bachelor's and master's online degree programs focused on the needs of high-growth sectors, including information technology and business intelligence degrees. The university is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), which is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency and is a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. For more information, visit


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