Forward-thinking municipality implements high-accuracy maps for program management

July 17, 2023

The City of Saline serves more than 8,000 residents with water, wastewater and stormwater utilities. Saline’s systems have their roots in assets installed more than 100 years ago. The Director of the Department of Public Works (DPW) Larry Sirls said that, until recently, the city’s record-keeping system seemed about as antiquated.

“We had what I call a ‘somewhat map,’” Sirls said.

Before Sirls came on board, the city’s plot plans, as-builts, work orders, and other records were stored in various facilities in the form of paper and notebooks. The city had a geographic information system (GIS) managed by a third-party. None of the employees had access to it. 

Technology and Data Capture

Sirls recommended that Saline bring its GIS in house and digitize decades of paper as-builts. To guide the project, Sirls brought in Esri partner OHM Advisors, an approved city contractor and Michigan-based consultancy proficient in both utility and GIS services.

Joel Radenbaugh, a 20-year veteran maintenance worker, helped to digitize paper records and a GIS intern created polygon features in the GIS with a hyperlink to the scanned documents.

Staff used an Arrow Gold® GNSS receiver from Esri partner Eos Positioning Systems and ArcGIS Field Maps on their phones or tablets to update the location of assets, perform visual inspections and collect related attribute information.

The ease of use was a big factor in these choices.

“If the field workers think the technology is too hard to use, that lack of trust works its way up the chain of command and comes back down,” said Jake Murawski, project manager for OHM Advisors. “So, any solution that was going to work for Saline needed to support the field workers first.”

Benefits Abound All Around

To date, the water and sewer systems have been mapped. Every DPW employee can access GIS data which supports the work they do every day.

Plant workers can view asset information without having to drive to another facility to find a paper record. Field workers can view system blueprints without having to go back to the office. New employees quickly come up to speed about asset histories. Administrative map requests are completed at no cost. A holistic view of the systems has resulted in more diligent maintenance. Modeling the sewer system has resulted in reduced inflow and infiltration.

Dashboards for Decision-Makers

ArcGIS dashboards are used to summarize specific information from the GIS into project overviews. A dashboard tracking sanitary jetting has transformed the turnaround time for contractor deliverables. The Hydrant Maintenance dashboard summarizes work that night-shift workers do on hydrants so that the next worker can resume in the right spot. The Water Main Break dashboard allows decision-makers to see trends in the causes of main breaks.

They also created an internal webpage using ArcGIS Experience Builder.

Looking Toward a Utility Master Plan

A comprehensive master plan will allow Saline to thoroughly analyze its systems, its weaknesses and its budget — getting ahead of repairs and rework. Sirls anticipates the GIS will help the city start planning public works investments for years into the future.

“The utility master plan and GIS go hand-in-hand,” Sirls said. “In order to receive accurate bids and deliverables from contractors, we have to know what we have, how much of it, and where it is.” WW

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