GIS offers valuable insight into water resource management
Geographic information systems technology offers vital insight for managing and understanding water resources across the globe.
"When water is a critical resource, so is GIS, and geospatial professionals with advanced expertise in GIS are at the forefront of the water management industry," says Dr. Stephen McElroy, GIS program chair for American Sentinel University.
McElroy explains that through the use of GIS, all types of enterprise data related to water could be integrated into single, authoritative data structure in which relationships and patterns can be discerned. "By the use of mapping and visualization efforts, new insights can be gleaned about the intertwined nature of the hydrologic system," he says.
Through a holistic examination of the entire dynamic system, he says improvements can be made to water management strategies. Dr. McElroy points out that GIS offers a common platform for managing water resources. Further, municipal water and wastewater management agencies assess water quality, monitor rivers for flood control and oversee water resources on a local and regional scale. Mining companies monitor the effect of drilling operations on water table fluctuations, and sustainable development groups utilize environmental modeling to assess the relationships between runoff and groundwater recharge.
Dr. McElroy says GIS is an efficient way to analyze and overcome the many diverse challenges associated with complex projects that cross multiple regions.
Agriculture businesses can analyze rainfall patterns and with predictive modeling, understand what additional water resources they are likely to need for livestock and crops. A paper mill or a semiconductor plant, which are two heavy users of water in their manufacturing processes, can better understand the potential environmental impact of waste materials on a local river.
A city utility can map and monitor water mains and pipes. Knowing where leaks are happening as well as tracking water flow can help management strategically deploy repair services to best save and improve the availability of water. Pipe maps and conditions of the surrounding terrain can also make it easier to clear digging for construction.
Dr. McElroy notes that when he was involved in the Tijuana River Watershed project, GIS was used effectively to integrate disparate data sources at various scales in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the hydrological dynamics of this complex watershed and the related public policy issues. (The river flows into Mexico, passes through Tijuana and then re-enters into the U.S.) Numerous collaborations among a diverse group of regional stakeholders continue to be the driving force behind the success of this project.
Although using GIS to analyze an organization or community’s use and management of water has practical benefits, it is best done by integrating a broader strategic view. GIS provides the context by which an individual can begin to understand the relationships among all the moving parts of a project and can distill the critical inputs and outputs. That is why advanced GIS courses are necessary to gain perspective and the knowledge of how to make the technology and data work in a larger context in order to develop effective water resource management strategies.