By David S. Coleman and William A. Orazi


Many utilities are increasingly realizing the advantages to using GIS to perform day-to-day functions, such as operations, maintenance, and customer service. Perhaps more importantly, utilities are using GIS to make better decisions, analyze their existing and potential customer base, and plan for future expansion. With GIS, utilities can better communicate and transfer data between agencies and consultants. Finally, utilities are using GIS concurrently with other systems, such as hydraulic modeling or infrastructure management systems. This paper describes the process, in a timeline fashion, of creating a GIS for a small utility, and its subsequent use as a multifaceted tool.


Martin County Environmental Services (MCES), formerly Martin County Utilities, is a growing South Florida water and wastewater utility with 19,900 connections and serving a population of approximately 61,000. In 1996, MCES decided to begin development of a GIS to help accomplish many tasks more efficiently. The current fiscal year 1999-2000 is the fourth consecutive year of development tasks. This phased approach resulted in a well-planned and budgeted implementation.

The first step in the project was to get a working GIS in place. An accurate and functional database had to be compiled. This data input/conversion stage can range in accuracy, for which there is a direct relationship with cost. With the limited budget of MCES, it was decided to develop the utility GIS data mainly through an "on-screen digitizing" effort, rather than data collection by field surveying techniques. As-built information was related to the GIS features to supplement more detailed information.

The second step was to get the data in the hands of the staff via a "user-friendly" desktop system. MCES opted for an ArcView GIS. With minimal training and guidance in the early stages of the project, staff members with little or no previous GIS knowledge were delving into their new resource. An interface was created to focus on items important to the staff; thus the GIS remained at its simplest useful level.

There were many factors to consider throughout the project. Extensive phased planning with revisions throughout the project was instrumental in accomplishing tasks in an efficient manner, yet allowing for flexibility as needs arose. Prior to planning, a "needs analysis" was conducted which included interviews with various staff members. Many goals were subsequently established. For instance, a primary goal was to get a complete set of all existing water and wastewater distribution and collection facilities. In pre-GIS days, it was very difficult to get a handle on the location of utilities in an overall sense. This data would become helpful in performing concurrence review of water and wastewater availability for new developments.

Many types of data and methods of compilation were used to put together, maintain, and access the GIS. Therefore a variety of software was used including Arc/Info, ArcView, Access, Excel, Dbase, AutoCAD, Notepad, FrontPage, and Internet Explorer software.

Several objectives were determined at the outset of the project that would, in effect, create an integrated information management system. MCES intended to create a GIS that would enable more effective long-range planning of its operations, maintenance, and capital expenditures. Additionally, it would enhance improve emergency response and customer service. In addition, MCES sought to improve support to the general public, land development professionals, other county departments, and other utilities and government agencies.

MCES is part of the County government. The County has a central GIS operation that allows for user access on a countywide basis, and access for the public. It was critical for MCES to coordinate with this department to ensure there was no duplications of effort and to ensure seamless operation. In order for the utility data to fit in with the County system, guidelines used by the County Information Technology Services (ITS) were followed as far as data creation and metadata.

Implementation and Related Tasks

The MCES GIS project is currently in its fourth phase of development. Each phase corresponds to a fiscal year. Particularly in the first two phases, tasks involving implementation or update encompassed large portions of the scope. However, now that the GIS is more established, there is more time earmarked for applications.


Phase and year Primary Tasks As-built Years Completed
Phase 1 – 1996-1997 Digital data conversion, data access, training 1985-1994
Phase 2 – 1997-1998 Hardcopy data input, link "as-builts" Pre-1985
Phase 3 – 1998-1999 Updates, map book, new features 1994-1998
Phase 4 – 1999-2000 Updates, data linkage, Internet access 1999-2000


As evidenced in the above table, utilities that were built over the span of many years were digitized for Phases 1, 2, and 3. Phase 4 contains the mapping for the previous year. In other words, the first three phases included retroactive mapping while by the fourth phase MCES is relatively up-to-date with utility input and only annual (or semi-annual) updates. This timeliness will be continued in future phases, and greatly adds to the value of the GIS.


In Phase 1, utility data was converted from pre-existing AutoCAD drawings. For several years, MCES had been creating CAD drawings of utilities. However, these were neither up-to-date nor completed retroactively for historical as-built drawings. These several years of utility data in digital format was the ideal place to begin a GIS with, considering the limited budget particularly associated with this first year of GIS implementation. At the time, MCES was cautious with implementing a GIS because some managers were not absolutely convinced it would be of cost-beneficial value to the utility. However, as the managers began to see the results of the GIS, they became confident that it would be an important asset.

The conversion was accomplished by determining layer organization and layers to be converted. Routines were created in AML to convert the CAD data to GIS data, using the DXFARC and other Arc/Info commands and procedures. The CAD data regarding pipes had been digitized with layering to distinguish pipe material and diameter. Therefore, it was possible to add these items as attributes for the pipes. Point features did not gain attributes through this method. Other attribute information was implemented in future phases.

Data access is a critical issue for GIS projects. Powerful, yet user-friendly and inexpensive software was needed for the non-GIS staff to access the data. ArcView was the software chosen. For the non-GIS staff, custom ArcView projects were created which allowed for easy data access. This coupled with classroom and individualized training allowed users to begin taking advantage of their new tool. ArcView allowed certain users the ability to manipulate utility information, and access all data relevant to the project in the many different formats in which it was stored, for example, Arc/Info, AutoCAD, and Excel.

As in any implementation, specifications need to be determined. For a listing of several important specifications, see the table below.


Coordinate System Florida State Plane
Datum 1983
Zone 3601
Units Feet
Method of Data Entry On-screen digitizing
Basemap County parcel GIS data files
Format ArcInfo and ArcView


The digital maps are geo-referenced to the Florida State Plane Coordinate System. This allows calibration of real distances and ensures the GIS will be compatible with other information that references a standard geographic coordinate system. It was crucial to be able to easily interface with many of these data sets, such as the County parcel maps (digitized tax maps) and transportation maps (road centerline maps).


During phase 2, a massive data entry task was undertaken. Digital data did not exist for much of the historical data, and much of the newer data. Rather, it was only on hardcopy as-built drawings. A data input effort of "on-screen digitizing" was undertaken placing the data in digital form in an AutoCAD format. For this phase, due to the large amount of data to be input, it was decided to use software widely known to be efficient for drafting. After drafting, the data was converted to GIS as in Phase 1.

The "on-screen digitizing" was chosen due to its cost effectiveness within the budget limitations. Of course, this was at the expense of accuracy. Budget limitations were not the only thing to be considered in this decision. Basemap accuracy also was considered. Since the basemap was not highly accurate at the parcel level, making detailed utility data at a sub-parcel level would not be worthwhile. Rather, it was decided to map utility data relative to the basemap. In the future, routines may be created to transform and improve the accuracy of all data together.

The features that were selected for data conversion are in the table below. Not all features were mapped in Phase 1 by the previous CAD data entry. Therefore, it was necessary to review the as-built drawings for any additional features.


Point Features Line Features
Irrigation Quality (IQ) Meters Potable Water Mains
IQ Air Release Valves Irrigation Quality Mains
IQ Valves Sanitary Force Mains
Lift stations Gravity Sewer Mains
Manholes Raw Water Mains
Raw Water Air Release Valves  
Raw Water Valves  
Sanitary Force Main Air Release Valves  
Sanitary Force Valves  
Potable Water Air Release Valves  
Potable Water Blowoffs  
Fire Hydrants  
Potable Water Meters  
Potable Water Valves  


To supplement the on-screen-digitized information, Phase 2 consisted of one other major task. This was to integrate the approximately 2000 24" x 36" utility system record drawings digitally into the GIS. This would allow for users who needed more accurate detail or additional information on a utility feature to bring up the source document. This was a very important step and one that had to be made simple for the user. The method chosen at the outset was to create polygons that represented project areas and associate the source drawings with their respective polygons.

Another important component for this task was to create meaningful and uniquely identifying names for the source drawings. These unique identifiers were to follow the a convention as seen in the table below.


Parameter Description Example
Area Identifier Utility management area NC
Project Type Water, wastewater, both, etc. WW
Project Name Name of project from engineering drawing (road, plat, plat with phase) US1FMEXT
Date Installed Date project was installed 1990
Sheet Number Number of sheet in series 001


The scanned as-built drawings in TIF format were "hot-linked" to the respective project polygons. This allows users to access the source drawings at any time to see the highly accurate and detailed as-built drawing. In addition, users can locate certain projects by querying the project polygon coverage.

Further attribute information was developed in this phase. Features were assigned to the information contained in the project polygons through overlay procedures in Arc/Info. In addition to pipe material and diameter developed in Phase 1, all features now had the following attribute information: source drawing, area identifier, project type, project name, date installed, and sheet number. Additional attribute data was integrated in other special cases where data was readily available, or the need for the data was of paramount importance.

An example of where this data integration played an important role was with the lift station file. It had been stored in digital tabular format. The point locations were determined and this tabular data was tied back to them. This added a spatial perspective to the previously tabular-only lift station data and allowed another type of access to this data.

The ability of GIS as an information integrator helped MCES map their utilities that reside outside of the county limits. MCES provides service to certain areas within neighboring St. Lucie County. A separate basemap was obtained from St. Lucie County and although it was in a separate format, MCES was able to convert it and use it in the GIS. Not only is this helpful in operating and maintaining the existing utilities, it is helpful to have the basemap information for planning, and inter-utility coordination issues.


Phase 3 updates to the utility system came with an additional major task. For the previous four years, there had been no updates to the County parcel basemap. Thus, post-1994 plats were not in the system. Without a basemap, two problems existed. First, utilities could not be input accurately relative to the basemap. Second, many of the functions that MCES had in mind would not be able to be accomplished without basemap information. Therefore, a task was included to update the basemap.

Of course, many subdivisions and commercial lots had been platted in those four years. Developers and their engineering consultants submitted these plats in CAD format on diskette according to a County ordinance. MCES took the initiative to create a coverage of new plats, that could be overlayed on the basemap. The new parcels were "best fit" to the existing parcel map and parcel control number was entered to facilitate future data linkage. It was then up to the County’s central GIS operation to incorporate this coverage with the County's parcel basemap. For the sake of the MCES, it would solve the aforementioned problems by providing a basemap from which to digitize utilities and allow MCES to use this with their many GIS applications.

Creating the coverage of new plats came with many challenges. A plethora of engineering consultants had created the drawings and therefore each of the plats had to be handled separately for conversion. For example, the drawings had various combinations of layering and coordinate bases. The disorganization of these files, and subsequently the amount of time required to create the master file, has resulted in better standards for digital plat submittal.

One feature that was added to the GIS in this phase was the water and wastewater plants and associated data. These locations were "on-screen digitized" as point features and, to supplement the point representation of the plants, a more detailed plant coverage was created which outlined tanks, buildings, and other objects visible from aerial photography. Orthographic aerial photography was used in this exercise. In addition, oblique aerial photographs of the plants were hot-linked to the point features. Finally, approximately 1000 record drawings of the plant details were scanned and made available in concert with the GIS system.

Wells and related data were also entered in to the GIS. Attributes such as coordinates, flow, and well-field buffer zones were added as well. Two well-field buffer zones were integrated with the GIS (a third zone will be added in Phase 4). Arc/Info was used for this step and accomplished the buffer generation. Data from permits was input to allow easy access to ownership, flows, and other data.

Phase 3 also included the creation of a map book for another type of data access. The map book is composed of approximately 160 sheets covering half-sections and was created using ArcView. It was created particularly for MCES field staff, but several copies are located in the office as well. These were printed in hardcopy and Adobe PDF format. The PDF maps are being used by MCES field operations managers to supplement the GIS and will subsequently be used for data dissemination and access via the Internet.


In the current phase, more resources are allocated to tasks other than data conversion, such as data linkage and data access. This is mainly due to the fact that, for the first time in the phased implementation plan, utility updates were required for only a one-year time span. These updates comprised a relatively small percentage of the budget. A rough estimate of the utility data conversion effort was a relatively small 25% for Phase 4. Previous phases had a much larger data conversion component, about 75% on average for each phase.

Data linkage to other County data was important for this phase, the results of which will allow for improved billing, customer service, operations and maintenance. First, it is necessary to link the County tax collector database to the parcel database. Clean up, additions, and reformatting of the PCN fields may be necessary to facilitate the link. This will allow access, via the GIS, to a wealth of tax information on MCES customers and potential customers. Another database, the County building permit database (KIVA), will be linked using the PCN as the common field. The County updates the KIVA database more frequently than the tax collector data. This allows the County to provide up-to-date PCN and address information for new developments and parcel splits. County divisions such as the Growth Management Building Division rely on the KIVA database to promptly process and track building permits for new developments.

Once these links are accomplished, address geocoding will be performed to the utility billing database. This will allow an address match by parcel. A substantial amount of QA/QC will be necessary in this step to ensure geocoding produces a high degree of accuracy. Manual movements of geocoded points to parcels via editing software will be required. This is due to the general degree of accuracy of the basemap and geocoding data. Once this link is established, MCES staff can access and spatially analyze customer billing information. The success of the tasks will allow MCES customer service representatives to access, verify, and insert address, ownership, meter routing, and fee data into the database.

MCES has recently adopted Hansen customer management and maintenance system (CMMS) software. An effort is underway to relate these two databases which will allow for more automated procedures and enhanced information access to the organization.

Other types of organization are needed in Phase 4. This includes organization with the County on basemap enhancement and for various aspects of the utility data, such as formats, distribution, and metadata. In addition, a standard procedures manual is being developed along

Applications of the GIS

The GIS is facilitating many of the day-to-day functions of MCES, such as planning, operations, maintenance, and customer service. Some applications and products of the GIS can help in more than one facet, and others have been produced for a specific purpose.

One of the first items created by MCES was a system map book including all of the new data. Approximately 180 half-section sheets were created with an index sheet as the cover. The map book is particularly important to field personnel who do not have ready access to the GIS. Office personnel also use the book or the digital version of the book in PDF format for many reasons.

In addition to the general location maps for the map book, many maps for specific purposes were produced from the GIS data. For instance, an historic map of growth was constructed. This was made possible due to the fact that as data was entered throughout the project, a "year-built" field was added. In order to make the map, features were distinguished by "unique value" in ArcView and printed. The map allowed MCES to see their growth in a way they had not seen previously. In the map, warm colors represent older utilities and cool colors represent newer utilities. This helps determine areas in which more maintenance may be required and plan for future growth.

The GIS is now instrumental in taking up-to-date and accurate inventory of existing utilities. This has been very helpful in recent negotiations with the County regarding budgets, staffing, and equipment needed to operate and maintain utilities. The inventory also assists MCES in measuring its performance as required by the County via a memorandum of understanding.

The GIS is helping with planning issues as well. For instance, a list is being developed of potential MCES customers and/or water-only customers not connected to the wastewater system. Database links to the billing database and graphical overlays with the land use coverage will be used to analyze the situation. A digital list of properties within a specified distance from wastewater lines will be generated from the analysis. The list will state name, mailing address, site address, vacant/improved status, active/inactive customer status, and land use for each property, as found in the source data.

Technical service is another area in which the GIS is facilitating the day-to-day functions of MCES. MCES technical services division manages inquiries for new service requests, which includes calls from the general public, contractors, engineers, developers, realtors and other government agencies. Information is provided to the requestor generally in the form of printed maps, via preset layouts in ArcView. These maps show the general locations of facilities, and can be supplemented with as-built drawings when higher accuracy is requested (e.g., for engineering purposes).

Dealing with special assessment projects has been another benefit of the GIS. Generally maps are produced that show proposed projects and these maps assist in developing assessment rolls and cost estimates. These maps are used for professional presentations outlining the special assessment in order to get project approval.

At times, MCES is required to appear in court or mediations, and the GIS is able to assist in the resolution of disputes. For example, in a service area dispute, presentation-quality maps are produced and used as tools by the attorneys to showing actual facility locations compared to boundaries in dispute.

The GIS is assisting MCES in operations and maintenance support. For instance, MCES staff is able to track low pressure complaints. This allows MCES to better identify if there are possible "quick fixes" or whether to recommend specific areas for renewal and replacement projects. The GIS has assisted with a program of locating facilities within public right-of-ways. A rugged laptop with the GIS stored on it is a tool is being used in this exercise. The GIS has even assisted the operations division in times of emergency. In the case of a pipe break, they are quickly able to determine valve locations and connectivity for isolation purposes.

The lift station data file proved to be of special importance for several applications. First, the data was analyzed for the infiltration/inflow program. Another example was the use of the lift station latitude and longitude to obtain licensure for telemetry (radio control) from the Federal Communications Commission.

The system has also been used for mapping pollution plumes to identify potential properties with well contamination. This has been useful in obtaining grants from the State of Florida and the Environmental Protection Agency for funding special projects to provide potable water service to the contaminated areas.

A customized application is also to be developed specifically for the customer service department. New data layers are being created primarily for this purpose, such as the polygon coverage of service/charge collection areas, based on meter installation list and defined by MCES. Name and/or identification number of area and charges to collect will be added as attribute information. A custom ArcView project for will be created for customer service staff. The application will contain polygon coverage of service/charge collection areas, linked billing and tax collector data, and parcel coverages.

Data Management and Accessibility

MCES is considered the "owner" of the GIS data. The data files were formerly stored as ArcView shapefiles due to network and computer processing speed. However, with improvements in the hardware, processing speeds are faster and data can be stored in an Arc/Info format and accessed through ArcView. Users have the ability to view, query, and add tabular data to the files. Any graphical changes necessary are completed during scheduled updates.

Data updates include many types of data from various sources. Update MCES ArcView Project(s) (APRs) with relevant new/updated data. This data includes newly created and updated utilities data, as well as other readily available data from other sources identified and determined to be useful for MCES. Data updates also include data dictionary entries (metadata) for inclusion on County website.

Only selected individuals are allowed to manipulate the GIS files. The Utility GIS is accessible to MCES staff and other County departments for viewing and plotting only. The Utility department is responsible for providing the county ITS department with updates of the Utility GIS, as they become available. These updates are currently scheduled for twice per annum.

MCES currently has sufficient hardware and software in place to utilize the GIS. ArcView network license's for MCES resides on the remote MCES server. MCES currently owns 5 ArcView 3.2 licenses for Windows 95 users and one ArcView 3.2 license for Unix (Sun workstations). MCES also owns one copy of Arc/Info 8.0.2.

The Utility GIS Arc/Info files currently reside on the Martin County Administration center server as the primary library for all county GIS coverage's. MCES maintains a master copy of the GIS Arc/Info files and ArcView shape files. The ArcView program and Utility GIS shape files currently reside on the Utility Department server and local hard drives on various high-end PCs.

With new countywide GIS organization imminent, MCES is working with the County to ensure practices and procedures are in place that best manage the GIS on a countywide basis. This will allow the GIS to be of optimal benefit to the County and its constituents. This may include more timely updates, better organization with other County departments, and better data accessibility.


Training of the MCES staff to use the GIS has been an important facet of the its success. Several group seminars conducted by certified trainers and enabled the staff to become familiar with basic GIS concepts and ArcView software. Furthermore, there was one-on-one training on the software and specific applications through. MCES staff continues its ongoing training primarily though increased use of the software.


The initial development of the utility GIS was funded by MCES revenue. Upon reaching Phase 3 of the GIS project, MCES had taken steps to require new developments to pay for the update to the GIS as a minimal added fee. In addition, new assessments and or acquisitions are also required to pay minimal fees to use and update the GIS database. MCES staff has taken on more and more of the GIS special project requests as various staff members are learning many of the aspects involved with GIS maintenance and update. With these funding resources and operational improvements, the MCES GIS has become a virtually self-supportive program.

Results and Conclusion

GIS development for MCES has been a large undertaking. A majority of the initial phases of development have been associated with data entry and conversion. However, now a larger percent of time is spent with applications. The "payback period" of the GIS is now upon MCES. Since the implementation has been complete and the GIS needs only maintenance and updates, it has become a valuable and cost-saving resource.

The main result of GIS development is a user-friendly ArcView application which allows MCES to access and map data. Locations are visible on screen with database information available with a "point and click" system. Many scanned images of the system enhance the GIS and allow for higher accuracy to be obtained. Currently, there are over 3000 scanned images linked to the GIS, which encompasses all of the utility record drawings from 1960 to 2000 and all plant record drawings and CAD files.

MCES is performing more efficiently through the use of GIS. For example, when a customer calls in with a question or complaint, staff can punch up the customer’s address and zoom to the address on the screen in a matter of seconds. Information such as where the nearest main line is, its diameter, any recent breaks, etc., can all be brought up instantaneously. Thus, a staff member can evaluate the customer’s situation rapidly and serve the customer better. Customer service is just one way in which the GIS has become a valuable tool. It is also facilitating endeavors in operations, maintenance, planning, emergency response, and technical service.

As the use of GIS is becoming more widespread, the system is allowing MCES to communicate better with other County departments, external organizations, and the general public. Internet applications in the future will further enhance communication.

There is still a great deal of room for the GIS to grow in the future. Many of these plans revolve around data access via the Internet and County intranet, such as an Internet map server application. Of course, as the GIS is used more by MCES staff, other types of data will be requested to be integrated with the GIS. Once higher accuracy and standards are in place at a countywide level, more applications will become practical. The GIS is a growing entity within a growing utility - and that doesn’t appear to be changing in the near future.


Author information:
David S. Coleman
GIS Specialist
LBFH, Inc.
3550 SW Corporate Pkwy.
Palm City, FL 34990
William A. Orazi
Engineering Coordinator
Martin County Environmental Services
P.O. Box 9000
Stuart, FL 34995