- SPECIAL REPORTS
- THE MAGAZINE
Many government employees toil in relative obscurity because the public can’t see and appreciate the work they do. But the work of a big city utility agency is in front of you every day—as clear as a glass of water.
Turn on a faucet in Cincinnati, Ohio, and you’ll get some of the cleanest drinking water in the nation, at a reasonable monthly rate. Those results are the product of hard work by the city’s water utility, Cincinnati Water Works, and several years of investments in technology, expansion and quality control.
The city built a carbon filtration system that has been hailed by environmental advocates and regulators as the finest in the country because it yields high-quality water while using much less chlorine than most purifiers. And because its plants can pump a massive 260 million gallons a day, Cincinnati Water Works has been able to broaden its reach, running pipes through several counties and even tunneling under the Ohio River to Kentucky’s Boone County. The new business has helped to keep water bills down for the agency’s 900,000 customers.
Part of the Water Works solution included a sweeping $30 million software upgrade begun in 1993, in which the utility equipped its engineers with computer-aided design (CAD) stations. That move alone doubled the engineers’ productivity; prior to the upgrade they had been designing on traditional, cumbersome mylar sheets. Today their software includes Autodesk’s AutoCAD 2000i, Land Development Desktop 2i, Civil Design, Survey and CAD Overlay (Autodesk Inc., San Rafael, Calif.).
Having better tools certainly helped, especially since the utility’s expansion into nearby jurisdictions has meant a brisk pace for its teams of surveyors, designers and inspectors. Cincinnati’s distribution system includes about 2,800 miles of water main, and Water Works plans to replace one percent of those pipes every year.
The Need to StreamlineChallenges for the Water Works agency included maintaining accurate maps, collaborating with other jurisdictions as it expanded into new regions and supporting a mobile workforce.
To maintain the most accurate pipeline maps, Water Works had a constant need to check its records against what was actually in the ground, especially when crews had worked in the area, or when they ran across places that simply weren’t in the system.
“We have a number of townships that served as their own small governments within the city, with their own design standards,” says William Martin, a programmer analyst in Water Works’ engineering division. “Some of those maps are a hundred years old, archived on vellum sheets. To bring those records into our database, we send surveyors out to make the measurements.”
When surveyors went to a jobsite, they had to bring map data from a citywide consortium, the Cincinnati Area Geographic Information System (CAGIS), which maintains a shared repository of GIS maps. Those records were in a different mapping format, ESRI’s ArcView Shape files. The surveyors then measured distances as “points”—the position of a gas line that must be crossed, for example, or a manhole cover—and brought those figures back to the agency’s own designers who adjusted their maps or made new ones. This posed a challenge for Water Works: it either had to adopt an ESRI designing system or find another one that was flexible enough to handle ESRI and other file types.
Another priority was collaboration. As Water Works expanded into other counties—even other states—its engineers increasingly worked with counterparts in neighboring jurisdictions. And for large downtown projects, the agency often worked with private consultants. For those reasons, the utility sought out software that would enable its staff to share map data with contractors.
Finally, the utility needed a product mobile enough to allow access to maps on hand-held devices, so that when its inspectors responded to a water main break or other trouble spot, they could make quick measurements without lugging paper maps around.
Better Tools Today and TomorrowTo meet its main challenges, the utility chose to standardize its designers and planners with an Autodesk solution.
“It wasn’t a hard decision,” Martin says. “Even though the consortium’s GIS maps are in ESRI format, Autodesk easily converts files from that format and others, and the software is so straightforward that our designers mastered it quickly.”
The software was also well-suited to the agency’s Windows NT servers. “We are a Windows office,” Martin says. “The Autodesk interface is very graphic, very Windows-friendly, with menus that are easy to configure.”
Martin says his designers used to spend considerable time double-checking survey data, but no longer. “The surveyors themselves composed field drawings, and if they didn’t make sense to the designer, he or she had to go out again and make his or her own measurements,” he explains. “But with LDD, the numbers come straight out of the surveyors’ EDM device or a GPS station. LDD allows you to interpolate the survey data better—to be a more accurate designer.”
“When I think of how our systems are now compared to when I started here, with all the paper we were shuffling, the archaic, command-driven software, it’s really apples and oranges,” Martin says. “Actually, it’s apples and pineapples.”
The Internet-enabled features of AutoCAD 2000i helped Martin to set up a website for a team of engineers and consultants who were drilling under the Ohio River. For this large project, in which Water Works supplied water to the city of Florence and Boone County, Ken., Martin designed a site with maps, news articles, cost analyses and a private chat room.1 Martin also is considering starting a Web-based intranet for the agency that would allow quick access to maps. “For that and some other things, we’re looking at MapGuide,” he says. MapGuide is an Autodesk product that delivers map and design data through a Web-based interface.
Water Works also can extend its maps beyond the desktop to hand-held devices with Autodesk’s Volo View, which allows users to view and mark up map files without AutoCAD software.
“If an inspector goes out to a pipe installation, he or she can get a quick vector or raster image of the drawing on his hand-held with Volo View,” Martin says. And he expects the inspectors soon will start using the next generation of Autodesk’s mobile tools, Autodesk OnSite, to mark up the map on a layer, bring it back to the office, and sync up the hand-held with a designer or a planner.
“And at some point I’d like for us to have a real-time connection between the inspector in the field and our office so he can transfer that data from his hand-held to us instantly via a Web server,” Martin says. “The technology is there.”