For more than 100 years, the Mexican and United States sections of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) have worked in tandem to carry out the provisions of the various boundary and water treaties that apply to the 1,954-mile border between the two nations. The treaties govern the land and natural resources within the jurisdictional zone along the international border. Because much of the border is determined by a shifting boundary—the Rio Grande River—the overall mission and responsibilities of the organization are unusually complex. USIBWC’s jurisdiction is vast, extending through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. The United States and Mexico strive for binational collaboration and agreement with the intent of improving the health and well-being of the more than 10 million inhabitants of the border area, despite the diverse cultural, political and socio-economic challenges of the region.

The USIBWC is authorized to issue licenses, leases and permits for projects that are conducted in proximity to or within its jurisdictional right-of-way to ensure there is no impact on existing levees or flood management structures. The USIBWC Boundary and Realty Division (BRD) has direct responsibility for managing the program from application submission to approval and issuance. Its primary objective is to develop binational solutions that streamline governance, preserve water quality and local ecology, promote effective water management strategies and assure the integrity of critical levee infrastructure assets.

In 2010, USIBWC was chosen as a recipient of funds by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) to develop an enterprise GIS-enabled solution that would create a centralized repository of critical data resources and improve existing operations and workflows across the organization. URS was awarded a $1.3 million dollar contract to manage and implement the two-year project, which encompassed three intensive phases of strategic planning, conceptual design and system implementation, and instructional training and technical support. 

The overarching goalwas to streamline the data management process. Historically, the internal USIBWC business process to submit, review and approve a proponent application for a license, lease or permit (LLP) was manual and paper-based, which slowed or impeded the overall process. In addition, USIBWC correspondence logs were used as the primary mechanism for BRD staff and other divisions conducting supplemental reviews to determine application status and pending responsibilities for applications routed through the internal review process.

During the project, URS designed and deployed a web-enabled LLP management solution that enables USIBWC to automate its approval process, improve data quality, operate with increased transparency and establish a scalable framework that can easily adapt to changing technologies. The solution consists of two workflow-centric portals, both integrated with a geoportal component. The publicly accessed Proponent Application Submittal Portal allows constituents to submit an electronic application for a standard LLP online, and the internal Tracking and Approval Portal allows USIBWC personnel to collaborate interactively throughout the eight-step review process and track the status of all applications dynamically routed through the system.

The integrated geoportal component within LLP management system empowers USIBWC personnel with direct real-time access to volumes of pertinent spatial and nonspatial data as they evaluate each proposed application, improving communication and collaboration between division personnel, program management and public stakeholders. The geoportal also provides access to custom data query and reporting tools that provide USIBWC personnel the ability to upload, review, edit and export data from one central, secure location. These processes and tools significantly improve data integrity, workflow efficiency and the security of sensitive cultural and ecological resource data. Furthermore, individual citizens now have the ability to directly and easily interact with USIBWC data resources, increasing organizational transparency and ultimately fostering effective communication with constituents throughout USIBWC’s jurisdiction.

Transparent and securedata access, standardized and auditable workflows and seamlessly integrated technology solutions were critical to building and sustaining a successful binational governance strategy for USIBWC. The importance of this type of system is amplified for an agency with USIBWC’s expansive jurisdiction, spanning international borders and languages, and operating in sometimes volatile and remote areas. Access and transparency facilitate collaboration, encourage understanding and build trust between agencies, departments and the public. URS integrated these core values into the design of the USIBWC enterprise solution by creating automated workflows and a data management system that engages all divisions and levels of the organization, from field technicians that inspect the levees, to division chiefs considering the applications from an engineering, environmental and operations perspective, to engineers and commissioners that approve and execute all LLP applications.

This interactive, all-inclusive approach defines a new way for managing engineering, land management and natural resources. It enables collaboration and engagement across nations and offers a legitimate example or model of best practices for other nations that share a border and manage common resources. The results of this project promote a positive public image of federal government engineering enterprise solutions to solve problems in a cost- and time-effective manner. The methods and tools developed and implemented could help to redefine how planners and engineers have traditionally approached land asset and critical infrastructure management responsibilities. 

Technology Resources

  • Esri ArcGIS Server 10.03
  • Esri ArcSDE 10.03
  • Oracle RDBMS 11g
  • Trimble YUMA XH GPS-enabled data collection units
  • Esri ArcPad 10.03
  • Flex 4.5
  • NET Framework 3.5
  • C#
  • JavaScript
  • Action script 3.5
  • Visual Studio 2010
  • Flash Builder 4.5
  • Python 2.6
  • REST web services
  • SOAP web services

The USIBWC enterprise data management system (built on Oracle 11g and Esri ArcSDE technology) eliminates former silos of information managed by each division of the organization and delivers enhanced decision support and interagency collaboration when evaluating various requests for land access and use that would impact these critical flood control assets and modify or impede the natural flow of the Rio Grande River. The relational database design integrates multiple schemas and was based on the primary data development priorities and requirements identified through individual and group interviews conducted during an initial needs assessment with USIBWC stakeholders. Given the vast geographic extent of the spatial data to be integrated into the enterprise geodatabase—from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean—as well as the need for a common spatial reference across the organization, a single geographic coordinate system was applied to the vector data component of the enterprise geodatabase. 

Thousands of records, documents and spatial data were inventoried, evaluated, digitized, refined, validated and integrated to create a centralized enterprise data management system to intuitively and securely organize critical information resources currently managed by multiple internal divisions of the organization. URS conducted months of field investigation and mapping efforts along the Texas-Mexico border to capture and validate levee infrastructure assets and document locations of endangered species habitats despite extreme heat and insecure border conditions. URS field technicians were able to coordinate successfully with local USIBWC field office personnel and national border security patrols to navigate these conditions and complete the required field investigations safely while developing useful and high quality data resources not previously mapped. Trimble Yuma XH GPS-enabled data collection units were used to support the field-based data validation component of the project and to verify the spatial accuracy of the levee infrastructure assets. Esri ArcPad software was used to design and build custom data collection forms to better assure the accuracy and consistency of the data validation effort during the scope of the project. Post implementation, the GIS-enabled framework of these field-based data collection tools are being extended to include advanced mobile solutions that support field-based levee inspection and maintenance activities and emergency response, recovery and risk mitigation planning exercises. 

During this project, URS worked with USIBWC stakeholders to map complex business processes and transform USIBWC’s paper-based LLP review and approval process to an electronic, automated, auditable tracking system that accomplishes eight independent stages of required review and approval in record time. Several stages of the review process require multiple simultaneously reviews and interaction. The system is able to keep a running log of all comments associated with each application as it is routed through the system and sends automated email notifications to USIBWC personnel of new assignments and pending action items. The LLP management system is a customized solution that improves interagency communication, collaboration, data quality and distribution by streamlining a complex application approval process to satisfy regulatory requirements of partner agencies that include the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state water management authorities and state historic planning organizations.

URS worked in concert with the USIBWC Information Management Division (IMD) to design and build a system architecture that achieved an array of functional and security requirements. Multiple design scenarios were conceived and tested with a final design configuration to enhance existing system security and reliability with additional flexibility and scalability to accommodate future growth of the organization. Data integrity solutions and standardized procedures were developed to ensure the accuracy, consistency and completeness of data distributed throughout and beyond the organization. This includes an enterprise backup and recovery plan that securely manages servers and work stations within the network topology.

The USIBWC public geoportal (built on Esri ArcGIS Server and Adobe Flex technology) enables the commission to share its data efficiently with external agencies.  End users from various agencies can visualize, interact with and extract USIBWC water quality and quantity data in designated formats through an internet browser. It also provides customized, automated data validation and reporting routines to support enhanced data development and management efforts associated with the daily workflows of the Clean Rivers Program, Water Accounting and Environmental Management divisions. 

In addition to thetechnologicalenhancements achieved, the project has resulted in many social and economic benefits for the millions of people in the border region and the local ecology that sustains this sensitive environment. The data resources and tools that were part of the solutions implemented during the project enable USIBWC to apply a holistic approach in managing critical flood control infrastructure through improved communication, automated processes and access to information. The streamlined access to data is significant in the evaluation of options and decision-making regarding general engineering, land use and resource management, resulting in savings of time, resources and money. The structure of this system aids USIBWC personnel in evaluating all perspectives of the equation when considering the potential impacts of proposed land use to the local community and ecology. 

For example, URS spent several months in the field mapping levee infrastructure, border security fences and sensitive ecological resources, including critical habitat and wildlife management areas. This effort led to the identification of endangered ocelot corridors not previously mapped. Knowing the location of these sensitive habitats will make it possible for USIBWC to monitor those species and make informed decisions regarding construction activities near those sites. 

All told, the enterprise solution arms USIBWC with enhanced tools to closely monitor and preserve the integrity of the levees along the Rio Grande River, making it easier for the commission to plan and execute flood control measures and mitigate the risk of flooding, which historically has caused major damage in the region.



The USIBWC project created a centralized, reliable baseline of data assets for improved access, query and reporting. Key features include:

• Two workflow-centric web-enabled applications are integrated with an interactive geoportal application to automate, streamline and improve the USIBWC permit management program.

• The geoportal application provides enhanced decision support to USIBWC personnel during their evaluation of license, lease and permit (LLP) applications and serves as the primary access point to critical spatial data, including levee infrastructure, environmental and land management resources. 

• A suite of data management tools built into the geoportal application provides users the ability to import, validate, edit and query millions of water quality and streamflow measurements managed by USIBWC and help to facilitate organizational and regulatory reporting requirements.