Predicting water main breaks

​Every year mother nature takes its best shot at northern Illinois
bringing snow, ice and rain to every crack and crevice of our
infrastructure. During the cold weather months, changes in temperature
and moisture are continually creating a freeze and thaw cycle that
batters our roads producing potholes and other concerns beneath the

Considering that water mains reside below the surface of streets,
sidewalks and driveways they are subject to heavy stress during the
winter due to the freezing and thawing cycles that continually move the
earth’s surface. Since water mains are not flexible, the slight movement
of earth can cause tiny fractures and even eventual breaks. Once a
fracture is created it most likely prone to break at some point in the
future. Although this has been happening for years it is not until the
implementation of the Geographic Information System (GIS) Department at
the Village of Lincolnwood that research was done to attempt to
indentify and predict where these breaks would happen. Whether it is the
same pipe that continuously breaks every year or it is a water main
that has never been broken since its installation the idea of tracking
this information made GIS a viable option for analyzing this information
within the village. As breaks occur every month they can be mapped out
and stored within a GIS database for geographical location positions.
Once the data has a position on the earth it is much easier to identify
larger areas that contain a higher density of breaks or analyze why a
certain area may have no water main breaks at all. From there,
preventative measures such as replacing pipes or increasing the pipe
size can be looked into as a method to limit the cost of repairs future
water pipe repairs.

GIS creates an environment that can easily analyze geographic data
and help facilitate decision making. By keeping records of all water
main breaks in the GIS, the Village of Lincolnwood was able to locate
and analyze problem areas as well as plan better for the future.

Going Green: GIS is used to help Analyze the Efficiency of City Streetlights

​Recent improvements in the manufacturing practices of energy
efficient lighting solutions have made “going green” a more viable
option for local government. The City of Des Plaines has begun the
process of investigating these alternate lighting solutions for their
city-owned streetlights to become more environmentally friendly and to
provide a cost savings for the city.

The first step in the process of determining the viability of energy
efficient lighting is to compare the operating costs to that of the
city’s current lighting solutions. While the location of all the
city-owned streetlights was plotted in Geographic Information System
(GIS) before this project began, no additional data about each light was
available. It was determined that this missing information would need
to be populated before the Engineering and Public Works departments
could perform a cost savings analysis. To assist with this process, the
GIS Department divided the city into a grid and created a map for each
grid section showing the locations of city-owned streetlights. These
maps allowed the Public Works Department to systematically review the
city assets and document the necessary attribute information for each
light. The completed maps were then returned to the GIS department
where the attribute information gathered by the field crews was added to
the existing streetlight feature class.

For this project, the most important attribute gathered in the field
was the type of bulb being used in each light. Adding this information
to the data allowed the Engineering Department to gather not only a
general count of each light type, but also to see how they were
spatially distributed across the city. The ability to see this
distribution provided the Engineering Department with a resource to
locate areas where energy use was inefficient and where lights needed to
be updated.

Combining the information gathered in the field for city-owned lights
with existing information for ComEd lights within the city, the
Engineering Department was able to get a rough estimate on the number of
each light and its type. By comparing the current operating costs of
the existing lights against the costs of replacing each one with an
energy efficient alternative, the estimated cost savings for the city is
over $200,000 per year. This provided the department with a strong
argument to propose an update to more “green” lighting option.

Using GIS to assist in gathering information for this project allowed
the city to effectively calculate a significant potential cost savings
from implementing energy efficient streetlight solutions. In addition,
the city now has a comprehensive, spatial streetlight data layer that
can be used for future mapping needs and allows for a more efficient
review of the city’s current lighting assets.

Integration of FEMA flood data into community maps

Every year FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) provides
communities with updated maps and flood information to be used to help
determine insurance rates and resident location flood hazards. Included
in this delivery is Geographic Information System (GIS) specific
information that can be integrated into existing community maps. This
combination of information allows the user to recognize trends that may
not be noticeable when looking at separate sources.

In previous FEMA deliveries to the Village of Wheeling, flood maps
were provided showing the different flood zones and the floodway along
the Des Plaines River and the various creeks and streams that flowed
into it. When a resident called to find out if a property was within a
specific flood zone to determine if flood insurance needed to be
purchased, a village employee would have to compare the flood map with a
map displaying addresses and lot lines. By combining the flood map
with the address map with GIS, you get a map clearly showing where the
flood zones overlap lots lines with the respective address. This
process saves time and can provide a more accurate estimate of a
resident’s location to a flood zone.

The flood information provided by FEMA could also be combined with
other data accessible by the village’s GIS. Combining the flood data
with village Zoning and TIF district information can help a prospective
builder make a more informed decision on a building location.

Although all data provided by FEMA and the village of Wheeling
existed prior to GIS, it was never combined in such a way to provide
more accurate information and a map that is easier to use.

Spray location planning

​Through the years, technology has played an important role in the way
we conduct business by increasing productivity, saving time and in the
end saving money. Public Works has recently discussed an idea to
incorporate Geographic Information System (GIS) as a tool to aide
contractors who provide service to turf areas within the village. The
reasoning behind this project is evident; every year a Public Works
employee has to take approximately three days to show the contractor all
areas in town that are required to be sprayed. In order to alleviate
the task of driving through the Village to monitor these spraying
assignments a map was created to depict all designated locations to be
sprayed, thus eliminating the time necessary to escort the contractor
from spray site to spray site.

For this project the first order of business was to locate all spray
areas. Using aerial photography as a base and other GIS layers,
including sidewalks, roads, parking lots and buildings, the GIS was able
to create spray areas very accurately. From here, initial areas were
created by referencing addresses and further revised in subsequent
meetings with employees having institutional knowledge. After the area
boundaries had been finalized, each area was designated a classification
based on when it would be sprayed. This allowed for each
classification to be represented by a different symbol when the map was
produced, permitting the viewer to easily depict which areas need to be
sprayed at certain times.

The high accuracy of data created the opportunity to generate
estimates based on square footage for each area. With this data, the
ability to check the contractor’s estimate in depth is now available.
Having this product available to assist in the location of spray areas
alleviates the necessity to escort the contractor and depicts how GIS
was able to work with the Public Works Department to make a project more


Tree inventory

A recent addition to the Village of Riverside has been the Geographic
Information System (GIS) services. Although GIS is being used in the
village to inventory multiple data items the tree inventory has gained
popularity. A few years ago the village used Davey Consultants to
locate the trees in the village parks using GPS equipment. They also
identified trees existing in the parkways and associated that
information to the nearest address. This information was incorporated
into the GIS by downloading the GPS data which was already in a
geographic data format because of the original collection tools that
were utilized. The tabular data was then matched to an address in the
GIS system and from there it was incorporated into a geographic database
with location context.

Village Forester, Mike Collins, had also maintained records of new
tree plantings and removals since the initial data collection. These
records were considered as valuable information to be updated to the
inventory as well as many other attributes such as tree widths, trimming
schedules and overall tree condition. Moreover, the versatility of the
database was made so that it can be expanded at any time to capture
more related information that may assist in making more informative
decisions when needed. The GIS was recently leveraged to determine the
overall distribution of trees in the community with a specialized
interest in clusters of specific tree types, particularly the Ash and
Elm tree species that have potential to be affected by invasive diseases
such as the Emerald Ash Borer or Dutch Elm Disease. This kind of
geographic analysis allows for a much faster response to reports of
these invasive species and targets the efforts necessary to contain
their spread not only within the Village of Riverside, but from
traversing to other neighboring communities.

Specific interest was given to Ash trees within the community and a
series of maps were created to identify where these trees were located
in Riverside. Together the maps were then used to form an index of the
entire community where each page displayed information at a legible
extent. Thus communicating the scope of the analysis in a more
effective manner by combining the Ash tree data in both the parks and
parkways. Lastly, the Public Works Assistant Director, Nathan Thiel,
posted these maps on the village website making it available to all
village residents. Its format allows a resident to choose an area on a
village map and quickly analyze the distribution of Ash Trees in a
specific area. The link to this resource is available at under the Village Quick Links and is titled
“Public Ash Tree Inventory.”​

Utility map books to maintain community infrastructure

The Village of Glencoe relies on accurate utility information in
order to assist the community staff with their daily activities. For
example, the Engineering Department utilizes storm sewer information to
assess and resolve drainage issues as well as general pipe replacement.
The Public Works Department needs accurate utility information to
identify water main size, type and location to respond to water main
breaks. This information has been stored in multiple locations
including engineering plans, record drawings, as-built drawings,
departmental files, and in the minds of seasoned staff members. The
ultimate goal is to organize all this information in one centralized
location that can be easily accessed by village staff for aiding in
their daily workflows.

Using a Geographic Information System (GIS) is most certainly one of
the better options on the market today for achieving this goal. Storing
utility information from resources like as-built drawings, hand drawn
maps and other sources can easily be filed into three specific databases
based on whether it is a storm, sanitary, or water utility system.
These individual databases contain information on the type, size and
location of features including some basics as pipes and manholes for the
sewer system as well as hydrants and valves for the water system.
Also, over time the databases can evolve to not only store accurate
asset location information but also very important engineering
information including rims and inverts of various structures.
Furthermore, these databases are excellent information storing devices
that have the ability to link to external databases as long as a proper
structure identification system is maintained.

In order to easily maintain the utility databases, field note map
books are created. A field note map book is usually an atlas of pages
sized as 17 x 22 inches, where the full community is broken down into
multiple pages by a grid in order to present the map at a 1’=100’ scale.
By using a grid based on the Professional Land Survey township system,
the community can be subdivided into equalized quarter-sections
(northeast, southwest). Once the community is properly split up into
quarter-sections the grid number is placed on its respective field note
map book page.

Using the 1’ = 100’ scale, structures such as manholes and valves can
be easily distinguished and field crews can easily markup the pages for
edits that need to be made to the utility system by the GIS Department.
The notes section on the right of the field note map book page provide
an area where field crews and engineering staff can provide comments on
discrepancies between what is in the GIS and what is said to be true in
the field. Utility lines and structures are labeled with their location
as well as the length and other asset information. Also included on
each page is a site map of the village. This allows field crews and
engineering staff to quickly determine their location relative to the

Field note map books allow the village to collect field updates and
update the utility data within the GIS system. Once changes are
received, the data is input into the GIS system and new field note map
book pages are created. By using field note map books, community staff
can quickly see their updates added to the GIS and gain trust in the
utility data they are using.

Using GIS to realign utility infrastructure

The ways in which waste is removed from our home and how water makes
it into our glasses are often overlooked as processes that just happen
on their own. This is simply not true. In fact, these services provided
by the Village of Morton Grove are looked after very carefully and
thought of as serious village operations. Moreover, it is safe to say
that having an up-to-date inventory of where these utilities are
precisely located is a necessity as well; this is where GIS can help.

The Geographic Information System (GIS) Department routinely utilizes
its valuable resources to analyze the layout of its current utility
infrastructures. By using the aerial photography that the village paid
for in 2006, the GIS Specialist is able to review utility lines and
structures in their current location and compare them to where they are
located on the aerial photography. Since the utility infrastructure data
was originally created at a time when good aerial photography was hard
to come by, many of this data is not one hundred percent accurate.

Although going to the field to identify the locations of utility
lines and structures is a good method, the ability to quickly access
accurate aerial photography and use it in-house allows for a large
percentage of the data to be verified without leaving the desk. This
allows the village to save time and money for a good portion of the
review process.

It is important to note that using GIS not only can enhance the
integrity of the village’s utility data, but it is also key to recognize
that having this accurate data allows for trustworthy calculations.
For example, when the village conducts a water distribution study, they
rely on the most up-to-date data to submit to an outside consultant so
they can obtain the most accurate results. Moreover, when the Sewer
Department wants to inventory what supplies might be needed for an
upcoming project; they can easily look at the current utility
infrastructure in GIS to get some ideas. Without an accurate
foundation, most analyses cannot provide much value but by using
available assets, it is easy to see how GIS can improve the reliability
of utility data and make it a more trustworthy resource.

The aerial photography and utility infrastructure review process, in
conjunction with the help of GIS technology, helps to answer valuable
questions related to the services that the village provides. As times
go on, the village continues to successfully update their utility data
in order to better understand what they currently own and are in control
of, which helps the village to provide a service that on average is not
always recognized.

Village street map approval process

Each year the Village of Deerfield creates an official Street Guide
of the village. This product is developed and consumed by both village
staff and the general pubic. Each year the GIS Department and other
village departments go through a two month review and update cycle of
this product. During the 2009 review and update cycle it was determined
that the village would move this historically black and white product
into a color format. In addition to the color format it was also
decided that a black and white version of the map would still be
maintained for map reproduction using outside sources.

This annual project cycle can be broken down in four phases which
include: Phase 1: Review Phase Phase 2: Pre-Final Review Phase
Phase 3: Final Review Phase 4: Map production and reproduction

Phase 1: The review phase starts with the updating the previous years
map with all known changes collected throughout the year. Secondly, a
memorandum is delivered via e-mail or manually to all of proper village
recipients along a map for review purposes and checklist as what to look
for when conducting the review process. Community staff members that
are typically involved with the map update process include department
heads or managers, GIS Coordinators and GIS ​Consortium board members.
During this phase the village staff will review and provide comments to
the GIS office by a date that is outlined in the title of the

Phase 2: Pre-Final review phase begins after the GIS Department makes
the appropriate changes to the street guide map from the initial review
process and then redistributes new packets with an updated memorandum.
These packets are then sent out a second time to the same village
recipients with comments form previous responses. This is done so that
all village staff employees are able to confirm the changes that were
updated in the initial review. Any additional comments are again
provided to the GIS office by a date that was included in the second
delivered memorandum.

Phase 3: The final review phase is completed when all updates have
been completed and all comments from the village staff have been
addressed. The GIS Department then reviews the map product one final
time for overall map layout clarity and data content accuracy. At this
time, a PDF versions or printed maps are provided to the selected
village staff employees for one final review and authorization. If
there are no further comments at that time the map product becomes
official and moves into the final phase of production.

Phase 4: The map production and reproduction phase begins immediately
after approval is received in Phase 3. The first sets of maps are
printed in-house using the village plotter and distributed to the
village’s staff. After initial distribution, additional maps are
printed and delivered to the Community Development Department and
Village Hall staff for distribution to the public. The final
distribution cycle is then delivered to an outside vendor for product
reproduction and map folding. These maps are then made available to the
public through multiple outlets.

Overall the annual review process ensures the street guide product is
reviewed and updated to reflect the community at the time of
publication. The product involves multiple village departments and
staff members to ensure the end result meets the needs of those who will
eventually be using it. Moreover, community collaboration between the
village employees and the GIS Department help to make a successful end
product good for internal use as well as public distribution.

Comprehensive fire hydrant flow rate review

The Village of Winnetka Fire Department recently utilized the
Village’s Geographic Information System (GIS) to complete a
community-wide fire hydrant flow rate review. Accurate flow rate
information is critical to the department for knowing how much water
pressure is available from a hydrant at a given location in the village.

By assigning flow rate information to all the hydrants in GIS, this
information can be easily mapped and used for reference. While the
department flow rate inventory continues to be maintained using other
methods in addition to GIS, such as a hydrant inventory list, being able
to visualize the data spatially reduces the amount of time necessary to
retrieve this valuable hydrant attribute.

To assist in the initial stages of this inventory development
process, the GIS department provided a Village-wide map of fire hydrant
locations with each hydrant color coded by its existing flow rate
information. This preliminary flow rate data was inputted into the GIS
system several years ago from multiple sources, including as-builts and
CAD-drawings. Using this data as a base to work from, the Fire
Department began reviewing the flow rates using a variety of methods
including field checks, existing inventory lists and personal knowledge
of the fire hydrants from the department’s hydrant officer.

While the main focus of the review was to update the hydrant flow
rate information, the Fire Department also used this opportunity to mark
up the map with new hydrants that were missing from the village’s GIS
mapped water system. This information allowed the GIS department to
not only update the existing hydrants but also to improve the accuracy
of the water system as a whole. This system improvement not only
benefits the Fire Department but also the Public Works and Water and
Electric departments, which in turn reference the Village utility
information in their day to day business processes.

With the review complete, the Fire Department now has a quick
reference map for checking both the location and flow rate information
for each hydrant in the village. It also provides the department with
an easy-to-use, effective device for providing additional updates to the
GIS Department in the event of future changes to the system.

By combining the existing Village hydrant inventory resources with
the spatial components of GIS, the village now has a more robust flow
rate reference tool. Improving the capability of the department to
determine water pressure information for a given hydrant improves its
ability to assist the village residents when responding to a fire
emergency. Overall, it is easy to see how the GIS Department and Fire
Department were able to work side by side to improve the accuracy of the
water utility infrastructure that they had mapped in the GIS and what
the village staff accesses on a daily basis.