Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
With Autodesk software, the largest municipal utility in the United States evolved its GIS system into a powerful object-oriented database, and is completing projects faster and with more accuracy.
“Quite simply, we are able to do more work in the same amount of time. Now, we can focus on the next task, which enables us to look ahead and plan for the system’s next steps.”
—Greg Ammon, Water GIS Systems Manager, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
Established more than 100 years ago, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is the nation’s largest municipal utility. Today, it delivers reliable, safe water and electricity supplies to more than 4 million residents and businesses in greater Los Angeles. The department serves 716,000 water customers, and along with the electric power division, generates sufficient revenue to finance its own operations.
But by the 1980s, the system’s age and size were taking a toll on water service staff, and those of other municipal agencies—including fire, police, and gas service—who had to deal with huge paper maps to pinpoint locations of critical infrastructure.
Manager of the Water GIS group, Kien Hoang, and his team needed a better solution, one that could be adapted to and interoperable with the Oracle Spatial enterprise GIS storage platform used across water and power groups. The answer was an Autodesk suite of software solutions that is bringing Los Angeles’s vital water infrastructure into the digital age.
Using Autodesk geospatial software, LADWP is able to:
• Complete work faster, with fewer employees
• Reduce data errors
• Decrease time and money spent on staff training
• Share up-to-date GIS data with employees
• Accept and deliver city data in its native format
“We’ve faced the challenge of manually maintaining our infrastructure data since the mid-1980s,” explains Hoang. “Everything was maintained by hand,” which meant a growing strain on budgets for staff and training as the city grew to become more densely populated. Employees spent most of their days updating designs manually and distributing maps on demand.
In addition, says Hoang, because the maps were paper, “other groups would make copies of them—copies that would become outdated as we updated our maps. We had copies of maps across the organization that weren’t accurate.” This sometimes led to the fire department operating without the accurate locations of fire hydrants or the gas department working without the accurate locations of underground water lines.
For a complete view of the water system, LADWP needed maps that integrated the city’s entire land base data, including streets, center lines, easements, and more. The solution must manage a massive GIS database for both compatibility with other city systems and real-time sharing.
The department held 100 years of extremely detailed paper maps. These depicted more than 38 million feet of pipe, 716,000 water service connections, more than 200,000 gate valves, and a half-million pieces of additional data, including previous leak locations and legal descriptions. LADWP needed a way to save this valuable data but maintain it digitally to reduce potential data loss.
After the Northridge earthquake in 1994, Hoang’s group began evaluating potential GIS solutions, taking into consideration their engineering mapping needs, as well as the needs of other key user departments.
LADWP selected a four-square-mile pilot area that represented a sample for the entire city in terms of the complexity of the terrain and water system infrastructure. The pilot was successful, but used a retired AutoCAD-based tool. However, the results encouraged Hoang’s team. “We realized that building our GIS data in the AutoCAD environment would be key to our success with precision and engineering grade mapping,” Hoang adds.
“We decided on Autodesk, in part because we knew it required less time and financial resources to train people,” Hoang adds. “Our engineers and GIS professionals were already familiar with the AutoCAD environment.” The team turned to AutoCAD® Map 3D, a geospatially-aware version of AutoCAD, which helped the team to work with GIS data from other departments and applications. They also customized their protocol and workflow, developing their GIS system into a powerful object-oriented database. Now they control all data in one location, reducing multiple systems or datasets.
LADWP uses Autodesk MapGuide® to publish GIS data over the web for departments needing specific location-based information. For example, field crews now log onto the LADWP intranet to find the exact location of a water hydrant or manhole. And the team uses AutoCAD® Raster Design to manage their detailed paper maps. “While we are working to create digital versions of our older paper maps, we use Raster Design to edit and maintain scanned maps digitally,” Greg Ammon, the manager of Water GIS Systems, notes. “The software helps us maintain our existing maps and lets us easily find and use our raster assets.”
The final system offers GIS data creation and maintenance tools, enterprise GIS data storage, and online publishing for other municipal clients of LADWP’s GIS group. “We accept and deliver municipal data in its native ESRI format with no need for conversion,” Hoang notes. “Previously, data conversion often resulted in errors or lost information. The new technology eliminated that risk.”
“The new system helps us to significantly reduce time spent maintaining maps. We not only become more productive but also have more time to support the water system with increasing services. Because we automated many tasks, we complete projects faster and with more accuracy,” Ammon says. “Quite simply, we are able to do more work in the same amount of time. Now, we can focus on the next task, which enables us to look ahead and plan for the system’s next steps.”
The team describes how the new GIS system increases productivity and efficiency across the water department, saving time and money in maintenance and training.
The solution LADWP has built “offers two big advantages,” Hoang said. “First, we chose this path because our personnel were already familiar with AutoCAD, so this reduces the training time and learning curve. Also, because our maps are complex, these tools help us to complete work much more accurately and still maintain good layer separation on these custom maps.”