Water & Wastewater

East Bay Municipal Utility District

Autodesk software helps this agency keep the water flowing to 1.3 million people in the San Francisco Bay area.


“MapGuide fit our needs with a more intuitive interface and the stability we needed. The software seamlessly integrates numerous data sources, allowing the mapping group and other departments to continue working in their own native file formats.”

—Andy Datlen, EBMUD Enterprise Information Manager

The Challenge

When you’re a water utility company tasked with providing an uninterrupted, fluid water supply to your customers, the last thing you need is a “flow” problem, particularly if you’re the seventh largest water supply company in the U.S. and you serve 1.3 million people. But a “flow” problem is precisely what the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) has had. 

Although the source of the problem hasn’t been a disruption in the water supply —a leaky pipeline or drop in pressure— it has still impacted the agency’s ability to meet its service mandate. Instead, EBMUD’s flow problem for the past 15 years stemmed from its inability to maintain and to share easily accurate, mission-critical data. And unlike a main break or faulty valve, a data-flow problem is often more difficult to fix.

Creating a data pipeline has been the challenge for Andy Datlen, EBMUD’s enterprise information manager. He was surprised by the lack of information systems and technology when he joined the agency in 1987— drafters in the mapping group of the engineering department were still drawing water-distribution maps by hand. And these maps— all 1,300— were maintained in over 200 sets of 300-page books.

“The water-distribution maps, which detail all of our assets, pipelines, valves, hydrants are our primary dataset and they were all on paper,” says Datlen. “And in many cases, there we no maps at all because of rapid new subdivision development. Despite the bulkiness of the map books, and the onerous task of keeping them up-to-date, they maintained 200 sets around the district. With 2,000 employees though, that meant only one person in 10 had a set of maps, which made data sharing difficult. Plus, updating all 200 sets regularly was equally challenging.”

It was Datlen’s objective to provide an alternative. With the resolve of a plastic surgeon, Datlen has been steadily nipping and tucking and removing excess paper from EBMUD —paper maps, paper work orders, reference documents, etc. —and replacing them with digital geographic information system (GIS) solutions. The GIS provides an automated environment to easily update and to maintain accurate map and design information. And using Autodesk MapGuide, a Web-based mapping software application, Datlen has Web-enabled the GIS, establishing a direct and stable pipeline to EBMUD’s maps and map-related information from any desktop computer with a browser.

Seventeen years later, Datlen has not only rid EBMUD of much of its data-flow problem, he has helped create one of the most unique and successfully-integrated information systems in the utility industry. Today the GIS provides EBMUD personnel with a seamless view of its entire service area, allowing them to better assemble and schedule work assignments, respond to water quality complaints, manage daily field crew operations, monitor the pipeline network, perform quality inspections and correct discrepancies in the customer billing system. It is also creating a fluid line of access to business information between engineering, operations and finance departments.

Shedding a Paper Legacy

With an 80-year heritage as a water utility, EBMUD’s service portfolio has expanded from water supply to wastewater treatment and its customer base has expanded to more than 1 million people. Today it manages a water supply system that covers a 325- square-mile area within the San Francisco Bay Area, including the major cities of Oakland and Berkeley. EBMUD also supplies water and provides wastewater treatment for parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties on the eastern side of the bay. The wastewater system serves about 640,000 people in an 83-square-mile area of Alameda and Contra Costa counties along the bay’s east shore, extending from Richmond in the north to San Leandro in the south. 

EBMUD’s expansion and diversification has seen a continual accumulation and progression of paper maps and schematics, alphanumeric lists, maintenance records, construction plans, network designs and records of new service connections. These documents have served to record and monitor the daily operations of EBMUD. Most of that paper comprised 1,300 water distribution maps, each covering a 3,000- by 2,000-foot rectangle. Although the maps held a significant level of detail about the water infrastructure, their practicality in the business world was hampered by their sheer bulk, says Datlen.

“Not only was it difficult to access the maps because of the limited supply of books, they were also anywhere from 10 to 20 years out of date,” he explains. “But even though managing such a staple part of our business with paper maps was very challenging, trying to convince the powers that be that an accurate and up-to-date GIS would be of great benefit to the district was even more difficult.”

The Watertight Solution

In fact, Datlen had to wait until 1996, when the mapping group began an aggressive effort to update the maps and begin a full transition to GIS. Prior to 1996 Datlen had been laying the groundwork for GIS, purchasing Oracle relational databases and ESRI ArcInfo and ArcView products for GIS mapping and maintenance. In 1997 the back office GIS was operational and ESRI’s ArcView IMS was implemented to establish an intranet link to the GIS. However, that experience was short-lived because the software was unstable and didn’t provide an easy or intuitive interface, limiting its use to only about 25 employees, says Datlen.

The intranet data pipeline was reestablished in late 1999 when EBMUD acquired MapGuide from Autodesk, based in San Rafael, Calif., a product that allows users to create, publish, view and distribute maps and map-related content over an intranet or Internet. “MapGuide fit our needs,” says Datlen, “with a more intuitive interface and the meant only one person in 10 had a set of maps, which made data sharing difficult. Plus, updating all 200 sets regularly was equally challenging.” It was Datlen’s objective to provide an alternative. With the resolve of a plastic surgeon, Datlen has been steadily nipping and tucking and removing excess paper from EBMUD —paper maps, paper work orders, reference documents, etc. —and replacing them with digital geographic information system (GIS) solutions. The GIS provides an automated environment to easily update and to maintain accurate map and design information. And using Autodesk MapGuide, a Web-based mapping software application, Datlen has Web-enabled the GIS, establishing a direct and stable pipeline to EBMUD’s maps and map-related information from any desktop computer with a browser. Seventeen years later, Datlen has not only rid EBMUD of much of its data-flow problem, he has helped create one of the most unique and successfully-integrated information systems in the utility industry. Today the GIS provides EBMUD personnel with a seamless view of its entire service area, allowing them to better assemble and schedule work assignments, respond to water quality stability we needed. The software seamlessly integrates numerous data sources, allowing the mapping group and other departments to continue working in their own native file formats.”

By early 2000 Datlen’s GIS group had developed EBMUD’s first intranet GIS application. To date, eight additional applications are fully operational, including meter repair and paving order systems, pipeline replacement and pressure zones, and more than 150 employees use the online GIS for their daily business activities.

Piping Out Data

The debut intranet application was the service area GIS application, developed to serve as a less cumbersome and more convenient alternative to the map books. It offers a complete window to the company’s entire water infrastructure and its surrounding environment, and brings a visual element to EBMUD’s tabular lists of attributes. Within the service area GIS application, users can view any pipe, tap, valve, hydrant or customer account, as well as access a host of other data layers such as major facilities, street networks, cultural sites like hospitals and schools, contours and hazardous soils. The GIS also provides watershed information specific to the reservoirs, including campgrounds with detail down to the campsite and fire pit level.

In addition, GIS data can be searched by city, street, map number, street intersection, meter number, service number, tap number, hydrant number, pressure zone or x,y coordinates. By selecting any feature on a map, personnel receive all of the attribute information relative to that feature from the Oracle database via a ColdFusion query and report.

“The ability to show data visually on a map is a far more powerful way of viewing information than with columns, reports and tables,” says Datlen. “By showing spatial relationships with our data we can streamline our business processes and increase efficiency.”

For example, the online system has greatly enhanced the daily task of scheduling meter repairs and paving orders and has substantially reduced backlogs of unfinished repairs. Prior to automation, supervisors had to scan a paper list of locations for all the open repair orders and guess which orders should be assembled into an efficient route. This process was so laborious and inefficient that EBMUD was losing substantial revenue from unfixed meter failures and city mayors were calling EBMUD’s general manager to complain about all the holes in the street left by its crews.

“And before we had computer systems, we had no idea where the holes were or even whether they were ours,” adds Datlen.

“Using GIS and having a meter repair and paving management system has enabled us to reduce the backlog of meter and paving repair orders to nearly zero. Meter problems show up as special symbols on a map so staff can fix those first, enabling us to prevent revenue loss and to monitor the digging operations proactively to help eliminate selecting any feature on a map,

With Autodesk MapGuide’s Web-browser mapping interface, supervisors can now see all open orders—color coded by age—and where each outstanding order is located. By viewing the addresses geographically, they can more effectively group orders together. As the application displays a detailed street network, they can also plot more efficient routes for the field crews based on driving obstacles such as one-way streets. In addition, users can view the number of open, scheduled and unscheduled orders on a bar chart for quick comparison. 

Data Flows from the Field

Once in the field, meter repair crews and paving crews record their activities for inclusion in the GIS. Meter crews log their repair information on paper and key it in when they return to the office. Paving personnel use a wireless application that allows them to record every street repair made directly into the database, automatically updating the GIS on the fly. Datlen says similar functionality is being developed for meter repair staff. 

Personnel can also monitor and run analyses on EBMUD’s most important asset —its pipeline network —through the Web-based pipeline replacement program. EBMUD replaces about 15 miles of pipe yearly, which is a very expensive process because of the labor-intensive work of trenching and installing pipe in the street. This application records information about main breaks automatically into the GIS to build a historical reference for any pipeline. With such an archive, coupled with the ability to study any pipe by type, diameter, material or age, staff can quickly identify candidates for pipeline replacement, choose the best candidates for replacement and schedule work orders accordingly.

Datlen’s group is developing further functionality to better plan for shutting down the water system in case of emergencies.

The MapGuide system links the GIS data with the customer billing system as well through a pressure zone analysis application. Based on polygons that delineate water pressure zones, the application automatically identifies any customer account that is coded to the wrong pressure zone. For example, customers housed at higher elevations should pay a surcharge for pumping. This application will pinpoint discrepancies in account codes and allow staff to correct customer-billing rates.

Floods of Functionality

The GIS applications are indeed flowing freely for EBMUD as Datlen’s group continues to provide the tools to improve business activities. 

How many new applications will be developed remains to be seen, but one fact is clear. Just as EBMUD relies on the stable flow of its water network to serve its customers, the MapGuide-based intranet GIS enables EBMUD to rely on the stable flow of accurate and timely data to support increasing demands and changes in business directions. And that is a welcome flow to EBMUD.