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You are here: Home / Publications / Periodicals / Natural Outlook / Winter 2010 / Mapping the Environment

Mapping the Environment

Geographic information systems at the TCEQ.

Whenever a water well is drilled in the state, a detailed report must be completed and the resulting paper files maintained by the TCEQ.

The agency currently houses these water-well driller reports dating back to the 1930s—which over the years has added up to around 800,000 records, more or less.

A geographic information system (GIS) captures, stores, analyzes, and presents data that is linked to a geographic location.

Until recently, if you wanted to review the water-well driller reports, you had to go to the TCEQ and check out the paper files from the central file room. And you had to check the files back in by the end of the day. If you weren’t finished reviewing the files, you had to go back another day. This might not have been a problem for someone from Austin, but it sure could be inconvenient for someone from El Paso.

Today, however, scanned copies of all water-well driller reports are available online to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.

“The most historically sought-after data that we have at the agency is now available online,” says Leon Byrd, senior geologist with the Groundwater Planning Assessment Team in the Water Supply Division. “If someone in Spokane, Washington, wants to know what the groundwater situation is like in Dalhart, Texas, they can now access the information at their convenience.”

And, thanks to geographic information system technology and the online Water Well Report Viewer, that person in Spokane can click on any location in Texas—or they can type in a Texas address—to pull up reports for nearby wells.

Geographic Information Systems

A geographic information system (GIS) captures, stores, analyzes, and presents data that is linked to a geographic location. This data is stored as a collection of layers that can be linked together by a common locational component such as latitude and longitude, a postal ZIP code, census tract name, or road name. Data about a particular location on the earth’s surface can be visualized in ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends.

“Think of it as basically maps in computers,” says Michael Meed, Ph.D., leader of the Information Systems Development Team in the Information Resources Division of the TCEQ. “It’s a tool for managing, representing, and presenting spatial data, or where things are on the face of, and even beneath the surface of, the earth.”

GIS at the TCEQ

“Everything we regulate and monitor at the TCEQ has a spatial component,” adds Meed. “Point sources for air and water pollution originate from identifiable locations. And for nonpoint sources, the monitors we use to detect the presence of those contaminants also have a spatial component.”

“GIS allows agency staff or the public to see what is going on environmentally or administratively at a particular location on a map,” says Joseph Rincon, leader of the team that develops GIS applications at the agency.

For example, one application helps the agency run models to determine a contamination susceptibility rating for public water systems. Another allows the public to see the areas of the state that are subject to regulation by the TCEQ under the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program. An application is currently being developed that will provide air quality monitoring asset information for the entire state.

The public may now locate water and sewer utility service providers in Texas by entering the street address or intersection into the Water Utilities Map Viewer.

Tracy Harbour, who is the manager of the Water Utilities Map Viewer project in the Water Supply Division, says, “the viewer enables a large variety of customers—such as developers, realtors, engineers, lawyers, consultants, potential new home owners, and utility providers—to view and download GIS data and print water and sewer service area maps.”

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