JOS BELL retired GIS Manager of
Central Arkansas Water and
Pulaski Area Geographic Information System (PAgis)



The Challenge of Merging Water Companies Combining Data and Converting to an Enterprise ArcGIS/ ArcSDE System

Chapter-16 by Jos Bell and Ronald R Butcher - Management Innovation in U.S. Public Water & Wastewater Systems

Little Rock Municipal Water Works (LRMWW) and North Little Rock Water Department (NLRWD) located in Central Arkansas merged in 2001 to form Central Arkansas Water (CAW).

Prior to July 2001, the date of the merge, Little Rock Municipal Water Works (LRMWW) and North Little Rock Water Department were mannaged as two separate entities. Both entities had similar process and proocedures for managing their assets but very different ways of managing their data. The text that follows identifies the steps and processes that were necessary to merge both the business processes and data processes into one centralized enterprise system.

Before July 2001, Little Rock Municipal Water Works, with 1,430 miles of mains, 8,250-plus hydrants, and over 18,350 valves, had several years of geographic information system (GIS) experience and its data was in an ESRI Arc 7.x environment. A team of individuals worked daily on mainntaining the datasets within the GIS. Initially, valves and hydrants were digitized from large, paper roll maps to get them into the GIS system. To improve the accuracy of the digitized data, special crews went through the LRMWW service area using GPS (Global Positioning System) to locate valves and hydrants, and using GIS Editor/technicians to adjust mains, valves, and hydrants to a better relative accuracy within the servvice area. For production of map books and for easier maintenance and viewing, LRMWW had its own unique grid system for valve and hydrant map book production. LRMWW also had a series of scripts for mainteenance of the data that had evolved over the last couple of years.

North Little Rock Water Department, with 750 miles of mains, 3,3500plus hydrants, and 7,870-plus valves, had no GIS system and no mainntained digital record database. This system consisted of hard-copy paper atlas sheets and paper intersection details sheets maintained by pen and ink. They also had a set of Auto CAD atlas files that were not maintained. Main, valves, and hydrants were visually placed in the AutoCAD system from the paper maps source by a mapping consultant some years before. North Little Rock Water Department also had its own unique grid sysstem for its map books.

LRMWW sold water to North Little Rock at bulk rates. Disagreement over rate change led to several political decisions and extensive evaluaation by academic, professional consultants, and public committees. The unanimous recommendation was that for the good of the citizens and the future of the central Arkansas area, the two utilities should be merged.

The creation of Central Arkansas Water (CAW) would be a big challlenge. The two systems were quite different in many respects. Following were the changes from a GIS point of view:

  • How to define and combine graphically the water distribution systems
  • How to combine different data systems within a mapping inforrmation system and a customer information system environment
  • How to centrally coordinate maintenance management within the newly merged utility

Time was of the essence, and several potential decisions had to be made. The differences in technological disparity led to a potential considderation of managing two separate systems. After further analysis, keepping Little Rock Municipal Water Works in the Arc 7.x environment and converting North Little Rock Water to Arc 7.x environment was not a good option in light of the direction and advancement of GIS technology. The final decision was to convert North Little Rock Water Department and Little Rock Municipal Water Works to an ArcGIS/ArcSDE geodataabase environment using a Microsoft SQL Server relational database management system (RDBMS).

A whirlwind of activity occurred after the signing of the merger to create CAW. To operate as a single utility, it was essential that the combined utility systems appeared as a single entity in every respect. The ability to display and visualize the entire new service area as one map on computters throughout the organization was critical. The timetable given to move the GIS system to an ArcGIS/ArcSDE geodatabase environment was short, as the GIS converted data was needed to contribute to the success of the merger.