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Community Foundation supports GIS technology in City of Tama

July 16, 2013
By Allen Ricks , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

The basic concepts related to a geographic information system (GIS) date back to the mid-19th Century. In 1854 a cartographer in London plotted locations of cholera deaths in the city, and by noting the clustering of those deaths was able to identify the well that was the source of the cholera-infected water.

Today, GIS technology is being used in Tama to plot the precise location of essential city infrastructure systems. The difference is that now the work is being accomplished with satellite-based technology that is accurate to distances of approximately two inches. With the help of a new "Trimble GEO-XH" system, John Lloyd, Director of Public Works in Tama, is working to accurately map all of the infrastructure elements for the city.

The typical city resident rarely thinks about all the infrastructure that is hidden below ground. But, in reality, much that really makes a community function is buried beneath the cement and the sod of the city's streets and lawns. Water mains, natural gas lines, sewer pipes, electric power lines, television cable and fiber-optic systems all can be buried beneath the surface of the cityscape. And, given the passage of time and the added complexity of the various systems, it can sometimes be difficult to accurately pinpoint just where a water main lies beneath a street, where a particular utility shut-off may be located, or where a gas line enters a business or home.

Article Photos

John Lloyd, Tama Public Works director, shows Tama city map during a Tama County Community Foundation presentation. He is utilizing GIS?technology to map the city’s infrastructure. News-Herald/John Speer

Faced with this reality, Lloyd proposed the purchase of a GIS system to the Tama City Council, and, with the support of the Tama County Community Foundation (TCCF), an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa, the GEO-XH system was purchased in August, 2012. Approximately one-third of the cost of the system was provided by TCCF, with the balance coming from the city's Utility Reserves fund.

Lloyd recently explained the function of the GEO-XH system, which works on basic principles of geometric triangulation. Several years ago the State of Iowa invested in establishing a number of geographic "base points" across the state. These precise locations provide the constant point from which other locations are measured. In Tama County the base station is located at the Iowa DOT shop. A satellite serves as the second measurement point, and the location being tested offers the third. With the pinpoint precision of modern time measurement, locations can be identified and marked with amazing accuracy.

Lloyd shows a satellite map of an intersection in Tama where water mains, sanitary sewer, water hydrants, stop signs, and curb-stop shut-off valves are all located. Using other computer technology, this information is "layered" onto existing maps, so that city utility crews can know exactly where essential utilities are located even when these things might be buried beneath a layer of sod, four inches of asphalt, or under a mound of snow.

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Getting all of the utilities accurately mapped becomes even more critical for the state's communities with the recognition that over the next 5 years, approximately half of Iowa's public works operators will be eligible to retire. Knowledge that may have been posited from these workers' own experience will not be easily accessible. Getting information accurately recorded for the future is essential. As Lloyd notes, it is critical for "institutional memory" to get written down. And, in Tama, that is happening now.

GIS technology has been available for several years. Larger cities and other government entities are commonly using the systems. While it isn't surprising to see GIS systems being used in Marshalltown, Waterloo, or Cedar Rapids, there's a recognition that Tama is on the "cutting edge" for cities of its size.

TCCF is pleased to be able to partner with the City of Tama on a project that may not be highly visible, yet one that helps ensure the public good so effectively. In the same spirit of partnership, Lloyd expresses a willingness to work with other communities in the county to make the GIS technology available as needed and as possible.

TCCF is able to assist 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, schools, and governmental entities with grant funding to support important projects and needed programs in Tama County. The Foundation's primary goals are to support charitable projects and programs, to attract additional funds, and to assist donors in creating lasting legacies through a variety of giving options within Tama County. For more information about the TCCF, contact the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa at (319) 287-9106 or Rick Krug, Chair of the Tama County Community Foundation at (319) 478-2148.

Editor's note: Allen Ricks stepped down in June as the outreach coordinator for the Tama County Community?Foundation to enable him to assume added family responsibilities.



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