Mapping the Water Distribution Infrastructure _ Balboa Park Water Wise Collaborative – Friends of Balboa Park
How do City staff find water distribution equipment in the Park
to maintain, repair, and improve it?
Controlling water distribution in and out of the Park requires accurate maps of the water distribution system
and related infrastructure. This requires a mapping system that is sophisticated enough to provide
information on (1) the location of water lines, their shutoff valves and backflows; (2) irrigation lines; and (3)
sprinkler heads. Historically, the maps used by the City had two major deficiencies: They were only
available in printed hard copy and some maps lacked the detail, accuracy, and precision necessary to
efficiently and quickly identify water infrastructure in the Park. This situation created a major challenge to
City staff that have to maintain the water infrastructure and troubleshoot problems in a timely manner.
Because of old infrastructure and deferred maintenance (even some cast iron and concrete asbestos
water mains), frequent maintenance and repair is required. In the case of water leaks for example, staff
obtain hard copies of maps, carry them to the site, and best guess the location of the leak’s source and
nearest shutoff valve(s). At worst they have to “pothole”, meaning digging several holes to locate the
source and nearest shutoff valve. This wastes water, labor hours, creates excess hardscape and
landscape damage. This has resulted in large areas of the Park having no water for extended periods
during peak times. Map resolution was also a problem, with many irrigation lines and sprinkler heads
having poorer map quality. This makes it challenging for City staff to maintain and repair the irrigation
system without adequate information — until now.
When faced with the challenge of creating significantly better maps of water infrastructure, the Water Wise
Collaborative rose to the occasion! The solution was to implement a 21st century mapping approach with
Water Wise Collaborative
Mapping the Water Distribution Infrastructure
(1) Digital maps available to the staff that have correct and complete information. These are produced
using GIS technology coupled with Google Earth. San Diego State University supported the development of
these digital maps by digitizing information from the hard copy maps and working with City staff to “ground
truth” the data in the field. Where information was missing, wrong, or incomplete, it was corrected.
(2) SDSU developed a userfriendly tool for City staff to use these maps, with the capability of accessing
this information at City offices, or on smart phones and tablets in the field.
In the Central Mesa the team created accurate digital maps of the water mains along with their
valves and backflows.
In Bird Park, the team created accurate digital maps of the water mains along with their valves and
backflows. They also developed higher resolution maps of the irrigation lines and sprinkler heads.
The team created a free, userfriendly tool for City staff to use the maps. It can be used on a
desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. By clicking on any feature in the map, a drop down list
appears listing all the characteristics of that feature the staff needs to know.
One particularly important feature added to this tool is for troubleshooting leaks or waterline breaks.
By clicking on the leak location in the main, the tool immediately identifies the nearest shutoff valve.
The team created an education program to train authorized staff how to use the new maps and
mapping technology. Click here for more information on this education program.
Only a small portion of the water infrastructure mapping has been accomplished to date, but this project
developed the method and technology to accomplish it for the entire Park. Future plans include producing
these maps for the entire Park, from the big 32” mainlines down to the individual sprinkler heads. Other
layers of information will also need to be added, such as mapping of storm and sewer drains, topography,
and soil types. Regulations are changing, and substantial efforts are underway to reduce runoff and
encourage water reclamation, both of which require better information about the infrastructure in Balboa
Another exciting opportunity to use 21st century technology is placing flow sensors on water pipes. These
devices can alert staff that a leak is beginning, before a major fault in the system occurs. As the saying
goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Repairing pipes before they break has many
obvious benefits, particularly for this aged and aging water infrastructure.
Professor Matt Rahn (San Diego State University), Robert Thiele (San Diego Green Building Council),
SDSU students Anna Tran, Christine Day, John Moran, and Anastasiya Irkhin
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