Esri enables critical interorganizational collaboration at Toronto Water

June 4, 2020

Water utilities do not operate in a vacuum. The assets they plan and manage exist within an ecosystem of infrastructure that facilitates essential functions including construction and manufacturing. To meet their mandates, it is crucial for water departments to not only know where their assets are and how they relate to each other but also how they relate to the infrastructure and operations of other departments and agencies, such as transportation and transit.

Toronto Water, a division of the City of Toronto, is one of the largest water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities in North America, servicing over 3 million residents and businesses with approximately 1,700 staff, in a highly regulated environment. It maintains and services assets worth approximately $28 billion, including:

  • 4 water and 4 wastewater treatment plants
  • approximately 6,000 km of watermains
  • 4,100 km of sanitary sewers
  • 5,000 km of storm sewers
  • 1,400 km of combined sewers

The Division puts strategic emphasis on customer service and is committed to excellent water delivery and reliability—in a city that seems to be constantly under construction. The two sections, Distribution & Collection and Water Infrastructure Management (WIM), are where GIS-use is concentrated for operation and planning purposes, respectively.

When other organizations run projects in the city, Toronto Water needs to know how their assets and customers will be affected. Metrolinx is a Crown agency that manages and integrates road and public transport in the cities of Toronto and Hamilton and their suburbs. In Toronto, the agency is currently building a light rail transit (LRT) corridor across the city: the Eglinton Crosstown. This is an extensive construction project that intersects with existing water infrastructure. Without proactive collaboration between the two organizations, water reliability along the construction route could be in jeopardy should crews inadvertently hit a main, for example. 

Challenge

Toronto Water has been using Esri solutions for 10 years. Historically, the Infrastructure Management group was responsible for its geographic information system (GIS). However, they did so from a planning perspective rather than an operational one. As such, Operations had to depend on Infrastructure Planning for their location intelligence. Conversely, the planning group did not have access to the most up to date information, resulting in less than optimal operational awareness as well as lag times required to digitize Records of Alterations (ROAs) and as-built drawings. 

For the Eglinton Crosstown project, Toronto Water understood the need to improve their ability to collaborate internally and with outside partners such as Metrolinx. Toronto Water assets are temporarily or permanently moved to accommodate construction activities for the LRT. However, the new locations need to be recorded, and communicated internally and externally to provide service continuity and prevent damages. These asset changes were not systematically catalogued and were often tracked in paper logbooks.

Solution

Significant projects and operations require accurate, detailed knowledge of asset locations and relationships. In short, organizations need location intelligence. They need GIS. Moreover, to realize a more complete and accurate view of their infrastructure and improve operational awareness, it is advantageous for organizations to collaborate internally between departments. Ideally, all stakeholders, from Planning to Operations to the field crews on the ground, will be able to both access and contribute to the organization’s GIS.

To improve operational awareness, efficiency and collaboration, Toronto Water has expanded its GIS practice from beyond Planning to the Operations group, which has been instrumental in coordinating with Metrolinx. More specifically, Operations is using the Esri Geometric Network and mobile apps such as Collector for ArcGIS to manage infrastructure related to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. Further, Distribution & Collection worked with Metrolinx and Toronto Water field staff to digitize and track changes to assets on dedicated map layers. These are then easily shared with all stakeholders through ArcGIS Online.

“The Geometric Network has given the operations department the ability to define relationships between assets and how different assets interact with each other as well as perform critical functions like upstream tracing, valve isolation and customer notification,” notes Arash Farajian, Policy, Planning and Project Consultant at Toronto Water. 

At the same time, mobile apps such as Collector give field crews the ability to contribute on-the-ground, near real-time data to the Division’s GIS. In turn, this provides Planning with more up to date information and Operations with more complete awareness of their assets. 

Results

The Geometric Network and field apps such as Collector have improved Toronto Water’s operational awareness and ability to coordinate with outside partners like Metrolinx. Operations now has a dedicated Metrolinx layer in their GIS, so they know where assets are and how they will be affected by construction. They can proactively redline assets that will be affected by construction and plan their operations in such a way as to minimize customer impact. Further, they routinely conduct test shuts in advance of construction to determine which customers will be impacted and notify such customers appropriately.

Toronto Water’s GIS-enabled operational awareness extends beyond groups dedicated to the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project. If a main break occurs after hours along the construction route, emergency crews do not need to rely on old, possibly inaccurate data. They can access TW’s GIS and its Metrolinx layer to accurately assess the situation and resolve the problem efficiently.

Field crews in general are now able to contribute to Toronto Water’s GIS. In contrast to when Operations had to rely on Planning for its GIS, crews now help improve the completeness of TW’s GIS data with daily updates on assets using apps like Collector. 

Toronto Water has effectively leveraged Esri solutions to improve its ability to collaborate internally and coordinate with outside partners and, in doing so, meet its strategic goal of providing excellent water delivery and reliability to customers.

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