New system pinpoints public assets

A recently completed Vuthela project shows how municipalities can use readily available technology to improve service delivery.

An improvement of the digital data and processes that use geographic information systems (GIS) technology to spatially represent every component of the water and sewer infrastructure in parts of the iLembe District Municipality is set to improve the delivery of essential services to residents.

Previously, the iLembe District Municipality’s information about the location of its water pipelines, pumpstations, reservoirs and sanitation infrastructure was recorded in several data formats. Some details could only be found in print documents, which restricted access as municipal officials would have to inspect the documents physically to locate infrastructure that required maintenance.

This made the process of reporting on or locating components that needed repair or replacement a cumbersome and lengthy one.

A project undertaken by the Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme has now strengthened the location and mapping of components of the water and sanitation infrastructure onto the iLembe District Municipality’s corporate Geographic Information System (GIS) database and Fixed Asset Register (FAR).

Reduced turnaround times

This means that the precise location of infrastructure components will be immediately available on the iLembe District Municipality’s GIS. This will assist to reduce turnaround times for maintenance and enhance the levels of water and sanitation services in the district. It will furthermore improve reporting on the extent of infrastructure coverage to the political leadership and electorate.

The project focused on the KwaDukuza and Mandeni Local Municipalities and specifically included the urban areas of Groutville, Darnall, Padianager, Sundumbili, Mandeni town, Isithebe industrial and KwaDukuza town.

The complex infrastructure systems, dynamic local government environments and a range of service delivery challenges make it imperative that municipalities have direct, immediate access to accurate information that enable them to make informed decisions about budgets, expenditure and infrastructure management priorities and plans.

The Vuthela project made this possible by collecting and compiling spatial data that reflects the water and sewer infrastructure as a layer of information within the iLembe District Municipality’s existing information systems. The level of information allocated (or to be sourced in future) for each infrastructure component aligns to the requirements of the Department of Water and Sanitation as well as supporting that currently being implemented through the asset information system, EDAMS, that is currently being installed in the municipality through another Vuthela project.

Digital format

Focusing on the six geographic areas, the Vuthela project included an extensive desktop review and capturing of all the current information about the existing water and sewer systems into a digital format. This included extensive work on transforming and transferring data from hard copies, from officials’ inputs or from digital scanned imagery to the required GIS format.

It was essential to ensure that the captured information was accurate and complete through appropriate data verification and quality control processes, including hands-on workshops and custom-built web applications. It further involved a process of data cleaning to ensure a topological correct network of water and sewer infrastructure for future hydraulic modelling and zoning of supply areas.

The project further evaluated and reported on the alignment of the digital FAR and the GIS operated by the iLembe District Municipality, to illustrate the areas of convergence or the areas where gaps need to be addressed, to ensure a one-to-one linkage between the two asset systems.

Another output of the project was the production of detailed digital map books indicating the location of communities and the extent of infrastructure coverage with the latest satellite imagery in the background. This can assist GIS and technical officials to not only evaluate the areas for which GIS information exists, but also to identify gaps in the digital data based on local knowledge of the water supply and sanitation systems’ network coverage.

The list of items included in the water services FAR include springs, boreholes, abstraction works, dams, reservoirs, pump stations and water treatment works. Water delivery equipment includes canals, pipelines, break pressure tanks, bulk meters, and consumer connections. The FAR also indicates the locations of standpipes in communities that do not have access to piped water. Most of the point elements from the FAR could be represented on the GIS after some data cleansing.

Items located in the sewer services FAR include bulk sewer lines, manholes and monitoring points, pump stations, wastewater treatment works and wastewater discharge points. Once again, most of the point features could be represented in the GIS after some data cleansing.

The exercise allowed the iLembe District Municipality to identify and compare items of equipment and infrastructure that were listed in the FAR with those detailed in the GIS and to rectify anomalies.

Replication possible

The entire process of collecting, preparing, and managing the information was documented in detail, allowing it to be readily applied in other areas. This included the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that can be applied to replicate the project’s methodology elsewhere in the iLembe District Municipality.

The SOPs include technical guidance for the collection and management of data obtained in the field, a detailed breakdown of the structure of the data, the classifications used and data capture protocols. Policies to back up and share the data were also developed. These play a very important role in the project and asset management life cycle where the municipality implements construction projects. It is also critical that the as-built information is also provided to the municipality and to the GIS unit for capturing in the corporate GIS. In turn, once an asset has been capitalised, it will become part of the portfolio of assets managed and maintained by the municipality and as such, any activities that result in the replacement or change of an asset’s information, should also be recorded, and provided to the GIS unit to keep the corporate GIS up to date.

Challenges

Challenges encountered during the Vuthela project centred around the GIS infrastructure, missing and incorrect data, and data that was available in a wide variety of formats and had to be converted to a suitable format. In addition, there are areas for which there is no digital or hard copy information available, bar from the knowledge of long-serving officials. An option is to use modern technologies to survey such areas to capture the necessary information, but it requires specialised skills and needs to be planned and budgeted for.

A report on the project recommended that standardised data formats be used in the future and the SOPs developed for this project should be included in all tenders and used by departments within the iLembe District Municipality.

It was also recommended that the GIS unit be included in all future infrastructure projects’ management activities to ensure the correct and timeous handling of information – by and within the municipality and from consultants.

While the completion of the register of assets is expected to bring many benefits for the iLembe District Municipality, it also indicates the vast potential of applying digital technology to enhance service delivery in many other municipalities. The development and setting of SOPs are critical to assist inter-departmental and external data handling and management. The Vuthela project assisted the iLembe District Municipality greatly in this regard and the same SOPs can easily be applied or adapted for use by other municipalities.