Monthly Featured Story - July, 2011 | Texas Water Development Board

Texas Natural Resources Information System July 2011

The Texas Natural Resources Information System (TNRIS) is the state clearinghouse for geographic information and mapping resources. Since its establishment in 1972, TNRIS has served as a hub for data designed to serve as a common reference for state government and the public.  Staff manages one million historical aerial photographs, and in the last two years TNRIS has acquired 35,000 square miles of enhanced elevation data.  The maps and data are designed to meet or exceed national standards and promote efficient, coordinated operations across all government agencies.

TNRIS receives requests for data, maps and historical aerial photographs to serve a wide variety of needs and uses.  The data give Texans insight into their locations through historical aerial photographs and current floodplain locations.  Businesses come to TNRIS to obtain multiple layers of data to perform facility sighting, prospect for new business locations, and understand baseline environmental conditions.

Through the work of TNRIS staff, geographic information has become readily available through the Internet and mobile devices.  “We are living in a world that is in the midst of a geographic revolution, putting reliable, accurate and timely information directly in the hands of anyone with access to the Internet,” said Jim Scott, Director of TNRIS.  Each month, the TNRIS website averages 20,000 visitors.

TNRIS is divided into five divisions: Strategic Mapping, Floodplain Mapping, the Mapping Service Center, Information Services, and the Borderlands Information Center.

Strategic Mapping (StratMap) Program – Statewide coordination for maps and data
Since being established by the 75th Legislature, the program has combined $15 million of state funding and attracted $50 million in federal match to develop and maintain digital mapping data for use by the state and the public.  Its purpose is to coordinate statewide development and maintenance of strategic geographic information.  The maps include aerial photography, transportation, surface water, elevations with contours, soils and political boundaries.

The data sets provide a common standard for base mapping and the ability to share data across agencies that is consistent, accurate and up-to-date.  For the public, this provides a valuable resource to support economic development, establish baseline conditions, and plan for land use.  It also provides a foundation for infrastructure engineering and a standard reference for planning and responding to natural disasters and other emergencies.

Floodplain Mapping – Improving the quality and accuracy of flood maps
Recently established at TNRIS, the Floodplain Mapping group works to increase the quality and accuracy of floodplain maps used by communities to guide decisions for management and risk assessment.  This work is coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and strengthens Texas’ capacity for developing community guidelines with goals of identifying risk areas for flooding and better designation of areas requiring flood insurance.

Enhanced elevation data are created with the coordination of the StratMap program from aerial laser scanning sensors that are used to develop precise models of watersheds.  In addition, the group is building statewide databases for low water crossings and high water marks.  The high water marks are left in the aftermath of floods and indicate how high the water levels rose.  This is key to understanding the dynamics of a flood event and is invaluable to calibrating models to define risk of future floods.

Mapping Service Center – Helping people find the map they need
TNRIS’ map research and distribution group is responsible for maintaining an extensive library of historical maps and aerial photographs.  These photos date back to the 1920s and serve as an important resource for present day planning and assessments for potential changes to the land.

Information Services – Making data accessible
The information services group maintains the Internet resources of digital data that are widely accessed.  Texas has a long standing policy to provide geographic data in an accessible form to the public.  Making data freely accessible is a catalyst for wider understanding and use of resources and represents a no-barrier approach to giving information to people.

Future plans include offering direct access to public servers, allowing people needing data to directly access it without having to download anything to their local computer - basically a mapping channel that provides content to desktop computers from anywhere there is Internet access.

This group has also developed a publicly accessible mapping system called Geospatial Emergency Management Support System (GEMSS) which was developed with the financial support of the FEMA to establish a resource for responding to hurricanes and other disasters.  Its primary purpose is to combine maps from multiple agencies into a single Internet map system.

Borderlands Information Center – Coordinating maps and data on both sides of the Texas/Mexico border
The borderlands group coordinates mapping needs for an area 60 miles on either side of the Texas-Mexico border.  Working with the United States Geographical Survey and its partners in Mexico, the Borderlands group provides data and coordination support.

For more information on TNRIS, visit their website.