Monthly Featured Story - September 2015 | Texas Water Development Board

TNRIS: When data makes a difference September 2015

This past Memorial Day, on a pasture slowly being engulfed by floodwaters, about 400 cows grazed close together, the dry land around them disappearing. There seemed to be no obvious route to higher ground. Fortunately for the cows, Texans have access to detailed elevation information from the Texas Natural Resources Information System, or TNRIS (pronounced ten-ris). Using its area elevation information, TNRIS helped plot the route for a good, and safe, old-fashioned cattle drive.

After learning of the cows' emergency situation, the TNRIS staff used a Geographic Information System (GIS) to analyze the surrounding terrain. With time of the essence, TNRIS created maps and a route using the GIS data, and immediately emailed the information to the Department of Public Safety, who in turn informed the rancher in charge of the cows.

TNRIS provides the most advanced level of geographic data available to the people of Texas. Established by the legislature in 1968, it serves the general public, state agencies, academia, and the private sector as a centralized information center for natural resource, census, emergency management, and socioeconomic data.

TNRIS also archives, maintains, and distributes current and historic photos and maps dating back to the 1800s. With a simple request, Texans can visualize their state, county, city, or favorite landmark as it is now or was generations ago.

While this collection of photos and maps (the largest in Texas) illustrates Texas' past and present, it also provides critical information to us when we need it most. During the wildfires of 2011, TNRIS used orthoimagery, which is a super-accurate form of high resolution aerial photography, to locate ponds for firefighters to pull water from. As Central Texans remember, it was an emergency situation, and having this mapping technology available helped our firefighters save lives and quell further destruction.

While numerous photos and maps can be viewed at the TNRIS office in downtown Austin, TNRIS is working hard to archive all of its data onlineā€”a tedious and timely process. While requests for maps and photos can be made through the TNRIS website, the ultimate goal is to provide a viewable gallery of these images online for the public to access even more easily.

It takes a village, and TNRIS often relies on partnerships with other organizations to fund its ongoing efforts. No matter the situation, TNRIS will continue its critical work until the cows come home.

To learn more about the data, information, maps, and photos available from TNRIS, visit