X Marks the Spot: Mapping Texas' Treasure October 2016

Throughout history, maps have enabled people to explore and document new places, pursue hidden treasure, and delineate property ownership boundaries, among many other things. Today, maps are still used for these purposes, but their development and uses have come a long way from hand drawn to computer generated. With today's technology, maps empower people to discover, travel, and learn in ways that haven't always been possible—and at the touch of a finger.

At the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), we're all about the treasure—water, that is—and we have maps aplenty to help locate and understand this critical resource. Water is a treasure to be shared amongst all Texans, and information about Texas water supply is always available through the TWDB. Many of our maps have interactive components that enable users to not only view a map's content, but also gather information and data.

Here are a few ways we use maps to share information about Texas water.

To learn from the past and document the present

Texas' rich history has been documented throughout time, and maps are a vital method of capturing this geographic information. The Texas Natural Resources Information System (TNRIS) is a division within the TWDB designed to serve as a centralized reference portal of geography-related data for state government and the public. TNRIS maintains an extensive library of over 1 million frames of historic aerial photographs. These photos date back to the 1920s and are an important resource for present day planning and assessments to visually document potential changes to the land.

TNRIS receives requests for geographic data, maps, and aerial imagery to serve a wide variety of needs and uses, all of which provide Texans with the opportunity to view their state geography from various perspectives. Businesses come to TNRIS to obtain multiple layers of data to perform facility sighting, prospect for new business locations, and understand baseline environmental conditions.

The two most common types of geographic data collected, acquired, and hosted by TNRIS are orthoimagery, which is geometrically corrected digital aerial photography obtained from aircraft, and Lidar, which is elevation data also collected from aircraft. TNRIS and partner agencies often cost share the procurement of this data in order to make it accessible to all other state agencies and the general public.

Orthoimagery is used to map or extract current features on the ground as well as detect change between two time periods, such as additions to property and new and omitted structures, and for city planning, emergency response, construction, parkland and coastal management, and much more.

Lidar data can be used for flood extent modeling, land development planning, wildfire mitigation, and water quality modeling, just to name a few. It is also used to create 3-D buildings, which have many uses. In urbanized areas, 3-D building models can be used by law enforcement to analyze line of sight from the tops of buildings or by 9-1-1 operators to determine what floor an emergency call is coming from.

TNRIS can even help you create your own piece of history through its custom maps program.

To know where to find the treasure—and how much there is to go around

Water Data Interactive is a terrific resource available via the TWDB website. Through the Groundwater Data Viewer, users can type in an address or location to view groundwater data via the map. This tool is frequently used by land owners and buyers to determine if a water well is on property. Users can find out the location, elevation and depth, the well type, water use, and more. Additional groundwater data available through the viewer includes the location and extents of geologic units, major and minor aquifers, regional groundwater planning and groundwater management areas, and groundwater conservation districts.

The TWDB Groundwater Division is responsible for monitoring groundwater conditions and conducting groundwater studies in the state and often receives inquiries about water availability. The Division's hydrologists, geologists, and other subject matter experts are able to provide detailed information about wells, such as how deep a well can be drilled and what water quality and quantity can likely be expected in a given area. Additional data on automated groundwater level wells is available on the Water Data for Texas site. If you have questions about groundwater in your area, don't hesitate to contact the groundwater team!

Other maps and data-based tools available through the Water Data for Texas website feature coastal water quality monitoring sites and reservoirs.

To monitor weather and help plan for a flooding event

TexasFlood.org is a tool for assisting Texans in making sound decisions on what to do before, during, and after a flooding event. Information on local flood risks, flood insurance, emergency plans, evacuation tips, the recovery process, and more can be found on the site. In particular, the Flood Viewer provides statewide stream gage, weather radar, weather alerts, and current lake conditions across Texas. The data is featured on an interactive map, so users can look at specific locations and gather time-sensitive data on rising rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs to make informed decisions in the event of heavy rain or flood—and it's fully accessible on mobile devices.

One of the important data points needed to adequately assess flood dangers is the amount of rain falling. To help with this and put weather data into the hands of Texans, the TWDB and partners developed and continue to expand the TexMesonet, a network of earth observation stations supplying high-quality data to support flood monitoring and flood forecasting efforts by the National Weather Service, regional river authorities, and local emergency responders.

To plan for the future

The 2017 State Water Plan, adopted in May 2016, was developed to ensure that Texans have adequate water supply over the next 50 years. The every-five-years “bottom-up” approach to planning starts with 16 regional planning areas whose plans form the base of the state water plan. Along with the printed plan, this was the first state water plan to be adopted along with a companion website, the interactive state water plan, which offers an up-close look at data in the 2017 plan.

Users can toggle between regions, counties, and cities through interactive maps to view information on water needs over time by showing

  • projected population changes,
  • projected water demands,
  • existing water supplies,
  • the relative severity and projected water needs (potential shortages),
  • the water management strategies recommended to address potential shortages, and
  • recommended capital projects and their sponsors.

We're mad for maps this month! Follow along via social media and #mapmadness to learn more about TWDB maps and Texas's greatest treasure. And if you're interested in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), check out the upcoming Texas GIS Forum held on October 24–27, 2016, in Austin. Hosted by TNRIS, the Forum brings together geospatial professionals and other individuals and companies exploring beyond the limits of our current capabilities to map, manage, and analyze our world. This year's agenda will feature many dynamic and knowledgeable speakers whose unique industry perspectives will help attendees gain insight and offer the necessary tools to navigate today's ever-changing face of GIS technology.

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