Geographic Information Systems (GIS) - an Advanced Tool for the European Water Industry

Jan 18, 2006

Interdisciplinary approaches and solutions are becoming increasingly widespread in the European water industry following the introduction of the European Water Framework Directive (WFD).

1 Abstract
In the context of comprehensive river basin management, the various specialist aspects involved can no longer be seen separately; a holistic approach must be adopted to ensure that all the interactions between the various aspects are taken into consideration. In Europe, we will need to adapt to the far-reaching requirements of the WFD and the changes taking place in this connection. The utilization of the technologies that are available is both a challenge and an opportunity.

In order to meet the objectives of the WFD, the development and use of geographic information systems and the organization of data interchange will be essential requirements for the water industry.

Apart from efficient internal data management, data and information interchange with external water industry bodies will also be needed. It will be necessary to organize a water industry network. For this purpose, the Wupperverband has opted for advanced communication and information technology and operates the FluGGS river basin geographic information system on the internet ( The system can be accessed from a standard internet browser (Fig. 1).
2 Development and Responsibilities of the Wupperverband
Over the past two centuries, the attitudes of people to rivers and streams have undergone a profound change. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, rivers were seen merely as objects to be used for a purpose, but the problems resulting from this approach soon became apparent.

At the beginning of the 19th century, salmon were so plentiful in the River Wupper that a regulation was issued forbidding people from giving their servants salmon more than five times a week. However, the environmental problems caused by industrialization were so severe that the last salmon was caught in the Wupper in 1841.

In 1891, the growing scarcity of drinking water and the poor quality of the water available led to the construction of Germany's first dam for drinking water supply on the Wupper. The age of the artificial reservoir had started. In 1930, the Wuppergesetz (or Wupper Act) establishing the Wupperverband came into force.

The Wupperverband – one of the water industry associations with a special legal status in North Rhine-Westphalia – is responsible for managing streams and rivers with a total length of about 2,300 km in the catchment area of the Wupper and for treating the sewage produced by some 1.5 million inhabitants and industrial discharges. For more than 75 years, the Wupperverband has concentrated on managing the basin of its river, a modern, holistic approach that has been underscored by the Water Framework Directive.
The Wupperverband is an association organized as a public body. The members of the association include 21 municipalities and communities, district authorities, several water companies and disposal organizations as well as trade and industry establishments in the catchment area of the Wupper.

The Wupperverband has a number of main tasks in the context of its holistic, sustainable approach to river basin management. These include wastewater treatment by eleven wastewater treatment plants, flood protection and low water replenishment by measures such as the operation of nine dams, the provision of drinking water from the “Große Dhünn” reservoir, one of Germany's largest drinking water reservoirs, and the maintenance and ecological development of the river systems.

Initially, attempts were made to overcome the growing problems of water pollution and flooding using technical measures. Structures were built in and on the rivers. Nowadays, the limits of a water management approach based solely on civil engineering solutions have to a large extent already been reached. A holistic approach to water management concentrating more on causes and pollution sources is called for if rivers are to be used in a sustainable way without causing unacceptable adverse impact.

In the course of river basin management, large volumes of valuable geographic data are collected both by the association and by its members. The joint use of this body of data is of considerable interest.
3 The European Water Framework Directive
The European Water Framework Directive (WFD), which came into force on 22 December 2000, has posed considerable challenges for the water industry.
This is already clear from the key elements of the Directive, including:

  • the requirement for plans of action and management plans,
  • the requirement for the holistic, sustainable management of river basins from the source to the estuary,
  • the requirement for good ecological condition,
  • the prohibition of deterioration,
  • the requirement for the active participation of the "water players" (users of a river and interest groups),
  • monitoring / keeping of historic records of water basin management in the catchment area,
  • obligation to report the results to the EU.
The use of geographic information systems (GIS) is a requirement of the WFD.

However, according to Moss (1999), not only technical but also organizational problems must be overcome in connection with the implementation of the WFD. These include:

  • "Problems of fit": these are problems of incompatibility between the organization responsible and the river basin considered. Basic hypothesis: the greater the compatibility between the organization and its geographic area, the greater its effectiveness.
  • "Problems of interplay": these are the problems of interaction between the various organizations in connection with tasks which overlap or are interdependent. Basic hypothesis: the effectiveness of an organization depends not only on its internal characteristics but also on interplay with other institutions.
  • "Problems of scale": these are the problems associated with applying results to other areas. Basic hypothesis: results can only be effectively applied to other areas and time periods if the special mode of operation and legitimacy of local and regional institutions are taken into consideration.
The use of advanced information and communication technologies is certainly an effective way of successfully overcoming these challenges.The introduction of the WFD has underscored the importance of holistic, sustainable river basin management and provided a legal foundation for this approach.
4 The Geographic Information System of the Wupperverband
– a Strategic Tool for Effective River Basin Management in the Context of the EU Water Framework Directive

For the Wupperverband, the EU Water Framework directive does not mean a reorientation of its water industry activities but rather a confirmation of the approach which it had already adopted. This approach has now been reinforced by integration into a European context:

The Wupperverband will continue to:
  • consider the river, its tributaries, banks and meadows, indeed its entire catchment area, as a whole system;
  • apply a holistic approach; individual processes and issues must be considered in the overall context of the water industry;
  • plan, liaise and optimize across the boundaries of local authorities and individual competencies;
  • harmonize measures taken in different areas with each other with a view to ensuring the most efficient use of the resources available and the maximum benefit to the environment.
Work on the introduction of a geographic information system at the Wupperverband started in 1997. In the meantime, geographic information systems have been successfully used to solve a variety of water industry problems.

In this context, the Wupperverband operates a map server which makes water and wastewater information held in the river basin geographic information system of the Wupperverband (FluGGS Wupper) available to members and the public. Thus FluGGS forms an information and communication interface for those connected with the water industry. In future, there are plans to develop FluGGS into a flood information system in cooperation with the members.
Previously, data were often held by individual departments or bodies. This GIS-based system makes such data available to a large number of employees in different departments and bodies. The data available can be accessed simply and conveniently using GIS functions (Fig. 2).

In addition, the system is being developed into an information system shared by several bodies on the basis of the Open GIS Consortium (OGC) standards: the information available with the various institutes and in a wide variety of information systems will be networked via the internet. This will ensure that the user will always have automatic access to the latest data available with the various institutes.The complex process of integrating data into the user's own system will no longer be required (Fig. 3).

The system provides information on the location of Wupperverband facilities. However, the objective is not only to inform users of the location of a facility but to make the maximum possible amount of information available. For example, the question "what other facilities are available at the site?", can be very important for site planning work. In addition, it is planned to develop the digital map into a portal for operating information. In other words, it will be possible to call up information on facilities via the map. The information which can be called up via links from the map may include attributes such as the volume of a stormwater tank or drawings, plans or approval documents. Access to the results of measurement series will also be provided via the GIS portal.

The Wupperverband has decided to store the geometric data of its systems in an Oracle database to ensure a high level of integration between geometric and other data of facilities. In future, the ArcGIS product family from ESRI will be used for updating the data. There are also plans to link drawing production with CAD systems to the geometric data held in the database.

The Wupperverband uses a map service software package for providing information to users. This software allows an unlimited number of users to call up a map via any browser (Netscape, Internet Explorer etc.).
Users can navigate through the map, zoom in and out, search for specific objects and call up information on them. Map service technology is a cost-effective way of providing a large number of users with simple map information and has become increasingly popular in the past few years. Different map services may be provided for specific user groups.
For the first time, map service technology now allows users to view their own geographic data without transferring the data themselves. In future, the main issue will no longer be data transfer but information interchange via the network. Users selecting a map service with their browser will be able to access the latest information available on the server. The body of data will not be transferred to the user and will therefore no longer become obsolescent on the user's system. Instead, users will always receive the up-to-date information they have requested.

The advantages of this innovative technology are evident. The potential applications of valuable geographic data will be multiplied. The duplication of data volumes held by different institutions will be avoided. Working time previously used for complex and time-consuming data research and migration will now be available for considerably more productive tasks.

As a result, new forms of cooperation will become possible and necessary. Since 2000, the Wupperverband has been cooperating on the first project of this type in Germany with the city of Wuppertal. The Wupperverband is now networked with a number of other bodies including the Rheinisch-Bergischer Kreis, a local authority in the area. The Wuppertal municipal utilities have also been integrated into the geographic data network.

Smaller local authorities and institutions which do not have their own comprehensive geographic information systems will also benefit from this network. For example, data from such institutions can be processed, integrated into a map service and made available to the institutions concerned via the internet (with passwords for access protection).

The association already acts as a "service provider" for a variety of institutions and intends to expand its activities in this area in the future. In addition, a company wholly owned by the Wupperverband – Wupperverbandsgesellschaft für integrale Wasserwirtschaft mbH (WIW) – offers consultancy services and support for the development of association structures, river basin management systems and water management.

The Wupperverband also offers a wide varies of engineering services for the water industry on the basis of its experience with the project cycle of design, construction, operation and optimization.
Moss, T. (1999): Die EU-Wasserrahmenrichtlinie als Beispiel eines Institutionenwandels: Forschungsbedarf und Erklärungsansätze aus politik- und raumwissenschaftlicher Sicht. In: Horsch, H., Messner, F., Kabisch, S. and Rode, M. (ed..) Flußeinzugsgebietsmanagement und Sozioökonomie. Konfliktbewertung und Lösungsansätze. UFZ Report No.30/1999, pp. 137-146.

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