posted on December 19, 2011 12:13
This is a guest post from Soren Rundquist, a Source Water and GIS Training Specialist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
There are a number of open source software platforms available online that can be powerful tools for your water system operation. One such platform is a Quantum GIS (QGIS).
Without an annual licensing fee, QGIS serves as a cost effective data management tool for small municipalities to monitor, manipulate, analyze and maintain spatial records. This is one of the reasons the Iowa DNR has tasked Iowa Source Water Protection with organizing a training symposium on the software.
What is Quantum GIS?
Quantum GIS (QGIS) is an open source geographic information system (GIS). This robust software is a free alternative to proprietary GIS software like ESRI products which are oftentimes very expensive.
What’s nice about QGIS is that it incorporates very similar functions and features as its closed source counterparts by using a congruent graphical user interface (GUI). The GUI allows users to display, manipulate and create spatial data. It supports a variety of spatial data file extensions (.shp, .tif, .csv, .img, etc.), and is compatible on Linux, Unix, Mac, and Windows operating systems.
How does Quantum GIS benefit small municipalities?
For years, data has correlated to a specific point in space. American pioneers, for example, used landmarks so they had a reference while traveling. As society progressed, more and more spatial records were turned into digital formats, making paper maps a thing of the past.
Spatial data collection is a fundamental part of many municipal, county, state and federal governments. To better coordinate sharing of those records, millions of dollars have been spent to create and maintain spatial data sets at all governing levels. These are things like delineations of river boundaries, land ownership parcels, and soil type polygons, to name a few.
Most of this data was created in order to visualize data and to better inform the decision making process. QGIS is a powerful tool that enables you to do just that. It uses spatial data to derive a simple solution.
For water operators it serves a variety of core functions:
- Users can generate accurate maps for internal use or for public dissemination, such as on websites or during public meetings.
- It serves as a way to track spatial data and its proximity to hazards during emergency situations, such as flooding, leaking underground storage tank, among other things.
- It gives you the ability to spatially manage growth for geographic areas. For example, it can help you determine the best areas to build houses, lay a pipeline, etc.
The take home is that municipalities using QGIS are able to monitor, manipulate, analyze and maintain their spatial records at no charge.
Where can I find Quantum GIS?
The QGIS experience is what you make of it. For some users QGIS is simply a viewer for spatial data. For others, it is an enterprise level risk-analysis provider. Often times the difference in function lies solely in the user’s ambition and dedication to learning more about the software.
The basic downloadable QGIS version comes with a solid set of tools and functions. However, since it is built on open source code, programmers from all over the world have written plug-ins or customized tools for a variety of industries. These plug-ins can be found by a simple web search or within QGIS repositories.
To download the latest version of Quantum GIS visit http://www.qgis.org. If you’ve never used QGIS, you may also want to download a users manual to get you started:
Where can I find free U.S. government data?
- http://datagateway.nrcs.usda.gov/ (Transportation, Administrative, Census, Hydrography, Topography, Elevation, Hi-Res Imagery, Land Use, Geology, Soils, Climate, Easement)
- http://glovis.usgs.gov/ (Satellite Imagery)
- http://www.nationalatlas.gov/atlasftp.html (Agriculture, Biology, Boundaries, Climate, Environment, Geology, History, People, Transportation, Water)