Robotic total stations, such as the Topcon GPT-9005A shown here, are valuable tools for accurately determining the routes and depths of buried utilities. Photos: Topcon
Using a Topcon FC-200 field controller, Gainesville (Fla.) Regional Utiliies Survey Supervisor Jack Goff enters data that will later be downloaded and output to a land-based map.

Following the lead of other utilities throughout the country, the Gainesville (Fla.) Regional Utilities Water/Wastewater Engineering Department has developed a sophisticated GIS program that allows instant updating and implementation of GPS technology. Today, eight years after the capital project's implementation, a department that once relied heavily on maps — sometimes maps that were several years outdated — now shares connectivity through an enterprise geodatabase, works within a system that promotes data entry consistency and automation, and has the ability to have multiple users updating data in the live system.


The utility's evolution from paper-dependent to GPS-savvy began with a call to a regional consultant in the area of GIS. Steve McElroy, the department's utility GIS technician, is certain that the ability of GIS to move past a paper mapping system and link multiple aspects of the utility operation was what initially prompted them to take the first step toward an enterprise geodatabase.

“I think what really turned our attention to the geodatabase was the streamlined as-built data entry process — the capability of multi-user editing and the connectivity of geodatabase features — which would open up the door for more in-depth tracing and modeling,” he explains. The newly implemented geodatabase also would be tied directly into the utility's water/wastewater construction department's work management system, Azteca Cityworks, allowing work order creation and tracking directly inside the GIS.

The value of a geodatabase is determined by the speed and accuracy of the data collected. To improve that aspect of the system, the department recently enhanced its data-gathering operation with the addition of Topcon HiPer XT GPS receivers, a GPT-9005A robotic total station, two FC-100 field controllers and a pair of FC-200s, Topcon's newest controllers. According to McElroy, the equipment is primarily used on the utility's new construction projects.

“By adding the new equipment, data collection — particularly in as-built conditions — is dramatically faster,” McElroy says. “Shortly after purchasing and testing the equipment, we did a comparison. We had Jack Goff, our survey supervisor, and his crew perform a small wastewater as-built the traditional way: finding property corners, establishing a baseline, shooting top inverts of manholes, measuring distance down and over for every cleanout.” The department also used the Hyper XT receiver and Topcon FC-100 controller to gather RTK (real-time kinematic satellite navigation) data.

“The utility's electrical engineering department was already using Topcon GPS equipment and had a Topcon base station on the top of our building, which we would be able to use with our new system,” McElroy adds.

The HiPer XT receivers are designed to access the GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) constellation. “With the addition of the HiPer XT, we gained access to 14 additional GLONASS satellites in addition to the existing 26 NavStar satellites, so we knew that would increase our overall signal and increase our success for good satellite geometry,” McElroy says. “So was the fact that it is compatible with Bluetooth technology and had built-in cellular technology so we could utilize UHF or cellular.”


With data gathered, the crew returned to the office and, using an automation script written by one of the electrical engineering programmers, Kevin Brown, was able to input all the GPS points. The system automatically created the laterals, the stationing information of the cleanouts and the slopes of the gravity mains.

“We were able to do the entire process, from gathering data to having it mapped and available, in roughly one-quarter the time it used to take. The ROI [return on investment] was huge,” McElroy says.

“We weren't sure we would like moving over to the new system — we'd been doing things one way for a long time and it was quite a big leap for us,” Goff adds. “But we definitely see the value in this technology, especially in the fact that the data is accessible to everyone almost immediately. If a new subdivision goes in and has as-built sewer lines and water lines, we shoot it with the Topcon gear and take it in at night. Steve downloads it into GIS, and the next morning anyone can access it.”