In 2007, the Water Research Foundation concluded that a geospatial-based asset management system, while expensive to implement, makes it much easier to identify future system needs and more difficult for customers and elected officials to reject rate increases or deny requests for money to fund capital improvements.

In response, the Environmental Services Research Institute (ESRI), launched an online communications center where water, wastewater, and drinking water utility managers swap tips, review case studies, and download free templates to begin learning how to take advantage of the company's suite of ArcGIS mapping software.

In October, ESRI plans to launch a similar service specifically for operations that map and maintain virtually any other asset - roads and bridges, traffic lights and signs, etc. - related to infrastructure. Like the Water Facilities Resource Center, the site will include free templates to use with ArcGIS 9.3.1 that calculates the investment required to, for example, replace 6-inch cast iron pipe with 8-inch PVC. Like the company's other templates, the source code will be supplied so older versions of the software can be reconfigured.

Almost 40 people assembled the afternoon before the American Public Works Association's annual convention began on Sept. 13 to learn about this latest attempt to meet the unique GIS needs of public works professionals.

To populate the site, almost $90,000 in grants is available to 20 state and local government agencies for projects that demonstrate how mobile mapping systems solve operational challenges. Recipients of "mobile standard" grants receive a Trimble Juno 5C handheld device and one ArcPad 8 license that includes ArcPad Studio, while recipients of a "mobile advance" grant receive the Trimble unit and one ESRI Developer Network (EDN) subscription along with an introduction to ArcGIS Mobile 9.3 or ArcGIS Mobile 5DK.

The deadline for applications is Nov. 20. For more details, go to http://www.esri.com/grants/esri/docs/trimble-grant.pdf.