How this Camden-based nonprofit is using GIS to prevent water crisis - Generocity Philly

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Jan. 21, 2016 9:45 am

How this Camden-based nonprofit is using GIS to prevent water crisis

Hopeworks 'N Camden is employing youth to collect and map water asset data.

Luis Olivieri (right) and Hopeworks' youth.

(Courtesy photo)

A Camden-based nonprofit is helping New Jersey stay ahead of a potential municipal water disaster like the current crisis in Flint, Mich. — and it’s doing it with the help of GIS mapping technology and local at-risk youths.

Hopeworks ‘N Camden, the same nonprofit behind the Camden food desert map, has been partnering with water utility companies in New Jersey to map the exact location of water assets like pipe valves and fire hydrants.

GIS Director Luis Olivieri said New Jersey American Water approached the nonprofit last year about mapping one specific water line. According to Olivieri, NJAW said the project would take four weeks to finish. The Hopeworks kids finished it in nine days.

“When [NJAW] checked the data, it was as good as the data they were collecting,” Olivieri said. So, NJAW hired them to do it again on another line.

Olivieri said the company’s previous technology was only strong enough to give a general idea of where those assets were in the event of a crisis like a main break. The data Hopeworks collected pinpoints assets like valves within a centimeter of their underground locations.

“If I’m American Water and I have an emergency, the old school way is I would go to where I think the valve is and dig a big hole — maybe it’s there, maybe it’s somewhere else,” said Hopeworks Executive Director Dan Rhoton. “With the data we’ve collected, they dig one hole one time, fix the problem right away and it saves them a ton of money.”

And it’s mobile — American Water employees can use the tool directly from their vehicles. Now, Hopeworks is doing the same project for Merchantville-Pennsauken Water Commission.

“Think about Flint, Michigan,” Rhoton said. “These projects are demonstrating where there are problems or holes in Camden’s water system before they become an emergency. We could create a 100-page report, or an interactive map where you could see the problems right away.”

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Just as importantly, the at-risk youths — mostly young women between ages 14 and 16 — are learning how to use state of the art technology, getting paid to do it and making a difference in their hometown.

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