GIS Day 2016 – Meet Maya Rhinehart!

T&H Engineer Maya Rhinehart
T&H Engineer Maya Rhinehart

GIS Day has been celebrated mid-November each year since 1999, this year falling on November 16, 2016. Per their website, GIS Day provides an international forum for users of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real world applications that are making a difference in our society. We here at Tata & Howard utilize GIS on a daily basis, so we decided to conduct a brief interview with one of our engineers, Maya Rhinehart, to showcase the criticality of GIS in environmental engineering.

Q. How crucial is GIS to your profession?

A. As an environmental engineer who works specifically in the water and wastewater industry, I’d say a basic understanding of GIS is pretty crucial. GIS layers allow the user to gain a better understanding of the different conditions of a particular area. For example, by turning on the layer that has mapped out wetlands, the user can see if a potential project may need to acquire specific permits or take extra precautions due to the nearby wetlands.

Q. Where did you learn your GIS mapping skills? 

A. I learned the majority of my GIS mapping skills here at Tata & Howard. I had an introduction to it in college [at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA] but it wasn’t something that was used often or with specific instruction. Getting a better understanding of GIS before entering the workforce would have been beneficial for sure.

Q. Which programs do you use?

A. I’ve used GIS in conjunction with the program WaterGEMS. WaterGEMS is a hydraulic modeling software and I’ve use WaterGEMS to map out and test scenarios on a town’s/city’s water distribution system.  For example, you can model the effects of a fire in a particular area in WaterGEMS and then show that same affected area on a GIS map. You can add or subtract layers within GIS to show things like streets, parcels, town boundaries, rivers, lakes, soil types, endangered species habitats, and railroads. By showing the WaterGEMS model within a GIS map, you can find correlations between location and the types of conditions within that area.

Q. How do you personally use GIS in your current project work?

A. I personally use GIS at Tata & Howard to learn more about the areas surrounding the projects I’m working on. By creating maps with different layers turned on/off, it reduces the number of surprises that may arise during the construction process. If you know that wetlands or an endangered species habitat is nearby, you can plan ahead.

Q. What types of critical information does GIS provide to you and your team members?

A. GIS and the online version that is usually located on a Town/City website provide critical information like parcel numbers, parcel sizes, railroad crossings, and drinking water sources, to name a few. Anything you can think of regarding the characteristic of a certain area can be provided through GIS. The plethora of knowledge that has been cataloged thus far is extremely valuable.

Q. How do you envision GIS evolving in the future?

A. I envision the “library” of GIS layers continuing to grow over time. Hopefully it will become more and more detailed as better tracking and evaluating technologies arise.  I think GIS will also be helpful in tracking things like climate change on the micro scale. The terrain and other characteristics will change as the temperatures continue to rise.  By continuously updating layers over time, GIS could potentially highlight those changes on the local level. This could make the idea of climate change more personal and obvious to see.

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