Jim Giglierano’s Story

The use of aerial photos, satellite imagery, and geographically referenced information and applying it to natural resource and environmental issues in the state of Iowa, goes back to the early 1970’s at the Iowa Geological Survey. State Geologist Sam Tuthill hired Dr. Jim Taranik to head IGS’s remote sensing program (Taranik later left Iowa for the EROS Data Center, NASA, and finally dean of the McKay School of Mines). Other IGS staff involved in the RS program at one time or another included Bernie Hoyer, George Hallberg, Ray Anderson, Pat McAdams, Ross Black, Art Bettis, and Jean Prior, among others. The remote sensing program’s aim was to apply new technologies to many different natural resource and environmental problems. Aerial photography was acquired for bird counting on the Missouri flyway, reconnaissance of forest damage from oak wilt and gypsy moths, soil mapping, corn blight and urban planning to name a few. IGS in cooperation with other federal and state agencies led the first statewide color-infrared aerial photography acquisition from 1975-1980. This project became the model for the federal government’s National High-Altitude Aerial Photography program, which would later evolve into the national DOQQ program. In the early 1980’s, IGS got a legislative appropriation to purchase a mini-computer based image processing system in order to process Landsat imagery for land cover inventories and other applications. IGS worked closely with a NASA technology transfer program operated by the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi to get the image processing system up and running. Iowa had at the time one of the first state-based computer systems for processing spatial information in the US. Experience with the system led to cooperative projects with many other agencies. Notable was the push to digitize Iowa’s county soil surveys led by IGS demonstrations using digitized soil polygons and USLE soil erosion calculations. In the middle of all these early developments was Bernie Hoyer.

During DNR creation in 1985, IGS became the Geological Survey Bureau, or GSB, which was under the Energy and Geological Resources Division, led by Larry Bean. GIS was first mentioned in the Groundwater Protection Act (GWPA) of 1987 which grew out of the DNR’s Groundwater Protection Plan of 1986 written by Bernie Hoyer and other DNR staff. About this time GSB staff started working with Kevin Kane, who worked in the planning section of the Parks and Recreation Division. Kevin did his master thesis using an archetypical GIS-like program developed at Iowa State University by Paul Anderson and others. Bernie, Kevin and others, along with representatives from various bureaus, were tasked with developing a GIS plan for the department. They arranged for Mr. Paul Tessar, from the Minnesota State Planning Agency, to visit Des Moines and present information on GIS development in his state. After interviewing interested staff and developing a needs assessment with a large group of DNR staff, they developed two planning documents for GIS development in the DNR. The plan outlined development of several programmatic data layers used by various DNR bureaus and divisions as well as strategic data layers used by multiple users, such as soils, water, vegetation, roads, etc. Being a new, untried technology, it was decided by the planning committee that GIS development within the department would not be forced or mandated to individual programs, but was to be assisted by a GIS coordinator who would work with groups that were ready to commit their own resources to training staff and start development of GIS data. Kevin Kane became the department’s first GIS coordinator and his position was placed in the Coordination and Information Division under Jim Combs.

One of the original ideas that came out of the GIS plan for the department was to use a new thing called a “personal computer” or PC to do GIS. At the time GIS was mainly running on large, multi-user minicomputers costing $150,000 to $300,000. People from other states thought it was nuts to consider using PCs to do GIS! Especially since the main GIS packages at the time, Arc/Info and Intergraph were mostly running on minis. The PC version of Arc/Info, which became the primary GIS package, was a very basic, under-powered copy of the mini version. But, the initial hardware and software costs for 3 PCs and PC Arc/Info was under $50,000, not $300,000 which at the time was an impossible sum to consider purchasing. PCs would eventually become the main workstation for everyone using GIS, but it was a struggle early on with the limitations of the software and hardware.

Meanwhile back at GSB, Mary Howes, Joost Korpel and others became the Directed Projects Section under Bernie Hoyer’s leadership. One remote sensing project to map conservation practices was supported by friends at the USDA Soil Conservation Service (Lyle Asell, the eventual instigator of Iowa's statewide Lidar program and Andy's dad). Mary and Joost had federal funding to build Iowa’s part of the national coal resource database or NCRDS. These early projects taught the basics of GIS and data management to the section. Kevin, Mary, Calvin Wolter in EPD and others were sent to GIS training at the University of Georgia, under Dr. Roy Welch.

GSB was charged with developing a Groundwater Vulnerability map for Iowa as part of the work plan for GWPA activities. The vulnerability map became GSB’s first big GIS project involving over half of the staff compiling information on bedrock topopgraphy, alluvial and bedrock aquifers, sinkholes, ag drainage wells and other pertinent info. Students were hired to digitize the hand drawn maps created for the GW vulnerability map. GSB staff learned how to use the GIS to model different ideas about GW vulnerability – it went through several iterations – and showed in a very tangible way the power of the new technology, which would guide all further GIS developments for years to come. Funding for GWPA activities came from Oil Overcharge funds administered by GSB’s sister agency, the Energy Bureau. One of the first statewide coverages built by the group was the PLSS section lines, digitized from 24k topo paper maps on a large digitizing tablet, by Madhudar Mohan. That coverage is still used in the NRGIS Library today.

Unfortunately the Coordination and Information Division didn’t last long, being dissolved in 1991. Kevin Kane’s GIS coordinator position was moved to the Survey’s cost center, and with the addition of Kevin, Bernie’s section became the Geographic Information Section or GIS for short (which was always confusing – most people called it the GIS Section from then on anyway). With the acquisition of the GIS Coordinator’s position, the GIS Section also gained responsibility for guiding GIS development within the department. Up to that time, the main concern of Bernie’s section was to carry on the technology development started within the Survey back in the 70’s and support the GIS activities of the Energy and Geological Resources Division.

With a growing list of data coverages, Joost was designated to be the librarian of Natural Resource GIS library. At that time he also started experimenting with connecting PCs together (remember token ring networks?), which later grew into DNR’s first local area network and data server – an idea that wasn’t readily accepted by the mainframe DP experts at the time. Joost became the unofficial LAN expert for the department and was called into the central office on numerous occasions to help out when the central office LAN was built.

In 1989, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the IDNR created a GIS position to provide GIS services to the EPD. This included creating coverages of the regulated entities maintained by the EPD and providing information and maps pertaining to these entities. Calvin Wolter was the first person to fill this position and worked on developing GIS coverages of the municipal and public water supplies, underground storage tanks, wastewater treatment plants and other regulated facilities. He worked closely with Kevin Kane and the other GIS staff at the Geological Survey in coordinating work efforts and solving the usual software and hardware problems. Ubbo Agena, with the Non-point Source Program, soon realized what GIS could do for his program and gave Calvin several tasks to improve the development and monitoring of non-point source 319 projects. Calvin also tried to get other program areas within EPD interested in developing their own GIS data. He had limited success with the UST program and Contaminated site section, but still continued to develop most of EPD’s data layers and provide maps as needed.

The new GIS section continued working on a mixture of geologic, groundwater protection, general data production (roads, rivers, wetlands, land cover, section lines, etc) and training DNR staff to use GIS and help them develop their own GIS projects. The plan was to help DNR staff incorporate GIS technology into their everyday jobs. At the time they weren't “GIS PROFESSIONALS” but rather a group of scientists that used GIS in their work – a new tool for improved natural resource management decision making. Unlike the pay for services IT mentality emerging at that time, the GIS section sought long-term relationships with people who understood the benefits of GIS to their programs. Sometime it was difficult to overcome program manager who only wanted the group to make pretty maps using some very poorly managed data. The GIS section also tried to avoid telling others that things had to done “their” way, though everyone were strongly encouraged to develop better habits when managing their data (good data management was often confused as a GIS issue, though in reality, it was a data processing issue and sometimes just a common sense issue). People were at different stages of development and understanding and they were allowed to reach a comfort zone with lots of help. A good balance was struck between continuing progress on groundwater GIS issues (which paid most of the bills), and helping staff within the department move forward without charging fees.

The other main theme at this time was building good working relationships with other GIS workers in other agencies. This included NRCS, USGS, COE, IDOT, Iowa Dept. of Education and the State Library to name a few. Many of these GIS workers were just starting out as well, and all tried very hard to cooperate and develop data of mutual interest. Much good will was built up by a willingness to share data at no cost. It emphasized relationship building as a means to achieve long-term results needed by all the programs.

Another GIS section innovation was the development of a standard format for data documentation. Two years before the federal government came out with their overly complicated metadata standard for GIS data, the GIS section developed a simple, narrative-style text file that described GIS data produced by DNR’s GIS program. The main purpose of the coverage documentation was to tell users, both inside and outside the DNR, the history, uses, and limitations of our data. This became especially important as more and more users outside the agency were using DNR programmatic data, such as landfills, USTs and other environmental data. The GIS Section finally converted to the FGDC format completely in 2003; so the in-house developed format served well for over 10 years. Arguably DNR’s NRGIS library is probably one of the best documented, publicly available, GIS data collections found anywhere.

During the time of 1990-1996, institutional acceptance of GIS was a continuing struggle. However, great progress was made in getting new users when better, Windows-based GIS software became available (Arcview 1 and 2), and new statewide data sets became available. Starting in the 1970’s, IGS and later GSB made annual contributions to USGS for the production of the 1:24,000 scale topographic map products for the entire state of Iowa, completing the final quads in the late 1980’s. GSB funds were later used to scan and digitize the quad maps for use in a GIS. When the scanned topo (DRG) product became available in 1996, it was the first high accuracy GIS coverage available for all parts of the state. Later black and white digital orthophotos were also added to the NRGIS library for the first time.

Bernie was for many years GSB’s representative on the Iowa Cooperative Soil Survey, the partnership responsible for developing the county soil surveys. Since the early 1980’s he had been a strong advocate for the digitization of the soil surveys - long before there was a tool called GIS available. The initial ICSS digital soil survey products were not geographically referenced, and therefore were not very useful in the context of combining and overlaying with other resource information, like the DRGs or digital orthophotos. Calvin Wolter worked out an automated GIS process to geographically reference the soil map data, and Bernie set up a funded project to get all the soil data for state processed by folks at Iowa State.

This combination of new GIS tools and data was a catalyst for getting many DNR staff interested in using GIS. They now had familiar map data (topo maps, aerial photos and soils maps), but in a digital form, and could actually overlay these layers, calculate distances and areas, and produce their own maps.

Another important breakthrough event occurred after the floods of 1993. Several federal agencies (COE, USGS, others) requested the NRGIS library for use in the flood cleanup. At the time, it was difficult to make copies of the NRGIS library for distribution, so this new thing called the Internet was investigated as a means to deliver data directly to the federal agencies. Because of GSB’s location on a university campus it was relatively easy to set up an FTP service to deliver data to the Feds. In fact in worked so well, that it became the primary means of delivering data. In the spring of 1994, the GIS Section opened its FTP service to all users on the Internet, at no cost and with no strings attached. At the time this was a strange idea and there was pressure to sell the data by upper management. It was eventually shown that free access to the NRGIS library via FTP was worth far more in terms of reduced staff time spent creating and mailing diskettes and CDs. In addition, this policy enabled more people to make better decisions about the environment because they had access to lots free GIS data about Iowa. Later, the NRGIS library FTP site evolved into the first DNR World-Wide Web site.

The NRGIS Library and DNR's GIS program are successful today because of the Geological Survey's long history and culture of creativity and innovation.