University News

GIS Center Helps Locate Water System Damage

February 4, 2021

Printer friendly version

MACOMB, IL – A water line break in early January, which impacted more than 1,000 local rural water customers, was located with the assistance of mapping services provided by Western Illinois University's Geographic Information System (GIS) Center.

Water service to 940 rural water customers, as well as those in the village of Industry, IL, was out between Jan. 6-10 as administrators of the West Prairie Water Cooperative, and numerous volunteers, searched for the source of the leak. It was eventually found east of the McDonough County village of Fandon, IL.

Water System Chief Operator Jon Forman said it was access to mapping work done on the water system several years ago by WIU's GIS Center that was key to searching for the source of the leak.

"We found it on the back of a brushy hillside, not visible to the human eye," Forman said. "We have 350 miles of underground water main, and our system is split into five zones. We were able to narrow it to one zone, and bring in two professional leak detection teams from Springfield (IL) and Bloomington (IL)."

Laverdiere Construction also provided a command center for those looking for the leak, as well as volunteers to help search.

Forman, a 2008 WIU graduate, said he contacted the GIS Center several years ago about providing mapping services for the district after discussing the idea with the water district's board of directors.

"We needed a good mapping system and I pushed to get WIU involved," said Forman.

Through the mapping process, GPS coordinates of the district were collected to form a "living document," which Forman said allowed the professionals, and 30 volunteers searching for the leak, to access the district maps, ranging from paper forms, to those uploaded on laptop computers and tablets.

"Without the resources of WIU, I believe we would have had a more challenging situation," Forman said of the search. "When you have areas with a customer every half mile, a situation like this can be nearly impossible. As a WIU graduate, it has been great to still be able to work with the University."

The leak ended up being caused by a 10-foot section of arterial water line that had pulled apart. Once the line was fixed, the system was repressurized and service was restored.

GIS Center Director Chad Sperry said the services provided by his office to set up the mapping included locating and marking water mains, water valves, fire hydrants, water maters and customers using GPS.

"This mapping system proved invaluable during the recent water leak," said Sperry. "The GIS Center was asked to produce 20 copies of the large three-foot by three-foot map that was given to the many volunteers on the scene. The map was created by Keisuke Nozaki as part of the ongoing services by the GIS Center."

For more information about the center, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing