The Benefits of GIS: A Look at Three Projects

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With more than three decades of experience working in the geographic information systems field, Nader Soubra, Ph.D., shares a few of the GIS-related projects that he has worked on.

The first project I worked on was a Nationwide Pollution Abatement Program for Lebanon which was also called LSWWP. I need to mention that  the GIS Division at Consolidated Engineering Company (K&A) had already collected GIS data on a national scale for all of Lebanon.  These were topographic GIS layers such as administrative boundaries, cities and towns, contours, rodas and land use / land cover. The number of maps for this national GIS database was six.  These GIS layers provided the digital background in the GIS format for the LSWWP project.

Generalized Topographic Map of Lebanon.  Map: author.
Generalized Topographic Map of Lebanon. Map: author.

Managers at K&A used mathematical model to make population projections for the national population for the years of 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2020 to be used in the LWSSP analysis. The GIS analysis showed the total projected population in 2000 within the in Lebanon.

Population Growth by Mohafaza, 2000-2020.  Graph: LSWWP project.
Population Growth by Mohafaza, 2000-2020. Graph: LSWWP project.

My role in this LSWWP project was to complete the GIS tasks shown in this section of a report completed by LSWWP.

“The data file was used to facilitate the spatial analytical process.  Examples of this type of analysis included:  (1) setting a minimum population level for the villages to be included in the study and recording the villages which do not meet these requirements, (2) determining the total population of these cities, towns and villages which fall within a single watershed area, (3) generating three dimensional models of selected areas to obtain a better understanding of the terrain around each individual site, (4) identifying towns which fall within a certain distance from an existing or proposed sewer trunk line, and determining the feasibility of connecting them to these lines, (5) proposing a waste disposal method based on the location of a town, along the coastline or in the mountain area, (6) proposing locations of sewer lines, using the spatial analytical capabilities of GIS to make sure these proposed lines did not encounter major obstacles.  Finally, the GIS was used to generate maps of different scales to emphasize various aspects of the program”  (LSWWP article p. 7)  The GIS layers that were generated for the LSWWP project are shown in the figure below.


This project was requested by the Lebanese government to address one of the issues of population growth which was the need for new Waste Water networks for the growing national population.  “To address this problem, a national wastewater management program has been developed by updating and modifying an earlier master plan.  A Geographic Information System (GIS) approach was introduced to record the characterization, analyze the needs, and generate conceptual plans and programs to serve more than 1,600 communities located in 68 watershed basins.” (LSWWP paper : p1.)  In addition to addressing the need for new waste water networks the programs was also implemented to address the water polloution to the aquifers by the dumped waste water in open space, and also to address the increase of public risk and diseases as a result of water wayer dumping as well in open space the waste waster which in turned reached the fresh water aquifers.

It also showed existing waste water networks within these watersheds as well. As as result Environmental Engineers were able to propose and engineering solloution to this problem.  The figure blow shows the locations of Proposed Regional and Community Service Areas.

Locations of Proposed Regional and Community Service Areas
Locations of Proposed Regional and Community Service Areas

K&A proposed treatment systems to solve this polloution problem.  The final design will take into account the following:

  • “Sewage flow volumes, characteristics, and seasonal variations. 
  • Effluent standards, particularly site-specific constraints on pathogens and oxygen demand. 
  • Size, topography, and geology of available treatment sites. 
  • Distance of sites from projected service areas.  (Costs of trunk sewers). 
  • Proximity of sites to habitations and to access ways. 
  • Availability of a reliable off-site power source. 
  • Options for disposal of processed sludge. 
  • Potential demand for acceptance of septage for processing. 
  • Simplicity and economy of operation and maintenance. 
  • Overall annual per capita cost of treatment facility and trunk sewers”.   (Source LSWWP Article: p. 12)

Finally, K&A Engineers had the following conclusions regarding the cost of implementing the proposed solution.

“Allowing for price escalation at an average annual rate of 5%, but excluding provision for financing of loans, the capital investment for LSWWP, assuming completion by year 2006, was estimated to be approximately $3.05 billion.  Annual costs for operation, maintenance, and administration would increase as systems come into service, and could amount to some 3% to 5% of productive capital costs” .  (Source LSWWP article: p 13).  

Environmental Impact Statement for Electricity of Lebanon

The second project I want to summarize was the Environmental Impact Statement (EIA) for Electricity of Lebanon (EDL). 

“Commissioned by the Council of Development and Reconstruction (CDR) to prepare an Environmental Impact Assessment, the GIS approach was utilized. The project was financed by the World Bank and consisted of: (1) Two thermo-electric Power Plants with combined cycle combustion turbines each 430MW; (2) 370km of double circuit 225 KV overhead lines and 50Km of 225 KV underground cables around Beirut and Tripoli; and (3) Ten (10) new and extended Substations (225/150 KV, 225/66 KV and 225/Medium Voltage. Figure 10 below shows the 220 KV Electric lines and substations.

220 KV Electric lines and substations. (Source: EDL Lebanon)
220 KV Electric lines and substations. (Source: EDL Lebanon)

The principle aims of the study were to: (i) Assess the environmental impact during the construction and operation of the two new combined cycle power plants; (ii) Determine the environmental impact at the power station sites of Zahrani and Baddawi and along the transmission lines right-of-way, the underground cable routes, and the substation sites; (iii) Ascertain that the proposed generating stations and transmission system designs meet all the environmental regulations of Lebanon and the World Bank; and (iv) Identify mitigation measures and prepare an environmental management plan”. (GIS Implementation Lebanon: p. 8)

“The GIS Approach: To assess the impact of the proposed electric line and power plants on the Lebanese population and environment, several data sets were integrated and analysed. These are: (1) Land Use/Land Cover maps of Lebanon at 1:50, 000 scale; (2) the location map of the Zahrani and Beddawi power plants, and (3) the route of the proposed 225 KV electric line from map scale of 1:100, 000 including natural features, and (4) settlements along the transmission routes including demographic data.

Assessing the impact of the power plants was completed by digitizing the location of the two power plants and then buffering that location point by a radius of three kilometers. The generated polygon coverage was used to clip the land use and population coverages for all of Lebanon. The clipped land use and population coverages were used to obtain the area of the affected land use and to identify the towns and their population located within this three kilometer buffer.”  (GIS Implementation Lebanon: p. 8-9)

With these objectives in mind I started working on developing the GIS layers needed for this project.  The high voltage electrical lines that are proposed for this project.  I had already generated the land use land cover maps at a scale of 1:50,000.  From the paper maps provided by the FAO organization in Rome.  The land use classification defined by the FAO which included the following types: urban, annual crops, trees and perennial crops, grassland, forests and wooded areas, and unused land. 

The next step was to buffer the 220 kv electric lines by 30 km then intersect with the lad use/ land cover GIS layer.  With that step completed we were able to determine if there were URBAN land uses within the 30 km buffer area.  Using this GIS output K&A and Fitchner determined that the construction of the 220 KV line will have no adverse impact to the populated and urban center where the electric lines will pass.

These findings were sent to the German company Fitchner which in turn used the results of the GIS analysis and the maps to generate and document the EIA finding and submit to the World Bank and to the Lebanese government.  These findings also helped the Lebanese government is obtaining funding from the World Bank to provide funds to start the expansion of the 220 kv network.

Military Installations Environmental Assessment

The United States Army National Guard (USARNG) installations are found in all of the states of the USA and in Europe as well.  In September of 2000, Calibre Services Inc. won a two year contract to complete site assessment of military ranges east of the Mississippi river and Europe for the US Congress.  Calibre proceeded with the project while Colorado State University won the portion of the contract which covered the USANG installations west of the Mississippi river as shown in the figure below.

ITAM Regional Support Areas
ITAM Regional Support Areas. Source:

The GIS teams consisting of three GIS Analysts proceeded to visit these USARNG installations and collect field GIS data from the GIS and Environmental officers at the installations. The collected data was in the form of paper maps, GIS and AutoCad layer on CDs. 

Back in the office we converted all collected data into standard ESRI Shapefiles. We then generated USANG installation maps with the training ranges outlined and colored according to their use and status. These GIS maps of the installations were then uploaded using ArcIMS ESRI software. This allowed US Congress to review the data of all USANG installations.  Based on the status and use of each range the US would then decide which installations would get funding. As an example, in Maine there were more than 10 installation but only a few were functioning as needed.  Some of the installations in Maine had the funding reduced because the services were not needed any more.

About the author

Nader M. Soubra is a professional in the Geographic Information System (GIS) field. He started his career in the GIS division of Consolidated Engineering Company in Beirut – Lebanon in July of 1993 as a GIS Analyst.  He graduated from the  State University of New York at Syracuse in May of 1993 with a Ph.D. in Environmental Science.  Dr. Soubra was part of the GIS team that completed several GIS projects in the electrical, environmental and planning fields.  He also gave GIS training courses at four different universities in Lebanon.

After seven years in Beirut Dr. Soubra moved to the USA where he worked as a GIS Analyst for seven GIS consulting companies for 18 years.  Dr. Soubra’s specialization in the GIS field include giving GIS training, spatial analysis and map preparation. 

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