Science & Technology

USU Researchers Receive Top Geographic Information Systems Award

A team of Utah State University scholars is being lauded for an interdisciplinary research effort that makes innovative use of GIS technology to help growing communities better manage scarce water supplies in arid and drought-prone regions.

USU irrigation engineering alum Fayek Farag PhD’03 and faculty members Christopher Neale, Roger Kjelgren and Joanna Endter-Wada are recipients of the 2012 ESRI Award for Best Scientific Paper in Geographic Information Systems. The researchers will be recognized in a March 21 awards ceremony at the 2012 Annual Conference of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing in Sacramento, Calif.

The team’s winning paper, “Quantifying Urban Landscape Water Conservation Potential Using High Resolution Remote Sensing and GIS,” was published in the November 2011 issue of Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing. Research described in the paper was funded primarily by a USDA-CSREES National Research Initiative Grant and also supported by the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station.

“The paper describes research we initiated more than a decade ago, when we first worked with water managers in the Utah cities of Layton, West Jordan and Logan,” says Endter-Wada, associate professor in USU’s Department of Environment and Society. “We selected growing communities, where increasing urban demand for water is causing re-allocation of water from agricultural to urban uses.”

The USU researchers, who will be among presenters at USU’s 2012 Spring Runoff Conference April 3-4, recognized the need for a way to quantify, on a large scale, outdoor water use in urban areas.

“Our goals included analyzing patterns of urban landscape water use, assessing landscape water conservation potential and identifying locations with capacity to conserve,” says Neale, professor in USU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

The team’s research is based on a conceptual approach using airborne multispectral imagery, captured by Neale’s research aircraft, of irrigated landscape areas that, when combined with local reference evapotranspiration data, yielded estimates of water demand. Those estimates were compared in a GIS environment with actual landscape water use by parcel data, obtained from the respective cities’ water supplier billing offices. Information distilled from these comparisons was used to determine potentially conservable landscape irrigation water and identify users with high capacity to conserve.

“Our research is designed to investigate site characteristics and human behaviors affecting urban water use,” Endter-Wada says. “With our findings, we are able to make city officials and users aware of areas and locations of high water usage, where conservation programs could be targeted to save substantial amounts of water.”

The study revealed a new and advanced way of using GIS data to solve a real-world water management challenge. The researchers have continued to refine their approach and have worked with other Utah municipalities and water conservancy districts. Their subsequent work has been funded by the USDA, the Bureau of Reclamation and NOAA’s Western Water Assessment.

“I think that’s what caught attention of the ASPRS ESRI Award Selection Committee,” says Kjelgren, professor in USU’s Department of Plants, Soils and Climate. “Our approach is unique and can be applied to other studies of resource use.”

Farag, lead author on the team’s paper, returned to his native Egypt following graduation from USU and served in the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation’s National Water Research Center in Cairo. He recently accepted a new post in Australia.

The ESRI Award, presented by the ASPRS, is funded annually by a grant from the California-based ESRI Corporation. A leading developer of geographic information systems software, ESRI was formerly known as the Environmental Systems Research Institute, a land-use consulting firm founded in 1969.

Founded in 1934, ASPRS counts more than 6,000 geospatial data professionals among its members. According to the society’s website, its aim is to advance knowledge and improve understanding of the mapping sciences to promote responsible application of photogrammetry, remote sensing, geographic information system and supporting technologies.  

Related links:

USU Water Initiative

Utah Agricultural Experiment Station

NOAA Western Water Assessment

Contact: Christopher Neale, 435-797-3689,

Contact: Roger Kjelgren, 435-797-2972,

Contact: Joanna Endter-Wada, 435-797-2487,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

USU research group wins award

USU water researchers, from left, Roger Kjelgren, Joanna Endter-Wada and Christopher Neale, along with USU alum Fayek Farag, are recipients of the 2012 ESRI Award for Best Scientific Paper in Geographic Information Systems.

Water at USU illustration

The researchers, who are recognized for their innovative use of GIS data to solve a real-world water management challenge, are among presenters at the 2012 Spring Runoff Conference April 3-4 at USU.


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