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  • Writer's pictureEAHCP Steward

Data Driven - Tolman leverages GIS system to enhance understanding of Edwards Aquifer ecosystem

EAHCP Steward - July-August 2018 -

So, you’re standing in an area near Landa Lake, enjoying the beautiful surroundings, and you

get to wondering what type of vegetation is dancing in the flowing water from the Comal

Springs. Kristina Tolman can help you with that. Well, actually her newly-created GIS

web application can.

Tolman is a program coordinator for the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan (EAHCP), and is also a GIS (Geographic Information System) specialist. While she has been working on the EAHCP for the last two years, she spent nearly eight years at the Meadows Center in San Marcos studying and analyzing the ecosystem there.

Kristina Tolman displays a sample page from her GIS system application.

Upon arriving at the Edwards Aquifer Authority to work on the EAHCP, she waded into a very

deep pool of data collected by EAA biological monitoring contractors since 2001. Combing through different historical biological datasets can be cumbersome and time consuming. And while she understood the importance of the data to the EAHCP, she took it upon herself to stitch the data together in a way that would help the public understand what it all means.

“ESRI is the world’s leading GIS company, so they have been at the forefront of producing templates to help specialists like me present the data in a more public-friendly fashion,” Tolman said. She recently attended the ESRI user conference and learned about new web mapping applications and templates that are more mobile-friendly than previous versions.”

The ultimate goal is to have this technology connected to the EAA website where the public

can easily access it while they enjoy the Comal and San Marcos Springs systems.

In creating the web applications, Tolman starts with satellite maps and then overlays data from the huge database of EAHCP information. That data consists of vegetation coverage polygons, endangered species sampling areas, EAHCP work site areas, and more, then she codes and links photos, videos, and other types of descriptions to the spatial information. The magic comes in how all of that information is then presented to viewers.

“Let’s say you’re at Landa Park and you see aquatic vegetation but you may not know what you’re looking at,” Tolman explained. “What you could do is grab your phone, navigate to this application, find yourself on the map and then click on the vegetation polygon. That would bring up a description of the vegetation with the scientific and common name, area of the vegetation, as well as a picture of the species. Another example is our EAHCP Contractor Tour application where you can zoom to a EAHCP restoration site and watch a video of the contractor talk about their work and how their work is beneficial for the ecosystem.”

In addition to creating a helpful tool for the public, EAHCP researchers and contractors are also seeing new ways to use the data in plotting out future enhancements they can make to the programs they’re working on. For example, in some areas of the system, some native

vegetation has had to be replanted several times before taking hold. In other areas, one

planting does the trick. That type of information is readily viewed in the GIS application Tolman is preparing and it gives program managers insights into how to approach restoration work in various areas of the ecosystem. She explained the benefits this way.

“If a contractor sees that they’re having trouble with a particular area, they then can use the

data to look at conditions like river flow, depth, velocity, and substrate of the river bed and a host of other characteristics of that specific location. By understanding that information, they

can apply the observed species’ habitat preferences to other restoration locations in the ecosystem. We’re just trying to piece together the data that’s been collected over the years and presenting it in a way that helps people make good decisions going forward.”

Tolman noted that she is getting close to being able to make the system available to the public. She will be presenting the work to the EAHCP Science Committee and other internal groups over the next few months, but hopes to have a part of the new GIS application up for public use by the end of the year.

“If people have a better understanding of these environmentally sensitive areas, they can help us protect them. And that’s good for everyone and everything living here.”

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