Ottawa to link land-use databases

The federal Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food will spend $100 million over the next four years to develop an Internet portal that will give land use managers access to land and water data to make better decisions.

The National Land and Water Information Services (NLWIS) will link silos of data maintained by federal, provincial and municipal governments as well as industry groups, making them accessible through one portal.

Currently, its difficult to pull all that data together to get the big picture. The information can help a land owner make decisions around their porperty, such as if it can support expanded operation without harming the water supply.

Susan Till, the project leader and an assistant deputy minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, said Geographic Information System (GIS) technology will help users understand and manipulate the data. A GIS system uses computer software, hardware and data to manipulate, analyze and present geographic data on a specific location.

“It’s very much to help agricultural producers, industry groups and really all levels of government in sustainable land use decision-making,” said Till.

Information such as biodiversity, soil type, water quality and quantity and climatic data, including temperate and drought patterns, will be accessible through the system.

“The information and applications will be simple to use and accessible through a standard Internet browser,” said Till. “It’s not just providing the information, but it’s also providing the tools to use the information.”

Till said they have developed the model by successfully partnering with stakeholders on smaller projects, including a project relating to hog farm expansion in rural Manitoba. With a hog farm expansion, manure spreading is an issue, and a wealth of information must be considered, including the location of residences and soil drainage patterns. The idea is to find areas to spread the manure that limits the impact on groundwater.

The Rural Municipality of Halton, in southeastern Manitoba, has used GIS mapping technology since 1994, and participated in the pilot. Halton chief administrative officer Doug Cavers said mapping technology helps Halton decide how land can be used, approve variances from zoning regulations, permit conditional uses not usually allowed and maintain buffers between business, urban and agricultural areas.

The mapping system is also tied into Halton’s database, letting planners easily identify impacted property owners and mail them notices — a major staff time savings from before.

“We used to take a paper map and a pen, draw a circle around each proposed development, figure out who lived in that area, cross-check it against the assessment role, identify the property owners, type out a list and send them notices,” said Cavers.

The NLWIS aims to bring that GIS success to users across the country. The first phase is planned for January 2006, and each phase over the next four years will add more functionalities.

Technologically, the system will use a distributed architecture approach, linking the various independent databases scattered across the country via the Internet.

“One of our principles is leaving the data as close as possible to the source, so we’re not duplicating it,” said Josip Capkun, project director, strategic planning and systems applications, NLWIS.

Capkun said server virtualization will be used for the application servers, and a centralized data warehouse will be housed at Agriculture Canada, with an Oracle database and architecture information tools from ESRI.

The majority of the IT work will be done in-house by government IT staff, but Capkun said they are going to public tender for additional resources.

The government will also attempt to make use of open-source software, where possible, to power the applications that will allow users to interpret the wealth of data available through the database.

Ron Lewis, responsible for service applications for the NLWIS, said they would be following the open source consortium guidelines throughout the software selection process.

“We’re looking at commercial off-the-shelf software as well as open-source software,” said Lewis.

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