Pooling Resources: Wendy Pyper Reports on a Community Based GIS Facility That Is Supporting Economic and Ecologically Sustainable Development in the Herbert River Catchment

Article excerpt

Big things are happening in the small town of Ingham, thanks to a collaborative venture between industry, government and primary producers.

The north Queensland sugar town has become a model for improved natural resource use, management and planning, through the success of its Herbert Resource Information Centre (HRIC).

The centre was established four years ago with the signing of a 10-year partnership between the Hinchinbrook Shire Council, CSR Ltd, The Herbert Cane Protection and Productivity Board, Canegrowers, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and CSIRO. Its aim is to provide a central facility for the storage, analysis and exchange of natural resource and related information for the Herbert River catchment.

This information is in the form of spatial data, which can be used to generate maps for a range of catchment activities, infrastructure and resources, using `geographic information systems' (GIS) technology.

For example, the centre has used GIS tools and satellite images to predict sugar cane yields (see story on page 28). Crop dusting companies have used GIS and HRIC data sets to plan their flight paths. And the Hinchinbrook Shire Council has used GIS with aerial photos of the town to map infrastructure, drainage lines, power poles, park benches and other urban assets.

So how does the HRIC work? To answer this question, it helps to understand how the centre began.

CSIRO scientists, in the early 1990s, were working on a hydrological modelling project in the Herbert area.

`To complete the project, a detailed contour surface map of the Herbert River catchment was needed,' Dr Dan Walker says. `But to collect the data set we needed to generate the map was going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

`So we got together a consortium of people who wanted the same data set and suggested we all pitch in. That happened, the data was collected and everyone got the data set for a share of the costs.'

In order to use the data set effectively however, the recipients needed the expensive and technologically demanding GIS tools. Enter the six HRIC venture partners, who agreed to contribute both cash and in-kind professional and technical support. Add to that an initial seed grant from the Commonwealth Department of Transport and Regional Development, and the group had the means to acquire GIS technology.

And so the HRIC was born, with the philosophy of providing a non-profit, community based, collaborative GIS facility, which would support economic and ecologically sustainable development in the Herbert River catchment.

Four years on, the HRIC employs two GIS specialists who help the centre's partners and associated groups to establish GIS within their own business operations, by providing training and support.

HRIC manager, Raymond De Lai, says the role of the HRIC staff is not to do the GIS, but to faciliate the work being done within each of the HRIC partner organisations.

`There's a high demand for GIS skills and the HRIC staff couldn't cope if they had to do all the GIS analysis that people need,' De Lai says. `So about 80 people in the Herbert catchment have gone through a formal training process with GIS and about half of those use it regularly.'

These people include members of the Ingham emergency services, the Girringun aboriginal corporation, local crop dusting companies, the Hinchinbrook Shire Council, teachers at the High Schools of Ingham and Cairns and various sugar industry groups.

The other fundamental role of the HRIC is to acquire, store and maintain geographic information, which is then freely available to those that need it.

`A lot of agencies, such as state government departments, the CSIRO and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, have data sets and are collecting a lot of new data all the time,' De Lai says.

`The HRIC's role is to bring all that data together to provide a common resource that's carefully managed. …