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GIS coordinator working to update area’s mapping system for irrigation districts

December 3, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — The Nebraska Water Leaders Academy is dedicated to leadership training on the importance of water in the state and one of its recent graduates is from Mitchell.

Travis Preston recently graduated with the academy’s eighth class. The one-year education program of both classroom and field experience focuses on the role the state’s rivers, streams and aquifers play in our economic stability.

Currently working as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) coordinator for the North Platte Natural Resources District, Preston had a roundabout journey into his career field.

A 2004 Scottsbluff graduate, he spent a year locally before joining the U.S. Marine Corps. After basic training in California, he was sent to Hawaii, assigned to the First Battalion Third Marines unit, completing two deployments to Iraq during his first enlistment.

“I re-enlisted in 2009 and went into the intelligence community where I did imagery analysis,” he said. “I also got married that year and got tired of being gone all the time. There was a 26-month period where I was gone for about 18 of them. Moving and living out of a bag isn’t what I wanted.”

So after his second enlistment, he left active duty.

Preston was trained through the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency to do imagery analysis. But in order to do GIS or imagery mapping in the civilian world, he needed a degree.

That led him to Southern Illinois University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in geography and environmental resources.

As he was completing his degree, Preston and his wife had a new daughter. At about the same time, he received a call from NRD Director John Berge asking if he’d like to come home.

“I never thought I’d be back, but it was good to have a job offer,” he said. “I’ve been with the NRD about three years now.”

As a GIS coordinator, Preston tracks and maps the number of certified acres that can be irrigated, plus tracking nitrate levels in the water. All the information goes into a database that’s accessible to local producers to help them manage their irrigation needs.

The NRD is currently working on a smart phone app that allows producers to monitor their telemetry units. The data from their flow meters allows farmers to remotely keep current with their water usage. Annual water usage stats will also be available to producers through the app.

“For the past three years I’ve also been working with all the area’s irrigation districts,” Preston said. “Western Nebraska is unique in the number of irrigation districts it has and many of their maps haven’t been updated for decades. Working together we gain a better understanding of how water works and moves within our district.”

He said the NRD has developed a very good model for understanding the relationship between surface water and groundwater. It’s an integral part of the planning process in developing water policy.

“As for challenges, I don’t know what the future holds as far as how water is going to act,” Preston said. “Water allocation margins continue to get tighter, so it’s important for producers to keep track of their water usage so we can take care of the people that rely in it for their livelihood.”

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