Planning data available in South Okanagan

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen making geographical information available online for free

You’ll need special software to use it, but a local government has thrown open its virtual doors to a rich store of geographical information.

Now available for free on the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen website is the raw spatial data used by planners to draw up their ideas for development.

The information, which can be used to plot property boundaries and civic addresses on maps, was previously obtainable only through RDOS staff and came with a cost.

“Quite often it’s going to be developers and (people) like that” who are most interested in the data, explained Tim Bouwmeester, the regional district’s information services manager.

One such developer from whom he recently received a call was interested in using the data to sniff out opportunities for a wind farm.

“They were using it for analysis — where the private land was — and they’re overlaying that with the topography and where the wind currents are, and trying to find suitable places for wind-power generation,” Bouwmeester said.

The free downloads became available in August, following a board decision in May that directed staff to move towards an open-data philosophy.

Bouwmeester said making the data available for free will cost the RDOS annual revenue of between $300 and $500, but he expects that will be made back. An oft-cited 2001 report prepared by KPMG found that for every $1 government invests in producing such data, $4 comes back in economic activity.

“That was a national study, so it’s hard to say how it would apply here, but I’m pretty sure there’s quite a bit of value that way too,” Bouwmeester said.

The new data, which can also be viewed through an application on the RDOS website, complements other interactive online maps available there, including guides to local trails and the Naramata cemetery.