Monitoring water quality in Flanders

The Internet of Things technology and the self-learning algorithms and hydrological models that will use the real-time data have a huge potential for future developments and are complementary to the current monitoring with scoop samples and multi-parameter probes. imec takes the monitoring of various aspects of water quality in Flanders to the next level. Koen Triangle, who coordinates the project for imec, outlines the potential of the research project and its importance for Flanders.

The reality in Flanders
“Securing a sufficient flow of high-quality water is a universal challenge,” says Koen Triangle, project manager City of Things at imec. “Our society is facing a variety of challenges as a result of climate change, with the impact on our water management being an important one. And, judging the increasing periods of lengthy droughts and – on the contrary – of exceptionally heavy rainfall, one that is not likely to go away.” Water is also an economic reality. According to a report from VLAKWA, the Flemish Knowledge Centre for Water, one in every six jobs in Flanders is dependent on a good supply of water being available at an acceptable price. Partly because of this, substantial efforts are already put into water-quality monitoring. Koen Triangle: “In no way, IoW Flanders wants to underestimate the already ongoing efforts. There are already numerous parties involved in measuring the water quantity and quality in Flanders. And in many cases, the available knowledge provides ample and useful insights. Yet, the existing methods also have their limitations.”

For instance, water quality measurements are only taken periodically and not very often. And these readings usually involve taking manual scoop samples that are analyzed offline or in a lab. In the relatively few places where sensor systems are used, the devices tend to be very powerful multi-parameter probes, which are very expensive.

Especially in the context of policy making, correct decisions often need to be taken or explained quickly. Because there is a lack of real-time and fine-grained data, the required and most up-to-date information is not always available. Think, for example, of when the authorities have to decide on water consumption based on the quality of the water or during periods of drought. They may have to explain why water usage is being restricted in certain areas (due to quality considerations) whereas supplies still appear to be sufficient.

When it comes to water quality, use cases cover applications such as measuring water salinization (the salt content in fresh water) or the effect of run-off and discharges on surface water (for example when mixed wastewater from the sewers enters a watercourse in periods of heavy rainfalls in a short amount of time).

More, cheaper and real-time measurements

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