Smart watersheds are getting smarter. A collaborative team consisting of researchers from the SOWC, Solinst Canada Ltd. and IBM Canada are attempting to successfully demonstrate new communications software at Alder Creek, a sub-watershed of the Grand River, which will make sensor networks more intelligent. This new technology will mark a shift from traditional static sensor programming and data recording, towards dynamic and responsive networks where individual sensors ‘talk’ to each other across the watershed.

“The purpose of the project is to design the data environment to capture sensor data from remote monitoring stations and the communications software to transmit this information into a high-performance computing environment,” said Dr. Dave Rudolph, Professor at the University of Waterloo’s Department of Earth Sciences and SOWC Watershed Node Leader. “The key benefit of this project is that for the first time, a system of remote sensors will be in place to communicate with each other while responding to environmental events within the watershed.”

A key motivation for this research is the advancement of technology under development by SOWC project partner Solinst Canada Ltd., a Georgetown, Ontario based manufacturer of high-quality groundwater instrumentation. Solinst Canada Ltd. has introduced the first concept of a commercial ‘smart integrated’ watershed monitoring system, referred to as the Integrated Watershed Telemetry System (IWT).

Within this system, sensors installed within the watershed not only respond to environmental events automatically, but communicate with one another when events occur – improving on traditional smart sensor technology. As an example, if a sensor within the watershed encounters an unusually high amount of rainfall, it will send a signal directly to other devises within the network to increase their sampling frequency.

Solinst Canada Ltd. is demonstrating and testing this new technology within the SOWC Watershed Node. Infrastructure being deployed as part of SOWC enables companies to take on cutting-edge demonstration within a watershed-based living laboratory – providing users with an integration of climatic, surface and subsurface monitoring capabilities consisting of conventional and emerging sensor arrays interconnected through wireless telemetry. This is further enabled by the data environment being developed by SOWC to support the overall platform. IBM Canada’s contribution to the project includes sophisticated software that will capture and analyze data picked up by sensors in the watershed.

Further, as part of a new Ontario-based $210 million research and development project that brings together the Governments of Canada and Ontario with IBM Canada and academic institutions, Solinst Canada Ltd. is working collaboratively with IBM Canada through the Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform (SOSCIP). SOSCIP is a regional research consortium that will enable the transmission of project data from remote sensors to a high-performance computing environment in near real-time.

“We are working collaboratively on this project with both SOSCIP, who have provided a post-doctoral fellow focusing on the new system’s communication software and programing, and the SOWC, whose infrastructure at Alder Creek is providing the ideal environment to test our newest technology,” says Jim Pianosi, General Manager at Solinst Canada Ltd. “Through this collaborative project, we will be able to provide unique and effective instrumentation that will allow users to garner data to better understand the dynamics of a watershed and model how it will respond to changes in land use practices and modifications to the environment.”

Having a network of sensors that automatically respond to short-lived, intense environment events by increasing sampling frequency is critical to the capture of data that would otherwise go undetected. This will help researchers better understand and model how watersheds will react to various events, allowing stakeholder to make much more informed land use and management decisions based on data. An example of this would be an early flood detection or warning system.

The project is most directly concerned with demonstrating new approaches and technologies for smarter watershed management, a key-focus of the SOWC. Once the SOWC data environment is functioning, its design will be applicable to other smart water monitoring and management applications.