Monitoring water quality in Flanders

We need to monitor our water quality more often and in more detail. Thanks to the Internet of Water project, Flanders will become a frontrunner in the field. Read all about it in this blog.

Internet of Water Flanders (IoW Flanders): in collaboration with research- and industry partners, imec takes the monitoring of various aspects of water quality in Flanders to the next level.

Next to the widespread term Internet of Things (IoT), there is now also an Internet of Water. Internet of Water Flanders (IoW Flanders) is a four-year project through which Flanders aims to become a frontrunner in the management and monitoring of various aspects of water quality. IoW Flanders builds on an extensive network of sensors, in conjunction with state-of-the-art network technology and data analytics. Together with several relevant research partners, imec shapes the IoW Flanders consortium. And also the (Flemish) industry has an important role to play.

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.”

Internet of Water Flanders imec

© VMM, assessment measuring results MAP measuring net for nitrate and orthophosphate for winter year 2018-2019. The majority of water quality readings are currently taken using manual scoop samples that are analyzed offline or in a laboratory.

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

IoW Flanders focuses specifically on a water quality monitoring solution that uses an extensive and fine-grained network of sensors that are much less expensive than the existing systems, while at the same time offering real-time wireless communication and more flexible measurement capabilities (e.g. by allowing a remotely tunable measurement frequency).

In total, more than two thousand sensors measuring various aspects of water quality are to be gradually rolled out across the whole of Flanders; in drainage systems, water treatment plants and ground and surface water.

Internet of Water Flanders - imec


Internet of Water Flanders - imec

© VMM, multi-parameter probes are used in a relatively small number of locations. These are powerful measuring instruments, yet are relatively large and very expensive.

Self-learning algorithms and hydrological models will also assist in processing all relevant data and their translation into actionable policy information. The output of those algorithms will for instance soon enable all kinds of water-related decisions to be based on solid fundamentals, such as surface-water management, water intake from a particular water source, supply and re-use of treated wastewater and rainwater, re-using effluent for irrigation, pumping water into channels, setting up water- buffer basins, and so on.

Koen Triangle: “We have divided the project into two main phases. During the first two years, the focus will be on making inventories and on research development and testing of measurement methodologies and technologies. During the final two years, we will use the insights gained to implement the sensors and enabling solutions on a large scale across Flanders.”

Strength through collaboration

The IoW Flanders project is supported by funding from Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship (VLAIO) and is being executed by the IoW Flanders consortium.

Koen Triangle: “As the manager of Flemish watercourses and operationally responsible for the water-basins secretariat, the Flanders Environment Agency (VMM) already has a detailed overview of the water quality and the impact of pollution. Their knowledge of the existing methodologies of the various monitoring networks is essential for the project. Because of this knowledge, VMM helps to determine the locations of the sensors and offers input for their development. Also, VMM brings previous experience of sensor rollouts in Flanders to the project.

“As a technological research organization, VITO has a lot of knowledge about data and predictive models. As well as good insight into water-related needs and use cases., Knowledge that will be combined to select the best possible locations for the sensors. Also, VITO brings its experience to the table in terms of cloud- and IT setup.

“As the initiator and facilitator in the domain of water, the Flanders Knowledge Center Water, (VLAKWA), manages the interactions with the various stakeholders ensuring that the sensor network can be deployed with optimal effect on the various societal ambitions set forward within the project. VLAKWA also manages the IoW Flanders branding and ensures a timely and effective flow of information towards relevant stakeholders.

The other partners, Aquafin and De Watergroep, will act as the initial end users of  the generated data. Also, they provide valuable insights for the sensors and their locations, building on learnings from . various rollouts of IoT sensors and on a clear view of the specific nature of their locations, which we need to take into account (safety, gas pipes, etc.). Last but not least, they have a huge amount of knowledge about water quality and the associated legislation.”

imec sensor Internet of Water Flanders

IoW Flanders uses imec sensors (pictured in the beaker) for measuring various aspects of water quality, connected (with a cable) to a measuring station that ensures the wireless communication. These sensor setups are smaller, more versatile and significantly cheaper than the probes currently being used in Flanders.

Imec has ample experience with IoT devices, sensors, network connectivity, cloud architecture and infrastructure, as well as with the state-of-the-art data models that go with them. The chip that will be at the core of the sensor is also produced by imec. All of this requires the active participation of imec teams from Leuven, Antwerp (City of Things) and the Netherlands (Holst Centre). As well as from IDLab, an imec research group at the Universities of Antwerp and Ghent.

Industrial partners crucial for project definition, implementation & management

The industry also has an important role to play. Koen Triangle: “On the one hand, we involve the market in the definition of the use cases and the development of potential applications for water-quality monitoring. Water salinization and runoff are two of them, but these need to be elaborated on and our aim is also to add use cases over time.. Be it in terms of water collection or discharge flows, water quality is an important concern for many companies.”

To shape the interaction with the industry, the IoW Flanders project organizes surveys and stakeholder events. Also by attending various external events in Belgium and abroad, the project will have regular interactions with a variety of stakeholders.

In addition to benefit from the acquired knowledge, there are also economic opportunities resulting from the foreseen tenders. Internet of Water Flanders will not able to realize its goals without the expertise and know-how of specialist suppliers. Koen Triangle: “Early on in the research we will be calling on the services of private partners for the installation, maintenance and management of the hardware and software required for IoW Flanders. For example, our aim in 2021 is to already set up around fifty measuring units. Because this is not part of the core skills of the consortium partners, we will execute this implementation via a private tender. We envisage similar processes for further upscaling, as well as for the eventual handover to one or more entities that will ensure the long-term viability after the four years of IoW Flanders.”

Want to find out more about measuring water quality and about Internet of Water Flanders?

Internet of Water Flanders is a collaboration between imec, VITO, Flanders Water Knowledge Centre (VLAKWA), Flanders Environment Agency (VMM), De Watergroep and Aquafin, with the support of the Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship Agency (VLAIO). Visit the Internet of Water Flanders website.

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About Koen Triangle

Koen Triangle is a project manager at imec City of Things. Since his high interest in technology, the projects he has managed have always had a technological flavor. He has been enjoying pushing boundaries in an international and national context for the last decade. In the Smart Lighting project he took up the role as a project manager in order to connect the different partners and support the project in reaching its goals. Before joining imec, Koen was working for Delaware Consulting. This global company is focused on software implementation, helping their customers in converting their strategic goals into applicable software tools. While working at Delaware Consulting he has managed projects in an international context, with customers based in Israel, America and Belgium, with an internationally based team. Therefore, he has managed teams in America, China and Vietnam in order to convert the goals of our customers into delivered projects. It has always been Koen’s role to deliver projects meeting the customers’ needs and according to the defined scope, while taking into consideration contextual changes. To support transparent decision-making in the project, he applies an open, constructive and inclusive communication style. This keeps all parties informed and enables them to contribute to the project and the strategic goals.

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