Water management with satellite technology

by Staff Reporter | December 3rd, 2012

According to a recent estimate by business research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, the global opportunity for water and wastewater services in the mining industry is poised to grow from USD 2.3 billion in 2011 to USD 3.6 billion by 2016. With operations often located in water-stressed regions and the industry requiring millions of cubic metres water per annum, there are huge opportunities for monitoring various aspects of the water management cycle within the mining industry.

Satellite-based messaging terminals can be an integral part of water monitoring from source to consumption. Applications include:

  • Measuring water flow to forecast operation of water reservoirs, flood control systems and supply of potable and industrial water
  • Metering water consumption for use monitoring and billing
  • Monitoring water quality using sensors to gauge pollutant levels; acidity, salinity and more

Water monitoring data is not only used for regulatory and operational decision making and historical recordkeeping, but also to evaluate the effect of measures implemented to improve water resource management. This white paper looks at six stages of the water process and the opportunities for monitoring to improve water delivery, regulation, analysis and emergency response.

Emergency notifications through satellite:

 Receive immediate alerts when safety thresholds are reached to control flooding or react to changes in water quality

 Reduce costs by knowing when expensive equipment may be flooded

Data communications through satellite:

 Download complete data from data loggers and remote metres

 Improve data integrity by receiving data often and from a single source

 Reduce costs by eliminating the need to send technicians to remote locations

Stage 1 – Water Source

Water sources can be divided into two broad categories: surface water and ground water. Surface water includes all water that stays on the surface of the earth like lakes, reservoirs, rivers and streams, whereas ground water is water contained in aquifers that are below ground. Both source types can be monitored with sensors.

When monitoring water source, government agencies can collect information about the quantity and quality of water available. Monitoring systems that have integrated satellite-based communication capabilities help to cut down the costs associated with gathering and analysing remote data while making government agencies more responsive to emergencies or changes in water sources.

Stage 2 – Water Flow

Water flow is measured in cubic feet/second or gallons/min and is calculated using depth and velocity data of a stream. Satellite-based communication terminals allow flow monitoring data from remote devices like stream gauges or agricultural water metres to be downloaded to a central location in near real-time, eliminating the delays and data integrity loss associated with manual data collection. They also notify government agencies of water events or monitoring equipment breakdowns and consequently allow them to respond quickly to emergency situations.

In addition to monitoring and sending data from sensors, satellite-based communication terminals can be used to remotely control equipment such as pumps, valves, or gates. For example, in canal management, the integrity of a canal can be compromised in heavy rain storms when the canal is overfilled and spills over. Spill gates, which lead water back into natural drainage systems to protect the canal in case of flooding, are impractical to manually operate due to difficult driving conditions in heavy rain storms. These gates can be remotely operated at low cost using two-way satellite communications equipment. If the canal is used for delivery of water to customers, head gates that direct water into each lateral (sub-canal) can also be controlled remotely to decrease costs and improve customer service.

Stage 3 – Water Consumption

About half of water consumed in the United States is used for thermoelectric power generation, with irrigation being a close second. During the water consumption process, there are many opportunities to remotely monitor the water and wastewater flow rate, level, and quality, thereby reducing costs of collecting this information while generating detailed, frequent data reports.

In thermoelectric power generation, flow rate monitoring and control ensure that correct amount of water enters the plant. Reservoir or tank levels can also be monitored to ensure that enough water is available for the electricity generation process. In farming activities, to avoid water waste and to conform to conservation mandates, water monitoring systems can ensure that neither too much nor too little water is used. Both weather and soil moisture sensors can be monitored and data sent to a central location for analysis at an accepted industry standard of 15-minute intervals. Information can then be fed to irrigation systems which can be controlled remotely according to soil requirements. Consequently, farmers can optimise yield of crops while decreasing water usage and costs at the same time. In all applications, water that is returning to the water table can be monitored for quantity and chemistry.

Water Monitoring In Agriculture

The agricultural industry is a major user of water management technology because both costs and revenue depend highly on water. The following are some examples of remote monitoring applications that help decrease costs and increase productivity of farms.

 Sprinkler control

 Low-flow irrigation system (micro-irrigation) control

 Water metre data collection

 Soil moisture sensors to start/stop irrigation when needed

 Tank and reservoir level sensors and alarms

 Valve and pump monitoring and control of on/off state or rate of flow

When water monitoring installations are in place, there is also an opportunity to tie other assets into the existing system. For example,

 Greenhouse temperature and humidity monitoring and control

 Livestock waste lagoons level to avoid overflow

 Pig and poultry farm temperature monitoring and control

 Chemical and other storage tanks

Stage 4 – Water Conservation

Water conservation activities are closely linked with water consumption activities. The more closely water consumption is monitored, the easier it is to implement water conservation initiatives.

Stage 5 – Water Quality

Water quality monitoring and wastewater monitoring involve analyzing the physical, chemical and biological character of water and looking for factors that may pose a risk to human and livestock health as well as the environment. Examples of parameters that can be monitored include:

Water quality sensors can be installed in reservoirs or downstream from a potential contamination source as part of a larger water monitoring system. If ground water contamination occurs, chemistry sensors in observation wells enable plume detection and tracking. Once a certain threshold of chemical is reached, satellite communication terminals connected to the sensors are used send alarms, allowing quicker response to changes. Satellite communication terminals can also transmit rich data collected in data-loggers, often collecting information from multiple sensors and consolidating before transmitting to a central database. The timeliness and accuracy of water quality data leads to many benefits including reduced costs associated with clean-ups and increased public safety.

Stage 6 – Weather Monitoring

Weather events have significant impact on water quality and quantity. Satellite-based monitoring systems can be used to reliably download all weather station data, monitor for events like floods or overloading of sewer systems and feed data into irrigation and other water management systems.

Weather conditions and events that are monitored include:

 Rainfall intensity and duration

 Temperature

 Solar radiation

 Wind direction and speed

 Relative humidity

 Soil moisture

 Leaf wetness

 Snow pack (SNOTEL systems)


Gathering and analysing water quality and quantity data as it travels from source to consumer and back is a vital component of managing this critical resource. Water monitoring systems, which include sensors and satellite-based communication terminals, offer agencies responsible for water resources the ability to receive time-critical alerts immediately and improve emergency response. Satellite communications also provide the ability to download rich statistical data without the costs and delays associated with having personnel travel great distances to collect this information. Finally, information collected with these systems also provides agencies the tools and knowledge to implement everything from water source monitoring systems to water conservation initiatives.

Information courtesy: www.skywave.com

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