Managing storm water with the Internet of Things

Share this post:

Storms are destructive beasts, especially to cities and built-up areas. Even your average bout of heavy rain can lead to overflowing rivers and flooding; damaging infrastructure, rendering roads impassible and halting transport until the damage is repaired. So can the Internet of Things help manage excess storm water, and even put it to good use? IBM engineer Matt Paschal thinks so.

In the spring of 2016, Matt assembled a team to address this problem.  Matt, Eric Jenney, Perry Dykes, Dave Draeger, and Tracy Harris put together a demonstration at the Rochester, MN Place Makers Prototyping Festival to show how the IoT can manage excess storm water. Using the IBM Bluemix Platform and a network of sensors, the team reused storm water to irrigate local plant life, reducing the amount sent straight to the river.

The problem of drainage

Why is heavy rain such a problem? The answer lies in increasingly built-up infrastructure. Without large fields and bodies of soil, excess water – which would usually filter down through the soil – has nowhere to go. Instead, it’s collected by pipes, transported to drains and dumped in the river. There are two problems with this: first, storm water isn’t clean. Dirty water means higher temperature water, which affects aquatic life. Second, the sheer volume of water can put a strain on river banks and potentially lead to flooding.

Collecting water data to make smart decisions

As part of a small scale demo, the team connected moisture sensors, turbidity (water quality) sensors, flow sensors and electronic valves to Photon microcontroller boards connected to the IBM Bluemix Platform. Bluemix analyses the data from these various components and displays it on simple dashboards so that it’s easy to see patterns emerging, make decisions based on the data, and set automatic responses to different scenarios.

Redirecting storm water

To decrease the pressure on rivers, Matt diverted excess water to local plant life. Moisture sensors in the soil sent data to Bluemix and told the system when to deliver water to the plants. The system itself is flexible: not only can you be selective about which plants are watered, you can automatically set thresholds to determined when the water supply is allowed to run, and when it is shut off. When the moisture sensors detect too much water in a particular area, that data will be sent to Bluemix and the water supply to that area will be automatically stopped.

Cleaning it up: smart filtering

Even if local vegetation is particularly thirsty, there’s still going to be water left over, and inevitably it’s going to end up in the river. So can it be cleaned beforehand? And what role does the IoT play in the process?

Turbidity sensors measure the quality of the water – and by that, I mean how dirty it is. Storm water is dumped into an inexpensive fabric filter to remove dirt particles, and the filtered clean water is checked for quality by the sensors, before being diverted back into the river.

Take a look at the video to see the process in action.

Scaling up

Within the confined of a small-scale demonstration, we’ve seen how Watson and the Internet of Things can help manage water flow. On a larger scale, simple measures like these could protect river banks and city infrastructure during storms, potentially saving money, time, and hassle.


Add Comment
One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *

Liang Downey

Great story for the environment!

Moving up stream, the system can even take advanced weather alerts, coupled with the IoT sensor measurement, to begin making Peak Shaving plans such as watering the plants, storing the water for treatment….

A team of IBMers are working on the Internet of Water vision for the Great Lakes…could use this innovation to showcase IBM’s broad capabilities.

More Environment Stories
By Jen Clark on November 7, 2017

Big data, pollution and the IoT

Anyone who has lived in a big city will know what it’s like to breathe polluted air. Newcomers to London, for instance, never fail to mention the famous ‘black bogie’ effect associated with taking the tube. Cyclists take to wearing masks to avoid being gassed by car exhaust fumes, and many an allergy sufferer might […]

Continue reading

By Francois Spruyt on September 22, 2017

The Internet of Things, Cloud and Analytics: The New Frontier in Protecting the Endangered Rhino

Francois Spruyt, Chairman Welgevonden Game Reserve Welgevonden Game Reserve in South Africa features 37,000 hectares (the equivalent of just over 90 thousand acres) of diverse landscapes and geology, and is home to much of the African continent’s stunning wildlife. South Africa is also home to most of the world’s remaining rhinos. At Welgevonden you will […]

Continue reading

By Yash Mehta on May 22, 2017

Agricultural Internet of Things technology applications

Technological development follows no physical or invisible boundaries and expands its roots in all directions. Likewise, the Internet of Things has its applications in fields of home security, Industry (as Industrial Internet of Things) and smart cities. But technological development within the Internet of Things has even sown its seeds in the agricultural sector, leading to the Agricultural Internet of […]

Continue reading