Trevor Pitcher making an adjustment on a buoy.Professor Trevor Pitcher readies a water-monitoring buoy for deployment in July 2019.

Project providing automatic alerts on water quality and quantity

Researchers from the University of Windsor are partnering with the tech firm BlackBerry on a system that will monitor water levels and quality — and can alert officials to risks as they arise.

Headed by Trevor Pitcher, director of the of the Freshwater Restoration Ecology Centre and a professor at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research and in the Department of Integrative Biology, the project provides of a first-of-its-kind flood risk and clean water monitoring solution.

A team from GLIER installed solar-powered sensors along the Detroit River shore in 2019-20. The equipment is capable of providing data in real time to researchers, conservation authorities, marinas, and municipal employees.

“You can go in to your smartphone and get a live reading to find out how deep the water is at 10 or 20 different places,” says Dr. Pitcher. “It gives us the ability to be pro-active rather than reactive in the event of an emergency.”

BlackBerry has adapted its AtHoc crisis communications application to make sure the information gets into the right hands.

“Sometimes that will be a city engineer or a roads supervisor,” Pitcher says. “Because it’s automated, it could even automatically direct the operation of a pump or a drinking water intake valve. What’s exciting is the system is blending technology and data so that people are safer.”

He says the company’s expertise in emergency preparation made it a perfect fit.

“I wanted a way to disseminate the information to people. As a scientist, I don’t want to get involved in who to alert,” says Pitcher. “AtHoc’s automated notification offers the ability to set thresholds to properly address any issues as they come up.”

GLIER executive director Mike McKay says the technology meets a pressing need.

“Globally, societies must increasingly rely on the autonomous monitoring of air and water to inform our understanding of the environment and to alert us to impending danger,” he says. “Autonomous early-warnings and real-time monitoring are critical to provide enough time to address the risks communities around the world are currently facing.”

BlackBerry touts its potential to save money in operating expenses while delivering benefits to the environment as well as human health and safety.

“Climate change is one of the most pressing threats to our everyday lives, and tackling it requires the urgent and combined effort of governments, organizations, and individuals,” says Neelam Sandhu, corporate senior vice-president. “BlackBerry is committed to delivering advanced technologies that turn real-time data into intelligence.”

Pitcher hopes that the pilot project will prove viable on a much larger scale.

“Flooding is a worldwide problem, not a local problem,” he notes. “The pilot monitoring research was done in the Town of LaSalle, but it will find application at a global level.”