Intelligent Water Management System Helps Cities Combat Drought, Flooding

Amid a changing climate and rapid urbanization, water-related disasters are increasingly harmful to cities and ecosystems. An open-source framework designed in Michigan is harnessing the power of IoT to create a smart water monitoring and drainage system that can help prevent city and roadway flooding, combat drought, improve aquatic life, and ensure safer drinking water.


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Image credit: Open Storm

Researchers and engineers at the University of Michigan have water on the brain. The Ann Arbor-based team has created a framework of open-source hardware, software, and algorithms that together form a smart water monitoring system called Open Storm. The system uses IoT-enabled sensors, embedded systems, and cloud-based data services to monitor and control water drainage systems in real-time and to provide cities with cost-efficient solutions to water-induced problems. Open Storm is helping the team learn how to reduce damage and even deaths that result from flooding and to find sustainable ways to reuse water to counteract drought. 

The sensor nodes collect data about water flow, water quality, soil moisture, rainfall, and other conditions. The data is sent using wireless telemetry to a remote server via cellular networks. The Open Storm system also includes actuators that execute control actions for external mechanical devices, such as valves and gates, which can be opened and closed remotely using Open Storm’s algorithms.

An internal power supply system powers the nodes using a battery, a solar panel, a charge controller, and a voltage converter. This allows the nodes to remain connected and active without requiring routine maintenance. 

The sensor nodes transmit the water-related data to the Open Storm cloud where it is stored, processed, and fully accessible to researchers at Michigan’s Real-Time Water Systems Lab and other partners. Data is analyzed to determine water flow within the drainage system and adjustments can be made in real time. Water levels and water quality are also monitored within the cloud to detect unsafe water conditions. If dangerous thresholds are reached, push notifications are sent to researchers or city management officials. 

Monitor, Capture, Reuse

In Ann Arbor, the Open Storm IoT hardware resides within the city’s existing water drainage infrastructure. The nodes monitor water levels to prevent flooding in the city. When water levels are high or heavy rains are expected, valves can be opened to allow for drainage. The valves can be closed to hold water strategically, and possibly even reuse it--an innovative and cost-effective solution for areas impacted by drought. 

box with senso monitors water over drainage system

Image credit: Open Storm

The framework is also being used by the Ann Arbor-based Huron River Watershed Council. The council has placed nodes along the Huron River, which runs through various Michigan cities. The Huron River sensors track water quality and water levels to help regulate dam operations and to support the health of aquatic wildlife. Data from the nodes also indicates where drainage infrastructure should be modified to improve water flow.  

Reducing Flood Damage

The Open Storm framework is accessible for use in other cities. The University of Toledo and the University of Texas at Arlington are using the Open Storm framework in Toledo, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Toledo is using the Open Storm system to optimize rainwater retention and monitor the effectiveness of a sustainable water infrastructure. The Texas team is using Open Storm to monitor water levels along roadways and to alert motorists, emergency responders, and other officials in the event flooding occurs. The UT team hopes Open Storm technology will provide them with a proactive way to reduce flood damage and flood-related deaths. 

Michigan researchers hope to bring the Open Storm technology to California to reduce the impact of pervasive drought conditions. If other organizations take advantage of Open Storm’s free, open source designs, urban areas can improve methods to control storm and sewer systems, prevent flooding, and measure green infrastructure in urban water systems. 


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