Wednesday, February 21, 2024

‘Waka’ gives real-time water quality updates

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NZ-developed device sits in water ways, transmitting data.
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A rugby ball-sized sampling tool promises to make assessing farm water quality a more affordable and relevant exercise, delivering real-time updates to help farmers and authorities make more informed water management decisions.

RiverWatch Solutions CEO Peter Fullerton-Smith said the company’s “Waka”, a floating device that sits in the water current, contains some intensive work just to come up with the optimal hull design.

“The work was in getting a design that would sit within the water flow, developed to also be robust and capable of dealing with flood flows, and even being submersed.”  

He acknowledged the company went through some tough times during covid in the device’s early days of development, then faced the sharp end of component supply problems as covid restrictions lifted and global supply chains stalled.

“But we are now at the point where we have had 20 different companies calling us across a wide range of industries ranging from agriculture to mining, construction and industry who need to have better water quality monitoring data, and we are moving to meet that demand.”
There are currently several RiverWatch Waka being utilised by major catchment groups throughout New Zealand, including Waikato, and the groups are poised to order multiple devices once their trial periods are completed successfully.

One RiverWatch Waka deployed in the Waikato River near Mystery Creek has monitored the water quality there more times in one day than that site has monitored over the past nine years. 

During nine years from 2013-2021 there were 96 “grab” samples taken that give only a snapshot of the river and do not provide reliable, ongoing insight into changes in water quality.

Over 24 days the RiverWatch Waka analysed the water in-stream 2453 times, or 100 times a day across five different measurements. These were pH, temperature, conductivity, turbidity and dissolved oxygen levels.

“It really is like having a continuous video of the river’s water quality, compared to taking a picture 10 times a year.”
Fullerton-Smith said interest in the Waka has been particularly strong from farm catchment groups keen to gather data to establish a baseline for their catchment’s state of health.

Given the challenges in getting consistent data across regions on water quality in NZ, he is hopeful the Waka’s data-gathering ability will become a standard means of gathering and analysing across catchments.

The Waka does not take a nitrate measurement, one of the main focuses for most catchment’s wanting to improve water quality. 

“A nitrate test is very complex and difficult to develop. We are developing a HealthScore analysis for the Waka that will provide a summary of the waterway’s health, based on all the parameters it analyses,”  he said.

Work is being done that links the measurement findings from the Waka to a general water health indicator.

“This is very much a ‘and-and’ solution, not an ‘and-or’, that can be used alongside other water health tools if needed.”

RiverWatch Solutions is poised to include a HealthScore in its Amazon Web Services-supported app, for users to get an indication of overall water body health. 

The instrument’s data is sent through a transmitter located near the device’s waterway location.

Fullerton-Smith said the tool has a wide range of industry applications, including in agriculture, given that until now the alternatives have either been a $100,000-plus European instrument, or taking random “grabs” of water samples for lab analysis.

He said the company is particularly proud that the instrument is not only developed in NZ, but is also manufactured here, with Snap Information Technologies in Nelson producing the $5500 units.

“We are also working through a NZTE focus group to explore opportunities for export to the EU.”

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