OWASIS – Smart water management by satellite

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"There is a water crisis today. But the crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions of people - and the environment - suffer badly." World Water Vision Report

Flood and drought resulting from increasingly severe weather conditions cause worldwide economic damage, loss of nature, increased political and societal tensions and loss of life. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The water crisis has been cited by the World Economic Forum as the number one global risk based on its impact to society*. ESA, HydroLogic Systems and eleaf eLEAF – two Dutch companies specialising in sustainable water management, have joined forces in project OWASIS using space-based services for improved monitoring, forecasting and control of water availability. 

With adverse weather events becoming more frequent as a result of climate change, management of water has become one of the biggest challenges worldwide. “Lack of accurate information about water can be compounded by poor decision making, leading to further water crises,” says Matthijs van den Brink, Project Manager of OWASIS at HydroLogic.

With 29 % of the country below sea level, keeping the Netherlands flood-free – literally a matter of life and death – has meant being effective water managers since the middle Ages.  (Image credit: Resul Muslu/Shutterstock The OWASIS consortium believe access to adequate information is key to solving current and future water challenges. The project involves two (distinct but interrelated) water management services, the first of which is based in the Netherlands and aims to keep ‘Dutch feet dry’.

The service integrates multiple satellite-based data sources into a water balance solver model. A The HydroNET platform is used to integrate the input data sources and host the water balance solver.For the Dutch to stay on top of their challenging below-sea-level status the consortium has developed a soil water storage capacity service. “The storage capacity of soil is actually the ‘hydrological’ variable that determines both the risk of flooding and the need for irrigation – it’s therefore incredibly important information to have,” says Van den Brink.

Data is then available via interactive maps and graphs which gives water managers easy access to more accurate information on the current and expected status of their water system, on a spatial scale that suits their needs. It provides daily historic, current and forecasted information. The benefits are efficient and improved water allocation, reduced flood and drought risk, and standardisation of water storage capacity – critically showing where water is still available.

A lack of reliable information on soil water storage capacity has the most challenging problem until now in current water management. Knowing the water storage available is the ‘golden egg’ of water maintenance,” 

Matthijs van den Brink, HydroLogic

OWASIS gives us a detailed insight into areas most vulnerable to drought, as well as data on extreme rainfall – facilitating smart water management. “The services OWASIS provides have been a valuable addition to current water management information resources, particularly as 2018 was the driest summer on record in the Netherlands,” says Laurence Duquerroy, Technical Officer of the project at ESA. “The system was therefore successfully tested and demonstrated through extreme drought and the Dutch Water Board have now awarded OWASIS a contract to continue to use the service for the next two years.” 

Matthijs van den Brink says: “One of the key successes is the feedback and huge demand from users – who are very keen to have it and to pay for it. OWASIS really helps to safeguard the country against flooding as it allows for much better decision-making reducing both drought and flooding. The pilot proved it could work, and now we have a contract and are selling this product in the Netherlands.

“ESA support both on the idea and then the pilot was vital – and not least to convince the clients to be fully on board with the development of the product. We benefitted enormously from the review and quality control processes which gave an extra set of independent eyes asking critical questions.” Matthijs van den Brink, HydroLogic

Stay tuned for OWASIS Part II and how the project has been helping farmers in South Africa... coming soon!

 
10 February 2020 - Last updated at 13 February 2020 - 10:50