NZ Urban waterways web portal

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An article published in Water Science & Technology describes the development of a web portal to improve community awareness of water quality in urban waterways in New Zealand. The web portal data acquisition system is unique in the use of wireless mesh network technology, direct integration with online modelling and a clear target of public engagement.

An information pamphlet was produced to introduce this portal to the local community and inform them about the negative impacts of diffuse urban runoff on their local waterways. The pamphlet provides an initial source of information on local urban waterways, encouraging visits to the web portal.

The web portal, described by Cochrane and co-authors, includes features such as a real-time waterways monitoring system, a public forum, historical data, interactive maps, contaminant modelling scenarios, mitigation recommendations and a prototype contamination alert system.

The unique, cost-effective monitoring system was developed using a mesh network of radio transmitters linked to turbidity, pH, conductivity, water level, and other sensors. Sensor readings are taken every five minutes and are relayed through the network until data reach a base node connected to an online computer. The data are instantly uploaded to the web portal where it is processed, and displayed on Google-based interactive maps. The public is able to view current and historical data presented as interactive charts for each node and sensor on the map.

The forum enables public participation in addressing concerns related to specific waterways contamination. Interactive users are required to register and obtain approval from the forum manager(s). This mode of information communication is also more digestible by the general public, therefore better engaging them with the importance of urban waterways.

The modelling aims to show the origin of contaminants within the local catchment and to help the community prioritise mitigation efforts to improve water quality in local waterways. By interfacing near real-time data into a graphical and live format, water managers and other stakeholders can visually yet quantitatively assess the degree of potential contamination and address the situation in a timely manner.

The contamination alert system aims to keep managers and community members better informed and to provide a more timely response opportunity to avert any unplanned or accidental contamination of the waterways.

Preliminary feedback has been positive and is being supported by local and regional authorities. The system was developed in a cost-effective manner providing a community-focused solution for quantifying and mitigating key contaminants in urban catchments and is applicable and transferable to other cities with similar stormwater challenges.

Source: T. A. Cochrane, D. Wicke and A. O'Sullivan. 2011. Developing a public information and engagement portal of urban waterways with real-time monitoring and modeling. Water Science & Technology, IWA Publishing, 63(2), 248-254.

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