Water Quality Monitoring Through Earth Observation

Waterjade provides monitoring and prediction services for water resources that help its customers optimise the water supply. Especially industrial companies that extensively use water in their daily applications, such as water utility companies and hydropower companies, need to plan the water withdrawal from the watershed – be it from a reservoir, a river, or a well.

The service from Waterjade can help answer typical questions, such as “How much water is there and when will it become available?”, “How can water abstraction on the industrial plant be optimised?”. The innovative technology called “The digital twin of the watershed”, a mix of physical models and machine learning algorithms, can follow the evolution of the water cycle in the catchment by using satellite data, in-situ observations and weather forecasts.

In 2020, Waterjade won the Copernicus Masters EC EU Space data for “Blue Economy” Challenge. The solution convinced the jury with the demonstration of how to use Copernicus satellite data to monitor river flow and predict discharge. Waterjade features a new modelling approach that combines artificial intelligence and physical models to predict water inflow based on weather developments in upstream catchment areas. Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-3 data were used to infer the water level of rivers and streams, and Copernicus C3S to produce seasonal forecasts. The results include continuous remote monitoring of river or lake levels through satellite data.

Two years later, in spring 2022, Waterjade has been selected by the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) to develop a service under the “myEUspace competition – Track 1 Development Phase kick off”, inside the “Our Green Planet” innovation area. Waterjade’s new project, called WatQEO (“Water Quality from Earth Observation”), aims to monitor water quality for inland water bodies, such as lakes. This is relevant for water utility companies and public agencies for many reasons, such as the monitoring of potentially toxic algae blooms or understanding changes in the biochemical parameters to plan the necessary purification treatments. Furthermore, the noncompliance of water quality with the permitted parameters may become a blocking factor for water withdrawal, with consequent impacts on the water supply.

With this WatQEO project, Waterjade aims to test a novel approach to water quality monitoring in such water bodies purely based on Earth observation (EO) compared to the traditional high-cost methods requiring dedicated equipment, logistics, maintenance, and well-trained personnel.

During the 12 weeks of the myEUspace programme, Waterjade worked both on the technical implementation of a prototype and on an investigation into market readiness.

In order to also make the service suitable for a non-expert user, we developed a platform showing maps of the water body with the possibility to select the desired water quality parameter. The team identified Lake Garda (Italy) and some reservoirs in Spain as suitable water bodies for testing their prototype based on the availability of in-situ observation.

The target variables, besides the water temperature, were quality indexes such as chlorophyll, turbidity, cyanobacteria, and coloured dissolved organic matter.

Example of a turbidity map on Lake Garda (Italy) as shown on our platform. © Waterjade

The model results, compared with the observations, showed very encouraging figures confirming the assumption that a water quality estimation service based on EO could be a possible complementary service to in-situ surveillance. The advantages are manyfold, including a decrease in inspection costs, the scalability of the service potentially everywhere, and the possibility to prioritise further inspections of the water body that is deteriorating.

The next steps of Waterjade’s WatQEO project will include the development of a predictive model and the further improvement of the EO technology.

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