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AquaWatch Australia to keep an eye on the nation's waterways

The quality of Australia’s inland waterways, reservoirs and coastal environments is set to be monitored by a fleet of satellites and a network of ground-based sensors within a 12-month scoping study led by AquaWatch Australia.

Developed by CSIRO, the AquaWatch Australia initiative is one of many aimed at solving Australia’s biggest challenges, including ensuring effective management of our most vital resource — water. 

Data gathered from space provides critical insights into water quality, but observation satellites currently provide only 60-70% coverage of major Australian water bodies.

To fill this gap, AquaWatch aims to complement existing systems to create a national monitoring system using an extensive network of ground-based sensors placed throughout Australia’s rivers and waterways. The sensors will work alongside purpose-designed observation satellites to deliver real-time updates, predictive analytics and forecast warnings.

In order to deliver the scoping study, CSIRO and SmartSat are collaborating with partners from the research sector, government agencies and industry, including the University of Queensland, UNSW Canberra, Curtin University, Frontier SI, Water Research Australia and SatDek.

SmartSat CEO Professor Andy Koronios said the AquaWatch scoping phase will include assessing the current range of water quality monitoring programs across Australia, while also  identifying opportunities to drive efficiencies, advancements and adoption of new technology.

"As well as monitoring the health of our inland rivers, dams and waterways, the project aims to grow the industry and create new job opportunities across the environmental data services sector, primary industry and agriculture and support drought resilience efforts," Koronios said.

"We think the project has great potential to deliver two-fold benefits of improving water quality management as well as creating new skills and job opportunities in Australia across a range of industries.

"AquaWatch is a cornerstone of SmartSat's research portfolio, which focuses on developing technologies to help solve some of Australia's biggest challenges."

Collaborative effort

CSIRO Centre for Earth Observation Director Dr Alex Held said early consultation will engage with collaborators from across industry, research and government.

"We want to work directly with water agencies, community leaders and industry to better understand the challenges faced in water health monitoring," Held said.

"Working with our project partners we will analyse the core elements required to establish an integrated space infrastructure network and create the domestic technical capability to build it.

"This will help inform the development of future local advanced manufacturing opportunities, water modelling and Earth observation data analysis and applications.”

Held said the outcome of the scoping study could lay the foundation for more comprehensive national water monitoring in Australia.

"The outcomes could lead to a step-change in Australia's national water quality information delivery, supporting decision makers in water agencies, local communities, water utilities and commercial water users to provide safe drinking water and manage this precious natural resource,” he said.

Following the scoping phase, it is believed AquaWatch may also have potential to monitor coastal wetlands, aquaculture farms, riparian vegetation and terrestrial biodiversity, mine sites, mangroves and coral reef environments.

The Australian Water Association podcast has previously spoken to CSIRO's Tim Malthus about this topic. Listen here.