27 October 2011

Real time water quality monitoring

This press release made me think of using the technology to turn non-point pollution sources into "points" that could be monitored. Monitoring, in turn, would facilitate trading in emissions and/or water quality.

I emailed Atlas Scientific for more information and got this reply from Jordan Press:

About 6 years ago we started working with the City of New York. We were asked to come up with a way to map groundwater flow... from there we became masters at building LARGE scale environmental monitoring networks. We also discovered that we accidentally invented (as invention seem to happen) a new method for reading pH from a pH probe. For the first time, we could network 1000's of sensors together. We moved the technology from pH to ORP/D.O. and then E.C. (which was VERY challenging to say the lest).

Now, we are in the business of selling that technology in the form of tiny circuit boards.

Let me answer your questions.

Q: Can you tell me what the cost of a system with one monitor per 100m, along 5km -- equipment only -- for monitoring TDS in a river? I am thinking of monitors of tailwater runoff from agricultural fields.
A: Let's start with a VERY general ball park estimate, so you know where you stand. I would say something like that (5km real-time monitoring) would be in the 7,000€ to 11,000€ range.

Q: Let's say 2,000€ per km then. That's all CapEx, right? And it works out to about 200€ per 100m (farm) to do real time monitoring of a broad spectrum of pollutants?
A: Yes, it's all CapEx

Q: Does it get any cheaper if data come once per day? (I know there are issues with peaking pollution, but just a question).
A: Nope. Best to go with once every 10 to 30 min.

Q: I see that you're working with NYC. Have you heard of Whitewater (Israel) -- they are selling realtime monitoring in the US.
A: Companies like Whitewater use our equipment without having to try and invent this stuff from scratch.

Q: What's your prediction of price points in 2-3 years. Are these prices falling at the same rate as other hitech stuff?
A: Yes. We have a new model coming out that is 60% cheaper. We can help you build a large scale network however, we don't have an "out of the box solution". It's all custom made.

We are actively searching for our equipment to be used in university/corporate demo projects. We can offer our services and expertise to you at cost. The cost will end up being a bit more, but we can produce about 90% of all the technology you will need to set up a very robust real time monitoring system.


  1. Real time water monitoring would let the citizens of Davis meet their conservation goals. I wonder what this would cost for a home owner?

  2. Neat technology with a lot of potential uses. There are a lot of ways to misuse it, too. Thousands of sensors in the hands of enthusiastic but uneducated people could fill the air with noise, as tiny spikes in one spot or another ( both actual and resulting from sampling error) could generate hysterical shrieking about imagined catastrophes. As with air quality, management of water quality involves a vast scale, far beyond what most people are used to. We smog test all our cars, but we don't base our air quality policies on the information from two new Hondas and four old taxicabs. If these sensors can be used and understood that way, they can be a big help.

  3. Expensive part is in the data analysis and report writing, especially if it's of any quality; political part is in getting access for data collection, and how analysis is used.

  4. I agree with Mr. Kurtz and SS.

    This is very interesting technology, but the real cost is in the data analysis. Some agencies pay labs millions of dollars to run data analysis a few times per year on a few sites. Multiply the number of sites by 100 and add daily testing, and pretty quickly you're talking billions of dollars every year.

    Theoretically, however, it could be a good idea, as quarterly sampling can exacerbate inaccuracies. One sample that was gathered poorly or run at an odd time (say, right after a once-in-a-decade storm) becomes one fourth of the annual average for that site (instead of 1/365th of the annual average), and all kinds of odd decisions can result.

    But of course, just because something is theoretically a good idea, doesn't mean it will actually work out that way in real life.

  5. More data is good; reduces the impact of errors, as CRG suggested. I disagree about his cost analysis though; seems to me the cost of data analysis will scale down just as the cost of data acquisition does. The frequency of analysis is independent of the frequency of data collection, for one thing, and increased data density can make water-quality data easier to analyze (by reducing the effects of outliers).

  6. Technologies currently exist to add an automated analysis layer above these layers of sensors specifically for the problems of dealing with too much data. The BlueBox Intelligent Event Detection System is one of these technologies, provided by Whitewater Group, as well as others by Hach, SCAN, and more.

    Additionally, there are companies that provide real-time online toxicity monitoring which are already in use in China for pollution detection. Check out CheckLight Online.



    CheckLight Online: https://www.box.com/s/zpofo4ovulcfbfvtpq1f

    For more water quality monitoring and water security news check out my blog:


    Noah Morgenstern

    Disclaimer - I work for The Whitewater Group, which owns Whitewater Security and is a majority owner in CheckLight Ltd.

  7. Hello,
    I ran across your blog, and wanted to reach out. We provide remote real-time water quality monitoring technology that dramatically decreases the cost of monitoring. Feel free to reach out to me at kanderson@agilairecorp.com for information or pass this on to anyone that may be directly involved in a water quality monitoring initiative.

    Kathleen Anderson
    Partnership Liaison
    Agilaire Corporation

  8. Yes, there are some good examples of real time water quality monitoring. In Northeastern Illinois (U.S.A.), we are using conductivity meters in groundwater wells to monitor and record the daily fluctuations in chlorides. This is because we have a significant concern with rising chloride levels due to the use of road salts for winter de-icing activities as well as the use of salts for water softening to remove iron and other constituents of concern. You can find this information on the USGS website.


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