Bangalore’s Water Crisis – A Swiss App Shows the Way

While grappling with the problem of acute water shortage, Bangalore’s citizens have been looking at ways and means of conserving the precious resource. Several organisations and citizens forums have come together to discuss possible tactics to resolve the crisis. A citizen science initiative originating in Switzerland suggests a simple and affordable way for Bangalore’s residents to participate in water conservation.

The CrowdWater Project started by two PhD students from University of Zurich, Barbara Strobl and Simon Etter, is a citizen science movement that enables the collection of hydrological data through an app. Anyone interested in water can be a part of this movement. Barbara Strobl tells us more about her project –

Tell us more about the CrowdWater Project.

The CrowdWater project aims to examine the potential of ‘crowdsourcing’, meaning observations of voluntary participants. As the name suggests, the project looks at the potential of crowdsourcing in the field of hydrology. We collect water level, streamflow, soil moisture data and information about the flow conditions of temporary streams with the help of an app. The project will not only look at the possibilities of collecting data but also at the value of these data for hydrological forecasts. The long-term aim of the project is to collect a large amount of data and to improve the forecast of hydrological events, such as droughts or floods.

There are two basic parts of the CrowdWater project. On the one hand, we will assess public involvement in hydrological observations. For this we use a “geocaching” type approach with the help of smartphones. By using an app users can install a virtual measuring station. Anyone can then add their observations to this station and all observations will be collected and published anonymously on the CrowdWater homepage. Another goal of the CrowdWater project is to analyse the potential of using the collected data for hydrological models. This question will be addressed by using hydrological computer models to predict streamflow. These models will assess the benefit of the crowd-sourced data.

The app has been in use for roughly a year now and so far we have collected over 1100 spots from roughly 150 contributors worldwide. The app can be used anywhere around the globe and is especially useful in regions where there are few gauging stations available. The anonymised data are publicly available and therefore can be used for purposes needed by a specific region.

How can crowdsourced hydrological data help in water conservation?

Knowing how much water is there, is crucial for understanding how much water you can use. The CrowdWater data can help model catchments and therefore can help predict droughts and floods as well as the available water at any given time. This can help to more prudently allocate water based on the availability.

Why is this data especially helpful for emerging countries?

The data is especially useful for any region that has a limited number of gauging stations. Gauging stations are expensive to build and to maintain, which means that there are too few in many regions of the world. The CrowdWater app can help compensate the lack of these stations and can increase the gauging density. The app is however not intended to replace existing gauging stations, merely to add to the network. These data can help to improve hydrological models and can help to predict floods and droughts, which is crucial information for any region.

How can this method of data collection be implemented in a city like Bangalore that is currently facing a huge water shortage crisis?

A water shortage crisis is always a problem concerning input and output of water. CrowdWater can help on the input side of this equation. The CrowdWater app can help gauge any rivers coming into the city and therefore increase the understanding of the amount of water that is available. This should give an indication of when and how much water can be used and can help decision makers choose the amount of extraction based on solid information.

Who can participate in this initiative? What is the cost/time investment required for such an initiative?

Anybody with a smartphone can participate on the CrowdWater app. You can register here or on the app and start gauging the streams in your area. Initially it helps to look at some of our tutorial material, such as our CrowdWater Youtube channel, which can take roughly half an hour. Once you have set up a station a simple update measurement will take roughly a minute to complete. The most useful data are long time series of data for the same spot, so try to find a convenient location that you pass frequently, e.g. on your way to work.

To know more about the project and how you can participate, write to info@nullcrowdwater.ch.

Barbara Strobl has a background in Geography and Hydrology from her Bachelor’s degree in ‘Environmental System Sciences’ at the University of Graz and her Master’s degree in ‘Natural Resources Management and Ecological Engineering’ at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. Currently she is a PhD student at the University of Zurich at the Department of Geography, where she works on the CrowdWater project, a hydrological citizen science project.

 

Photo credit: Bailey Littlejohn (Unsplash)

The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the researcher.