Belgium to Optimize its Water Management by Using Wireless Sensors

Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium, also known as the Gateway to Europe, is set to pioneer its Internet of Water solution. The region has developed a unique intelligent water management system based on a network of wirelessly connected sensors, that enables a permanent and real time follow-up of water quality and water quantity. This internet of Water will enable Flanders to tackle the growing threat of water inconvenience, water scarcity and water pollution. Flanders’ Minister-President Geert Bourgeois activated the first sensor, close to The Blankaart in Diksmuide.

With the internet of Water, Flanders aims to roll-out a large-scale permanent sensor network that maps the available water reserves and monitors the water demand at the same time. The network, will feature more than 1,000 small, wireless low power water quality sensors (developed by imec) spread around Flanders, that will continuously monitor the quality of soil water, groundwater, surface water and purified sewage water, to better align the available water reserves to the demand.

A pilot project has been launched, starting with the first experiments to examine how measurements can be done accurately, to explore the technical challenges to guarantee the reliability and scalability of a broad network, and to determine how to visualize the data and make them available for the public.

A number of prominent companies and research institutions leveraged their expertise for this project with a large societal interest. The five partners of this project – VITO, De Watergroep, Aquafin, imec & Vlakwa – have the ambition to turn Flanders into an international front runner in smart water management through the application of innovative digital technologies. The sensors are developed by imec, the world-leading research and innovation hub in nano-electronics and digital technologies.

According to Marcel Zevenbergen, imec, after several years of intensive research, imec succeeded to develop a very small sensor that can measure, acidity and conductivity, as well as quantify diverse dissolved substances in the water. Until now this required a combination of different sensors that could cost up to thousands of euros each. Innovative self-learning algorithms will process the large amounts of data from the sensors for the permanent and real-time monitoring of water quality and quantity, and also to feed the models that predict future evolutions. Through the VITO dashboards users will be connected directly to the “Water brain” for optimum use of available water.

The need for a system to follow-up the quality and quantity of water on a large scale became obvious in the last years. Water inconvenience or water scarcity, are issues that almost live permanently in the public opinion today – with the drought of this and last year and the strong thunderstorms of this spring. Therefore the internet of Water is of big importance to various actors in the water business. The detailed follow-up of the water system with predictions of future evolutions will allow managing the sewage system more efficiently, so that Flanders can better respond to strong showers and periods of drought.

The fact that the Flemish government acknowledges the need for an innovative water management system shows its commitment to achieve a solid water system. Applied research has a large excess value for the water system so this will serve water connected transport, industry, agriculture, living, nature, drinking water companies. Moreover this project emphasizes Flanders’ know-how and proves it to be of world-class. This knowledge can also be valorized internationally.