To support more efficient river management, Idaho’s Water District 63 is automating remote data collection and gate control with high-speed broadband wireless.
Idaho’s Water District 63 is automating its management of the Boise River by setting up broadband capabilities that will provide real-time measurements and data.
Currently, district workers monitor the river levels and flow by driving once or twice a week to 88 sites – a total of 121 miles – to collect data, and they spend three to four hours the next workday inputting that data into the state’s database. The information is used to make determinations about the river’s headgates – gates for controlling water flow – for the following week.
“Right now we administer the river a week behind, so all that data we’ve collected over the week, that’s just a snapshot of the previous week,” said Mike Meyers, the district’s watermaster.
In the next couple months, however, the district will implement a setup that uses Paige Wireless, Cisco Meraki and Cisco’s Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul – formerly Fluidmesh – to get that data in real time, saving hours of driving and worker time.
By putting a motor on top of a headgate and controlling it from a computer, the team can adjust those gate to get your water flowing into the canal, Meyers said.
That communication will happen through high-speed broadband and access points. The backhaul provides the broadband and Meraki the access points so that the district can connect to the broadband through Meraki.
“This is like a rural broadband issue, where we don’t have cables buried in the ground, and so you’re relying on very low-throughput technologies to get to these places,” said Gary DePreta, Cisco’s vice president of the U.S. public sector for state, local and education. “What Cisco did is build that output infrastructure that allows the automation that Mike described through our Fluidmesh solution without laying any cables. So, now you have high-speed broadband eventually going to every one of these sites.”
Paige Wireless provides a dashboard where Meyers can visualize metrics for each water site and make on-the-fly decisions.
The technology also allows the water district to include more capabilities, such as adding cameras to provide real-time visibility into the sites. “You can start adding more sensors, more services once you deliver that infrastructure to that point,” DePreta said.
Idaho is in the 46% of the country currently experiencing drought, which makes this project all the more significant, Meyers said.
“This year we were unable to fill the reservoirs, and the snowpack started off quite slow,” he said. “If we had full automation last year, we could have saved anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 acre-feet of water in the reservoir.” One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons.
He compares it to another project involving the Anderson Ranch Reservoir, which flows into the South Fork stretch of the Boise River. The Idaho Water Resource Board and Bureau of Reclamation plan to implement a 6-foot dam raise, resulting in about 29,000 acre-feet of storage capacity.
“That’s going to cost $3,000 an acre-foot … just to build this out,” Meyers said. “Our 8,000 to 15,000 acre-feet of water savings in those same reservoirs, we’re looking [at saving] between $300 and $500 an acre-foot.”
Another way the broadband project will save the district money is payroll. Meyers said he and one other person handle river monitoring now, but they bring on additional workers to help with data collection.
“Employee costs are the greatest costs to anybody, so if we could save the water users thousands of dollars just by hiring one or two vs. 10, then that’s just being good stewards of everybody’s money,” he said.
In the future, Meyers expects to use the technology for groundwater management, too.
“The size of the Treasure Valley is over 2,000 square miles, and that’s my administration basin,” he said. “That includes wells and pumps stretched in that whole 2,000-square-mile range. In order to monitor those or administer them, we have to do the same thing we do on the river. We have to drive to every site, collect them, bring them back to the office, enter them into the database.”
With broadband, they can put flow meters and telemetry on the pumps and get the same effect as the gates on the river, providing instant data that can be administered in real time through the state database.
All of this came together through Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration Program, which supports public-sector leaders’ efforts to solve infrastructure challenges and provides technology to do so. It has more than 1,000 active or completed projects in 44 countries.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.