IoT-Based Smart Water Quality Monitoring: Evolution, Benefits, Challenges

Water pollution is one of the biggest threats to all living beings. No wonder there is a huge need to monitor water quality using technology. The article shines a light on what an IoT-based Smart Water Quality Monitoring (SWQM) system is, its five hardware components and benefits, along with the main challenges in water management. Let us go:

IoT-Based Smart Water Quality Monitoring: Evolution, Benefits, Challenges
Published 14 Mar 2022Updated 14 Mar 2022
Autor Name

Kamal R

Safe water is rapidly becoming a scarce resource thanks to the combined impact of increased population, pollution, and global warming. Speaking of water pollution, it is one of the biggest obstacles to green globalization.

To ensure the continuous drinking water supply, its quality needs to be monitored in real-time. Traditionally used laboratory-based testing techniques are time-consuming and costly because they must be undertaken manually.

Even though water monitoring systems have seen some advancement, they utilize the wireless sensor network or wireless network technology that comes with their share of problems, including weakness in data security, communication coverage, and energy consumption management.

That is why the Internet of Things (IoT) has been a boon in this regard, as it enables the current developments of more efficient, secure, and cost-effective systems with real-time capabilities.

An introduction to IoT-based Smart Water Quality Monitoring (SWQM)

SWQM is the process of measuring the water quality parameters, such as temperature, pH, turbidity, dissolved oxygen levels, variety of ions present, and so on. The main objective of monitoring water quality is to ensure these parameters are within a suitable range.

The traditional method of water monitoring was done physically, using only chemicals. A water quality monitoring application involves using different IoT-based smart sensors that keep track of the parameters in real-time.

Top five hardware components of a Smart Water Quality Monitoring system

The hardware utilized in an IoT ecosystem includes servers, a routing device, IoT sensors, and others that manage essential functions such as system activation, security communication, action specifications, and detection to support specific goals and actions.

Top five hardware components of a Smart Water Quality Monitoring system

1. Ultrasonic sensor

As the name suggests, the sensor generates a high-frequency sound wave of 40 kHz to send and receive ultrasonic pulses that relay back information about an object's proximity. This hardware provides a 2 cm to 4 cm measurement range and comes with an ultrasonic transmitter (trigger pin), receiver (echo pin), and a control circuit.

2. pH sensor

The sensor measures the amount of alkalinity and acidity in water and other metrics. When used correctly, the smart solutions can measure the safety and quality of the product and the processes occurring at a wastewater or manufacturing plant.

It has an electrode of measurement and reference. With every increase in pH values, the concentration of hydrogen ions decreases ten-fold, reducing the intensity of acidic water.

3. Digital thermometer sensor

It is commonly used to measure the temperature and humidity values of the surrounding atmosphere. It comes with an 8-bit microscope and a Negative Temperature Coefficient (NTC) tool for measurements. With the thermometer, one can determine the types of marine organisms that can survive in the current state of water.

4. Turbidity sensor

The sensor helps calculate the quality of clear water, i.e., the number of particles in water. It utilizes light to identify whether the water is opaque or murky by transmitting light beams. Excess turbidity can reduce marine life and reproduction and cause various forms of human illness. The sensor generates both analog and digital mode output.

5. RF module

Short for radio-frequency, the module is a small electronic device that transmits and/or receives radio signals between two devices. An embedded IoT-based cost-effective and efficient system comes in handy to initiate communication between two smart sensors.

How the techniques in smart water pollution monitoring have evolved

As mentioned previously, the traditional modes of monitoring drinking water quality required manual effort and comprised chemical testing. They were costly and time-consuming and did not have any scope of receiving results in real-time.

However, wireless communication developments soon created new sensor capabilities. In such systems, field technicians would measure a few water parameters on-site using portable sensors, which were easy to transport and use in the field.

Although such a field of sensor networks improved the testing bit to an extent, most of the issues mentioned earlier did not go away. With time, WSN technology gained prominence, allowing receiving feedback on testing in real-time.

However, the network was prone to cyberattacks and had poor data security. The communication speed was low, and the installation and maintenance costs were high.

Sure, the WSN systems were much better than the traditional methods of monitoring of water pollution, but there was scope for improvement.

As IoT allows connected devices to store and exchange data conveniently, the technology has found a way to contribute to environmental issues besides the automation industry. Today, it incorporates some mechanism for monitoring the quality of water over a period of time.

Using IoT technology to monitor water quality

Finally, field technicians resorted to Smart Water Quality Monitoring, which allowed them to monitor the water quality in real-time from anywhere across the globe using a combination of digital computing devices, internet services, communication media, and portable sensors.

Smart Water Quality Monitoring systems have become extremely useful in domestic applications, agriculture, aquaculture, and municipal waste recycling. In addition, these systems monitor water quality in lakes, rivers, and other water bodies.

The IoT networks are incredibly safe, and the communication speed is also high. The technology comfortably resolves all the issues that the previous techniques had.

If you have read this far, you will agree on how vital IoT-based systems are for ensuring that the water quality across domains and facilities remains pure. This is highly beneficial for the environment, to safeguard flora and fauna and aquatic lives, and simplify human survival.

In the following section, let us study the different ways IoT-based SWQM systems are making headway in various areas:

Latest trends and benefits in Smart Water Quality Monitoring

1. Legionella bacteria outbreak at bay

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned of the dangers of reopening buildings after prolonged closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Legionella bacteria in the buildings' plumbing systems is a considerable threat.

The bacteria grow when the hot temperature decreases from the recommended temperature of 140°F. Installing IoT sensors in water pipes helps building managers keep a Legionella outbreak at bay. The sensors can map areas of inactivity in the pipes and take action.

The system allows you to be proactive about a problem before it becomes a health scare for the people residing or working in those buildings.

2. Pure water in healthcare facilities

Lack of high-quality water in hospitals, clinics, hospices is a massive problem because the patient's life is at stake. It is, therefore, necessary to keep patients safe and free from infection. 

In addition, laboratories and research centers require the water to be completely free from any toxicity for conducting experiments and generating genuine outcomes. IoT-based SWQM systems make it possible to enable quality water that helps serve different purposes.

3. A healthy water supply made possible

Some building managers take water samples and test them once or twice a year. The frequency might not be enough to check whether the water supply is high quality. The IoT technology can fix the problem to a great extent and enable a healthy water supply.

For starters, it does not just provide a snapshot of water quality at one specific moment. A significant contaminant can grow after testing and go unnoticed for months. Turbidity sensors placed inside the water pipes indicate the presence of particles in the water using light beams.

4. Effective wastewater management in this day and age

An IoT-based water quality monitoring application is beneficial in treating wastewater before it is transferred to freshwater bodies. Vital parameters such as turbidity, pH, and temperature can be easily studied using the sensors. This is also important for safely carrying out agricultural activities.

No one intends to hamper the crop production quality. Water suspended with toxic elements can negatively affect crop growth and health. The IoT technology can stop this by smartly monitoring water quality.

5. Detecting and fixing wasteful leaks easy

Millions of gallons of water are wasted every year due to meter errors, leakage, and other operational inefficiencies. As many facility managers rely on periodic inspections of the pipes to identify failures, it could mean that a leak can go unnoticed till the next review happens.

IoT water flow sensors are beneficial in spotting leaks immediately by evaluating the water flow through a pipe and its rate of change. When sensor data highlights a shift in the standard rate, it could indicate a pipe leakage or any other operational malfunction.

IoT sensors can pinpoint the source of water waste and help curb the problem before it results in higher water bills for such commercial properties and even households. 

Using water quality monitoring applications, you can determine how, when and where water is consumed in 15-minute intervals. Fixing errors early on also results in cost savings for the company.

Sensing-As-A-Service: The Present And Future

6. Aquatic life preservation practical

Even aquatic plants and animals require safe living conditions. Otherwise, they will become extinct by being consistently exposed to murky and toxic waters. Smart water monitoring systems help monitor and maintain water parameters such as pH levels and temperature and study the presence of destructive elements.

7. Achieve sustainability through LEED and/or WELL certifications

These certifications form a considerable part of the sustainability goals of manufacturing units, facilities, and commercial buildings. Not to worry — real-time water quality monitoring solutions can help in this regard.

While a LEED certification emphasizes areas related to sustainability, WELL focuses on enabling features that impact the wellness of occupants or workers.

Getting certifications in one or both areas benefits the environment and helps save money by eliminating efficiencies. LEED identifies water consumption and monitoring in real-time. It awards points for deploying systems supporting water use reduction — indoors and outdoors.

On the other hand, WELL has water quality standards aimed at helping buildings preserve water and enhance the quality for occupant safety. IoT-based environmental applications help achieve all relevant water-related standards for LEED and WELL.

Why give attention to water management?: Top challenges

The biggest challenge in water management is, perhaps, monitoring the level of water, flow through different channels, and of course, the quality. IoT can identify and calculate the amount of residue or toxicity levels in the water.

But what are the main obstacles when it comes to water? Let us find out in this section:

1. It is no surprise we are dealing with more severe weather worldwide — be it hurricanes, floods, or extreme heat. Research shows that the critical situations are around the corner.

Things will worsen as the years pass due to the high population and limited water resources. On the other hand, the scarcity will increase the water bills of those using it because of the fight for scarce water utilities.

2. The population in urban areas continues to increase, putting a lot of pressure on water supply systems to function smoothly. If they are not inspected in real-time, they can result in massive repairs, in the long run, not to forget, higher overhead expenses.

3. The waters in many supply systems have to be allocated based on past availability or existing consumer demand. The practice does not necessarily mean the allocation is proper. In fact, some supply systems can get overly crowded.

And suppose their waters' quality is not monitored frequently. In that case, it can lead to severe implications such as leakages or pipe damage and unnoticed toxicity levels — thus hampering the supply and causing harm to those consuming that water.

4. There are no specific management plans or sanctions on water extractions in many areas, such as pumping groundwater or rivers. These have caused less water to be soluble and even led to the mining of that resource in some respects. This hampers the water levels and increases the risk of contaminated water.

Over to you

Water pollution is one of the biggest threats to all living beings. Polluted water causes various diseases in humans, plants, animals, which, in turn, negatively impact the life cycle of the ecosystem. If the contamination is detected early on, suitable measures can be taken to preserve water quality or even upgrade it.

Therefore, Smart Water Quality Monitoring using IoT is paramount to supply pure water in real-time. Thanks to innovation in sensors, wireless modules, and communication devices, the activity is easy.

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