Testing the water: Virginia Tech team launches system to predict water conditions
April 2, 2019
Each morning, Jamie Morris, water production manager at the Western Virginia Water Authority in Roanoke, receives an automated email from a team of Virginia Tech researchers.
It resembles a weather forecast. But instead of predicting weather, it forecasts 16-day water quality conditions. It provides data about expected water temperatures and mixing, and soon it will include algae levels and amounts of dissolved oxygen in the Falling Creek Reservoir in Vinton.
Eventually, the water authority will begin using this information to determine how to chemically treat the reservoir water ahead of time, ensuring that it is palatable for Roanoke Valley residents. Falling Creek is one of four reservoirs managed by the authority.
“If we have a couple of days' notice, that’s much better than having to react within minutes,” Morris said.
After more than a year, this unique water forecasting system, developed by a Virginia Tech team led by Cayelan Carey, an assistant professor of biological sciences, is ready to go. And it is drawing interest from groups around the globe who want to emulate it. In May, a representative from a group that manages lakes in Ireland and in other parts of Europe is making plans to visit Virginia Tech to see the forecasting system in action.
The work started in 2018 after Carey’s team received a $1 million Smart and Connected Communities grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a real-time water forecasting system for the reservoir. Since then, faculty and graduate students representing various disciplines have visited the reservoir weekly in the spring and summer and monthly in the winter to install sensors, take water samples, and collect other data.