Climate change always brings longer dry periods with it. More and more often, areas in Austria are also confronted with the fact that Water supplies become scarce and have to be rationed. In the summer of 2022, the fourth warmest in recorded history, people in many places were called upon to stop using water for watering gardens, washing cars or filling pools so as not to endanger drinking water supplies.
Also affected by the drought was the Neuhaus municipality on the Slovenian border in eastern Carinthia. However, it is subjecting its water supply to a comprehensive Digitization and thereby receives scientific supportby, among others, the FH Campus Wien. As a result, the management of their own water balance has already been improved to such an extent that the population has had to endure only minimal restrictions in summer. The procedure could now serve as a model for other communities.
Small team, big effort
Neuhaus is best known to outsiders for the futuristic Liaunig Museum. The municipality extends over 36 square kilometers and has 1035 inhabitants. The drinking water comes from three sources. It is collected in three elevated tanks and distributed in three decentralized water supply systems via a 21-kilometer-long network of pipes. In the past, the levels of the elevated tanks were read in person, which was a five-member municipal administration represented a major expense. “We don’t have the luxury of a large team,” says Patrick Skubel, mayor of Neuhaus.
in 2019, the elevated tanks were equipped with remote monitoring, and in 2021, with the help of Kelag’s technology subsidiary Kelmin, the municipality installed over 370 radio water meters. They communicate, just like three weather stations also activated in 2021, with LoRaWAN-Technology. This laid the technical foundation for improved water management.
Science provides know-how
At the same time, together with the Slovenian Geological Institute Geoloski zavod Slovenije and the University of Applied Sciences Carinthia, a Strategy for sustainable water management for the 14 transboundary municipalities of the Karawanken UNESCO Global Geopark was developed. Furthermore, in 2021 a research cooperation was established with the Graz University of Technology within the framework of the multi-year research project “EWA Decision Making in water supply considering factors of change” concluded.
Since July 2022, there has been a research cooperation with the FH Campus Wien, through which an intelligent, practical Monitoring System with interfaces for the municipal administration and the public is to be created. “Our goal is to have an overall view of the water supply,” says Neuhaus district manager Regina Wiedl, who initiated the project. “We want to know exactly how much supply and withdrawal there is at any given time, and based on that, we want to be able to right actions set.”
Detecting anomalies in the network
“In Neuhaus, you don’t have the possibility of 24/7 monitoring by specialized personnel. It needs a management system for a small group of people who are busy with many other things and are on the side takes care of the water supply,” says Heimo HIrner, the head of the Vienna Institute for Safety and Systems Engineering competence center at FH Campus Wien. His plan is to use Machine Learning Detect anomalies in the water network, interpret them correctly, and alert community workers when necessary.
For example, a reportable anomaly could be when there are sudden excessive water withdrawals, perhaps because a toilet flush has become stuck or because a community resident has lost their Pool fills. Wiedl: “This sounds banal, but it brings the water supply to the Edge of the load limit. We want pool fills to be scheduled. Now we can tell very quickly where the withdrawal is taking place. We can contact the person and tell them ‘please not now’.”
Traffic light system for citizens*
Within the scope of bachelor and master theses in the study programs Computer Science and Digital Communications as well as Software Design and Engineering at the FH Campus Wien, among other things a Citizen portal the aim is to create a portal for citizens to see exactly what is happening with the water balance in their community. With a kind of traffic light system, citizens* will be able to get an immediate impression of fill levels and withdrawals and report things like pool fills. “We believe that the more Sensitivity to the water the more we create among citizens, the better they will cooperate,” says Skubel.
Students from the FH Campus Wien will also help to create a local Forecasting Model to create a forecasting model that incorporates weather and precipitation to enable early intervention in water management. Says Hirner, “We’re not working with theoretical data, but with real live data. From a researcher*s perspective, that’s a treasure.”
According to Hirner, the project shows the enormous Benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT) can bring. For small communities like Neuhaus, he says, this is a huge relief. “Before we had our new system, we were surprised by empty containers. Then we had to alert emergency personnel immediately. Our staff could not drive to the elevated tanks several times a day,” says Patrick Skubel.
With digital real-time monitoring and more knowledge about the regenerative capacity of the sources, he says, it is also possible to give citizens more freedoms to grant. “Our load limits are wider as a result. We saw this year that we could go further than other communities in the district. In one of them, the water-saving measures from the summer were only lifted at the end of October,” Wiedl describes.
The costs for digitization were manageable. The installation of sensors and LoRaWAN radio network had cost between 25,000 and 30,000 euros, with around 10,000 euros added for software. “But we have great partners who have helped us on a non-monetary basis support,” Skubel acknowledges. “The amounts don’t sound dramatic, but for a small community’s budget, it’s significant,” Hirner says.
“The FH Campus Wien is not out to make a profit. For students, the project is a unique opportunity, to work on real systems. They are also very enthusiastic about it, because a real social added value comes out of it and important impulses are set in times of climate crisis.”