IoT and Stormwater: A Student Centered on University/Community Collaboration

An innovative University of Virginia capstone team recently published a study called Flood Monitoring and Mitigation Strategies for Flood-Prone Urban Areas. The capstone went far beyond a traditional academic exercise. Supported by Professor Jonathan Goodall, Smart Cville’s Center for Civic Innovation, and the City of Charlottesville, this team was able to bring its capstone into the community while still leveraging innovative technological solutions.  The team worked closely with the Stormwater team in the City of Charlottesville.  These regular meetings helped the team understand stormwater in the local context and identify potential locations to study.  As this type of sensor monitoring is not currently in place in Charlottesville, it also gave city staff direct exposure to the potential merits of a sensor-based system.  The UVA team also took on upgrading an existing sensor system to connect the device to the City’s community Things Network, a free and community-driven Internet of Things network. By using this LoRaWAN technology, they could obtain sensor data in near real-time, instead of having to go to the site to obtain the cache of data.

The team researched in Locust Grove and Belmont and did find some interesting trends.  From their paper, “…The Belmont neighborhood has 13 inlets that may be undersized versus Locust Grove’s single potentially undersized inlet. This would seem to show that the Belmont area is more susceptible to flooding than the Locust Grove area; however, this analysis only takes into account storm inlets overflowing. The Locust Grove area has more waterways and streams than the Belmont area, so the stormwater system in Locust Grove discharges a lot of its water into natural waterways. This analysis cannot show whether too much water is being diverted towards the waterways and streams that could cause wider floods than the floods that result from overflowing inlets. This implies that the methodology works better for areas that do not have high concentrations of waterways and streams. The identification of these vulnerable inlets will give the City of Charlottesville a better understanding of where problem areas may occur, what similar types of situations are causing it, and how to prioritize flood mitigation resources in the future.

Professor Jon Goodall, who supported this capstone team and has done sensor-based flooding research across the state noted, “The students were able to tackle a few issues with stormwater management in the city by investigating a street with a particularly challenging flooding problem, advancing a real-time monitoring approach for measuring water flow through stormwater pipes, and by doing system-scale evaluations to identify opportunities for improving stormwater infrastructure. The partnership with the city was critical for identifying the problem areas and helping to guide the students’ work.”

More from the students’ conclusions: This study resulted in a sensor system and GIS-based stormwater assessment tool that can be applied by cities to improve flood resilience. The sensor advanced on prior prototypes with the goal of measuring water-levels within a drainage system to provide a more accurate picture of overloaded or failing infrastructure. The system has a more flexible form factor from prior prototypes and allows for a measure of water levels in a variety of positions. The system also now provides a means to measure these infrastructures directly, as opposed to the previous system that would measure the effect of these infrastructures (i.e. street-level flooding). For future work, the system could benefit from data visualization techniques in the user interface. This would allow for value to be added from the data collected. Another area for future work would be to significantly increase the battery life of the sensor in order to decrease dependence on the solar panel. The stormwater infrastructure assessment system successfully located inlet structures that incur the most flow during peak rainfall intensity. The system takes pipe diameter into account and is useful for determining which pipe size to implement in specific areas. Though the stormwater infrastructure assessment system was only used to analyze two neighborhoods in this project, it can easily be expanded and applied to the entire City of Charlottesville through possible automation. Additionally, it can be used as a model for flood structure analysis in any other city as well. Seeing as increased flooding is becoming a growing problem throughout the United States, efforts to mitigate flooding must increase. Utilizing a stormwater infrastructure assessment system such as this one is an important first step in initially identifying all potential problem spots in flood-prone areas.

Read the group’s entire paper from Systems and Information Engineering Design Symposium conference.  Professor Goodall is a professor in the School of Engineering and an Associate Director of UVA’s LinkLab.

Want to get started with this type of sensing? Check out this team’s start-up guide.

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