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Big data project aims to improve Dutch flood control, save the government millions

Loek Essers | June 26, 2013
A big data project called Digital Delta aims to investigate how to transform flood control and the management of the entire Dutch water system and save up to 15 percent of the annual Dutch water management budget.

Digital Delta's goal is to improve the management of the Dutch water system in many different ways. For instance, by modeling weather events, the Netherlands should be able to determine the best course of action including storing water, diverting it from low-lying areas, and avoiding saltwater intrusion into drinking water, sewage overflows and water contamination, they said.

One satellite company can, for instance, spot a 100 meter stretch of dike that is sagging, Schiferli said. If those responsible for tending to the dike know this, they can put sensors in just that stretch instead of in the whole dike that is, say, 10 kilometers long, he said. Monitoring a stretch of 100 meters is much cheaper than fitting the whole dike with sensors, he said.

While all of the relevant data to determine where to put sensors may now be available, it is not combined so not everyone has access to it and this leads to unnecessary expenditures, he said.

Another project in the initiative aims to link a sensor to a well in a traffic tunnel, Schiferli said. If the data of that sensor is linked with the maintenance system and weather data, an estimation can be made of how likely it is the well will overflow or clog when heavy rain is expected, he said. The system could then send a warning to relevant authorities to check the well, which may prevent a traffic jam in the tunnel, he said.

IBM's Intelligent Water Software can be used for this. Rijkswaterstaat and local water authorities will manage water balance data and share the information centrally through the Digital Delta platform, the organizations said. This should make it possible for the Dutch water system to optimize the discharge of water and improve the containment of water during dry periods, and prevent damage to agriculture, the group said.

Also, a scalable early flood warning method will be developed by combining weather data and, water system simulation models and real-time measurement data from the water system, they said.

The Digital Delta project is aimed at water management. Similar systems could be developed to deal with droughts or for use in ship traffic, said Schiferli.

"The Australians, for instance, said they know a lot about forest fires — that knowledge could be useful to the Dutch when they have to deal with a fire in the dunes," Schiferli said, adding that international cooperation is also a possibility.

The current research project costs €5.5 million and will go on for 12 months after which the governments decide if they want to go through with it, he said.


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