World’s smartest lake uncovers water quality secrets and solutions

Wed, 2015-07-15 06:00 -- SCC Staff

If there are smart cities, why can’t there be smart lakes? Council Lead Partner IBM, along with researchers and water quality groups, have turned a lake in upstate New York into what they’re calling the world’s smartest lake.

Using sensors, big data and analytics, the researchers are beginning to unlock the secrets of the lake’s water quality and factors that impair it. It is research that could help water quality managers protect other lake and water sources around the world.

Protecting a jewel of a lake
Lake George has been called a Queen of American Lakes and has been drawing tourists for well over 100 years. The first tourists read like a who’s-who list: the Roosevelts, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Whitneys. President Thomas Jefferson once described the lake’s water as the most beautiful he had ever seen. Today, the lake boosts the summertime populations of nearby towns as much as 10-fold.

With such intense usage, scientists and others have been looking for ways to protect it. Basic chemical and algae tests have been done at the lake for 35 years, and they’ve shown significant, damaging change even over that period of time. That puts the region’s economy and entire watershed at risk.

The Jefferson Project was started to try to reverse that trend and involves trying to intimately understand the lake’s water quality as well as all the factors that affect it. To do that, IBM partnered with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and The FUND for Lake George, putting technology and more than 60 scientists to work to unlock the lake’s secrets.

Digitizing the lake
An array of sensors, both above and below the water, are providing the researchers with real-time data as well as the ability to develop computer models that describe how the lake functions. That research is already paying off.

For instance, over the past three decades, the amount of road salt that has ended up in the lake has tripled. Data modeling now allows scientists to determine the stretches of roadway that contribute the most to the problem. Weather, water run-off and weather circulation models have also been improved.

Lake George matters to everyone
Starting with the network of connected sensors, researchers are now working to connect their findings, attempting to build models that show all the impacts of one set of actions. It’s an ambitious effort that moves beyond simple monitoring to building 3D models and running simulations.

And the people behind the project say we should all care, even if we never get the chance to visit Lake George. Only about 3% of all the water on Earth is freshwater, and two-thirds of that is locked in ice. Insights gained through this project should help water managers worldwide take more effective actions to protect their watersheds. It’s work that’s growing critically important as more areas are struggling with drought and the world population continues to grow dramatically.

More resources …
Is drought turning the tide for water project funding?
Smarter water: How IBM is changing the water app landscape
The Case for Smart Water and Why It's a No Brainer