Australian technology forecasting water quality in California

July 2nd, 2024

An important water body for agriculture and natural ecosystems of the San Francisco Bay, has become a test site for the AquaWatch Australia mission.

A new partnership between California and Australia will test specialized sensors to monitor water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a crucial agricultural and ecological water body near the Bay Area.

Developed by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, AquaWatch Australia will be a world-first system which combines data from water sensors and satellites to provide near-real-time water quality monitoring and forecasts.

University of California (UC) Davis, UC Merced and United States Geological Survey (USGS) will work with CSIRO to pilot test AquaWatch, which has the potential to help protect the Delta’s natural ecosystem – including the endangered Delta smelt – and the agricultural sector reliant on it.

Secretary Wade Crowfoot of California Natural Resource Agency said the landmark partnership between California and Australia was game changing.

“This will benefit California and our communities who rely on water quality moving through the Delta. It will also protect fish and wildlife,” Mr Crowfoot said.

UC Merced’s Dr Erin Hestir said one of CSIRO’s specialized water quality sensors has been installed near where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers merge to monitor water delivered for agriculture and protect the delta’s natural ecosystems.

“Using the sensor, we can estimate turbidity, an important water quality measurement for the critically endangered fish, the Delta smelt,” Dr Hestir said.

“It can also be used to give insight into where contaminants of concern, such as mercury, may travel.”

CSIRO’s Dr Alex Held said testing AquaWatch in a variety of waterways and ecosystems is helping CSIRO to build and improve the system for use globally.

“AquaWatch will be a world first in many ways, including the ability to forecast water quality, providing crucial early warning. It contributes to our joint climate and sustainable development goals on the global stage,” Dr Held said.

The project contributes to a Memorandum of Understanding to support climate adaption signed between the Australian Government and the Californian State Government in 2023.

Australian Consul-General in Los AngelesTanya Bennett, said it was fantastic to see the AquaWatch test site in Sacramento reach this significant milestone, as a key activity under the AustraliaCalifornia agreement on climate action.

“This test site highlights the importance of global collaborations and technology advancements to monitor the impacts of water quality, improve our natural environments and safeguard our future water supply,” said Ms Bennett.

The Californian test site joins already established AquaWatch sites in AustraliaItalyMalaysia and the UK, with more global sites currently in development.

Additional quotes:

Dr Susan Ustin, UC Davis: “They have worked on monitoring water quality in the delta using airborne and satellite remote sensing systems for many years, especially in relation to the growth and distribution of aquatic weeds that take advantage of the nutrient rich waters flowing through the delta. This study complements past work with CSIRO on remote detection of invasive plant species and other applications of remote sensing data.”

Dr Dulcinea Avouris, USGS: “The collaboration between the USGS California Water Science Center and CSIRO AquaWatch not only furthers development of new sensor technology, but it also enables further exploration of integrated sensor networks that combine in situ measurements and satellite based remote sensing for water quality assessment and monitoring.”