This article is part of our special report Can space technologies improve drinking water quality?.
The use of space technologies could play a crucial role in optimising potable water processing operations in order to achieve higher quality, according to the results of an EU-funded project.
Water has a multifunctional role in the economy, environment and society in general. It is used by households, for power generation, for irrigation in agriculture as well as manufacturing.
According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), 40.4% of water is used by agriculture, 27.8% for energy generation, 17.7% for mining and manufacturing and 11.6% for households.
In light of extreme droughts combined with a global population rise, water scarcity and the need for precise water processing due to pesticide and fertiliser run-off, researchers are exploring ways to manage water more efficiently.
The SPACE-O project
The SPACE-O project, which is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, focuses on better management of drinking water, which, according to Eurostat figures, currently accounts for around 18% of the total fresh water abstractions in the EU.
This is treated and supplied by almost 70,000 utilities.
Considering that freshwater resources in the EU are already limited, analysts say the biggest challenge is to be able to make more sustainable and efficient use of electricity and chemicals in water treatment operations.
Improving access to drinking water and sanitation services is also one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“We are very open to innovative ideas that improve how we monitor water,” commented the European Federation of National Associations of Water and Wastewater Services (Eureau).
In order to achieve efficiency in water management in water utilities, the researchers of the project highlighted the need to make use of satellite data and advanced technologies.
Τhe SPACE-O project uses, among others, satellite data from Copernicus, the EU’s Earth Observation Programme, aiming to help water managers to overcome daily operational challenges.
Water managers use the SPACE-O platform to monitor changes in the raw water quality characteristics and adjust their everyday operations in order to achieve the best possible standards of water.
Through satellite imagery from Copernicus and advanced models, the researchers have created a water information system, which produces precise and short-term forecasting (up to 10 days) about water quality and quantity in lakes and reservoirs.
“The SPACE-O platform aims to provide tools, which can help interpret water information from a variety of sources including satellite data. For example, there are tools for water quality forecasting including turbidity and algal blooms in reservoirs,” according to the managers of the project.
This information can then be used for predictive management in the reservoirs to mitigate water quality problems at an early stage.
“Many other water quality dependent activities from recreation to aquaculture to hydropower can benefit as well from the interpretation and provision of water quality information,” they added.
There is also an early warning system in place, which indicates incidences of water quality deterioration with potentially high impact on downstream water utility services.
“We have also created a tool for water treatment plant optimisation, which provides specific water treatment options based on forecasted raw water quality and advanced machine-learning algorithms that allow for improving efficiency in both drinking water quality treatment and financial performance,” Apostolos Tzimas, project coordinator of SPACE-O, told EURACTIV.com.
Tzimas said SPACE-O services enabled proactive water management at reservoir level.
“Short-term forecasts of water quantity and quality, help water managers improve their operations by taking preventive actions at an early stage,” he said.
“For example, knowing the evolution of an upcoming harmful algae bloom 10 days before, local water managers are able to operate effectively off-course reservoirs, bring fresh water from alternative sources or treat water and reduce the magnitude and the impact of the event,” he added.
The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No 730005.