Floating Century: Putting Water Online

Water flowing through the Sacramento River Delta is currently modeled using a static sensor infrastructure. This project aims to add “floating robots” to the delta and then use wireless networks to obtain information about water levels, flow rate, and salinity. The sensors will have the capacity to add more sensing as needed, allowing for such things as chemical levels and mercury to be detected as well. The Floating Sensor Network is a platform of up to 100 motorized, GPS-equipped sensor drifters that are communication-enabled to transmit through the cellular and radio networks. The real-time information from multiple sensors is combined to provide a situation awareness map — like a Google traffic map — of the entire system, including how fast the water is moving and how far up the delta salt water has moved with tides or potentially because of levee failure. Monitoring salt water is key for the security of the state’s freshwater infrastructure because pumps in the upper delta send southern California much of its freshwater supply. This network gives water managers a way to sample large areas more effectively, and the “particle outcome” (where the sensor ends up) is especially valuable when responders are concerned about the movement of water or contaminants.