Bridging critical hydro-ecological knowledge gaps using water quality monitoring and modelling

By the time adverse water quality conditions are discovered, it is often too late – the consequences make themselves visible well before the causes do.

Undetected low oxygen concentrations could result in fish kill, while elevated nutrient concentrations can cause algal blooms. And both would impact those whose livelihoods are intertwined with water quality or whose lives are affected by it, from water agencies to aquaculture farmers, and even recreational users like water sports enthusiasts.

Proactive water quality monitoring and modelling could, however, bridge these critical hydro-ecological knowledge gaps, and provide these groups the opportunity to better anticipate – and act on – potential problems.

Today, technology allows us to keep a close eye on this critical resource – from the seabed to the surface, as well as inland water bodies – and provides useful insights that can save both money and lives. And through a combination of monitoring, sampling, modelling and operational management systems, organizations like H2i are well-placed to help.

 Modelling can be used separately, or together with physical, biological and chemical monitoring, to determine the effect of factors that include changes in the weather, the impact of dredging, land reclamation, and construction, and even the impact of pollution from neighboring countries.

Once a month, representatives from H2i, along with those from the Tropical Marine Science Institute, head to the sea to take physical measurements along the water column, down to a meter above the seabed, and collect samples at various locations around the island. Tracking long-term seasonal variations and comparing them to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Sea Water Standards  and guidelines means better protecting public health, sea life and water-reliant businesses.

In addition to this, H2i also regularly train various agencies like PUB, the National Water Agency of Singapore and NEA, Sinapore’s National Environmental Agency on water quality management.

Insights on water quality, including temperature, dissolved oxygen, nutrients, and chlorophyll, can also help with anticipating and managing incidents such as Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), which can affect facilities that draw from seawater, for instance, desalination plants. In Singapore, desalinated water is expected to meet up to 30% of the island nation’s future water needs by 2060.

H2i puts similar technologies to work to identify the potential impact of oil spill incidents on Singapore’s coastal waters, anticipating how oil behaves after a spill, taking into account the impact of hydrodynamics, wind and other factors. This means agencies and organizations that could be impacted can put in place timely, the necessary mitigation measures.

Having the right technology and expertise allows national agencies and organizations to draw on the right mix of tools for water management, something that will become even more important as urban development intensifies. As cities grow further and faster, development priorities can sometimes supersede non-legislated environmental concerns, despite their potentially long-term, adverse impact on water. This has proven to be the case in many of Asia’s fast-growing mega-cities.

Yet, a focus on the future is required. Tools like modelling can help anticipate potential problems while long-term monitoring can detect them early, allowing cities to prevent environmental incidents and mitigate their potential impact.

The perceived cost of equipment, sampling, and getting experts on board has been the cause of some hesitation. However, with the range and capabilities of technologies constantly improving, and costs coming down, options from continuous monitoring to spot insights provided by drones and satellites are becoming more feasible.

With a resource as critical as water, sound knowledge and water management practices can lead to growth that is sustainable, and an environment that is safe for all.

By Gerard Pijcke and Karanam Roopsekhar