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Small Business Innovation Research: Reef Water Quality Monitoring

In July 2016, this challenge—nominated by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection—was released to market within the pilot round of the SBIR. Applications to pilot round challenges have now closed. To receive information about the successful solutions, as well as future rounds, subscribe to the Advance Queensland eNewsletter.

Challenge statement: Reef Water Quality Monitoring

This challenge is seeking proposals to develop and supply affordable fine scale water quality monitoring sensors to deploy in Great Barrier Reef catchments, in order to inform improvements in farming practices and continue protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest and most complex reef system, and a World Heritage Area. It is larger than Malaysia or Great Britain, and traverses more than 2300 kilometres of Queensland’s spectacular coastline. The Great Barrier Reef receives runoff from 35 major catchments, which drain 424,000 square kilometres of coastal Queensland. These catchments are spread from the Cape York region in the north to the Burnett Mary region in the south.

The Queensland Government is implementing the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan (Reef Plan) in partnership with the Australian Government and stakeholders. Reef Plan is a key component of meeting Australian and international obligations to protect the Great Barrier Reef and is designed to ensure runoff from agriculture has no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection is exploring new ways of monitoring pollutants in waterways. The cost and performance constraints of current sensors limit the wide scale roll-out of fine-scale monitoring of water quality in Great Barrier Reef catchments.

The department seeks feasible and cost effective solutions enabling wide-scale monitoring of dissolved inorganic nitrogen, flow and suspended sediment in Great Barrier Reef catchments. Monitoring will enable the department to:

  • understand water quality from paddocks to end of catchments in near real-time,
  • reliably measure improvements in water quality resulting from changes in upstream farming management practices and communicate with landholders about the impact of their land management.

There are two components to this challenge:

  1. Supply of a robust, low-maintenance, and low-cost sensor enabling precise, accurate and reliable monitoring of dissolved inorganic nitrogen.
  2. Supply a one-stop water quality unit, combining monitoring solutions for dissolved inorganic nitrogen, flow and suspended sediment for cost-effective deployment across wide areas of the Great Barrier Reef catchments

The priority is on developing more affordable sensors for dissolved inorganic nitrogen. Applicants may choose to do just the nitrogen sensor (1) or package it up with flow and suspended sediment (doing both (1) and (2). ding of the circumstances in which next generation lighting solutions should be supported for community sporting venues.

Why should it be solved?

The Great Barrier Reef—the world’s largest and most complex reef system—is one of Australia’s most treasured natural wonders and an international icon. This living reef is precious to all Queenslanders and the world.

Its marine ecosystem is complex—home to 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jellyfish, 3000 varieties of molluscs, 500 species of worms, 1625 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins.

The Great Barrier Reef was declared a World Heritage Area in 1981 because of its 'outstanding universal value'. This recognised the Reef as being one of the most remarkable places on earth, as well as its global importance and its natural worth, something both the Queensland and Australian Governments are committed to maintaining.

The reef is facing significant challenges, including coral cover decline from storms and cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish breakouts and bleaching from ocean warming.

Improving water quality will build the Reef’s resilience into the future.

The major source of nutrients and sediments is broadscale land use (grazing, cane and horticulture).

Finer scale monitoring is critical to communicating with farmers and graziers about water quality and how they can improve land management and protect the Reef.

Protecting the environment and addressing the ongoing impacts to the Reef is a responsibility the Queensland Government takes very seriously.

Challenge context

Who is the customer?

The Queensland Government Department of Environment and Heritage Protection.

How is the challenge currently being solved?

Water quality monitoring in Great Barrier Reef catchments is currently performed using a variety of fixed and mobile monitoring units with a range of high-cost sensors and support equipment.

Monitoring units have a typical configuration enabling real-time monitoring, recording and transmission including:

  • protective housing (Figure 1)
  • sensors—nitrogen, turbidity, conductivity and flow (Figures 2,3,4 and 5)
  • remote electricity generation and storage (Figure 6 and 7)
  • telemetry and data transmission (Figure 8)
  • visualisation/data access

Examples of currently deployed real-time monitoring equipment

Relevant parameters measured in stream include:
  • Catchment flow (ML)
  • Electrical conductivity (μS/cm)
  • Total suspended solids (mg/L)
  • Turbidity (NTU)
  • Temperature (°C)
  • Flow (m3/s)
  • Nitrate-N (mg/L)
TRiOS ProPS sensor deployed at farm scale (discontinued) Relevant parameters (mg/L):
  • Nitrate (NO3, NO3-N)
  • Nitrite (NO2, NO2-N)
  • Total suspended solids equivalent
SUNA V2 sensor deployed at catchment scale
  • Nitrate-N (NO3)
    • Limit of detection (0.5 – 2.0 μM)
    • Range of detection (3000 μM – 4000 μM)
    • Accuracy (greater of) ± 2 μM (±0.028 mg/l-N) or ± 10% of reading
    • Precision (0.3 μM – 2.4 μM)
  • Turbidity (range 625 – 1250 NTU)

Current Sensor Performance

The current sensor monitors dissolved inorganic nitrogen (comprised of nitrate, nitrite and ammonia, although typical major observed component is nitrate), precision is ± 5% or 0.01mg/L as N; detection range is 0.005 to 100mg/L.

Current systems can deliver the real-time data via an online system, which makes it directly available via website. New systems will need to ensure they are compatible with online delivery.

Over 400 water quality monitoring units are currently deployed across the State including the Great Barrier Reef catchments; however, the cost of these units is preventing wider scale deployment that would enable fine scale water quality monitoring.

A robust, low-maintenance, low-cost monitoring solution that is precise, accurate and reliable will enable wide-scale deployment in Great Barrier Reef catchments for monitoring of water quality at a farm, multi-farm, or sub-catchment scale. Information from such real-time fine scale monitoring will be used to inform various stakeholders on the effects of adoption of improved farm management practices, contributing to the protection and health of the Great Barrier Reef.

For an example of a current sensor, see below:

Current sensor monitors.

Benefits sought

  1. To enable fine-scale water monitoring for dissolved inorganic nitrogen resulting from wider distribution of low-cost, low-maintenance units.
  2. To enable fine-scale water monitoring for suspended sediment and flow resulting from wider distribution of low-cost, low-maintenance units.
  3. One-stop solution for dissolved inorganic nitrogen, flow and suspended sediment monitoring which can cost-effectively be rolled out across the Great Barrier Reef catchments.
  4. Desired long term benefits include improvements in water quality resulting from changes in upstream farming management practices communicated through the impact of the data collected.

Constraints identified

A proposed solution should ideally work within the following constraints:

  1. Measurement of dissolved inorganic nitrogen is essential. Integration of this with measurement of suspended sediment and flow is highly desirable.
  2. Sensors and monitoring units must be robust, low-maintenance, and low-cost enabling wide scale deployment in remote locations in Great Barrier Reef catchments .
  3. Performance of existing sensors should be used as a guide for desired performance in solutions proposed, however EHP is open to consideration of other sensor options that have different or simpler capabilities if available at very low cost per unit.
  4. Sensor per unit cost is ideally close to $2000/unit with similar sensitivity and capability of current units.
  5. Sensors must record data in near real-time.
  6. Data visualisations must be sophisticated and insightful, yet simple for the public and stakeholders to interpret
  7. The system must be able to function without maintenance for a minimum of one month.
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia (CC BY-ND 3.0)
Last updated
8 March, 2017

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