Drought monitoring: youngsters join in

An exceptional citizen science study will be conducted this summer, with participants building their own sensors and measuring drought in their gardens. The measurements will be used to give advice about watering. The aim is to develop ways to save water and increase participant ownership. The project is part of the Water Companies Sector Research (BTO), Exploratory Research.

Climate change is leading to more drought in the Netherlands. That is putting pressure on the availability of water for drinking, nature, agriculture and industry. Since the dry summers of 2018 and 2019, the water sector has also been paying increasing attention to how water can be saved at home. Against this background, KWR launched a project for drought monitoring in the city of Eindhoven in May 2021. During the summer months, young people will measure moisture levels in the soil of their own gardens with a sensor. This citizen science project is intended to develop ways to save water based on recommendations for the participants about watering. The self-measured data, in combination with national weather forecasts from the KNMI, will serve as the basis for this advice. The measurements will continue until October of this year.

DIY sensors

During a workshop, the young people aged 10-15 assemble the sensor themselves while experts explain about drought and the impact on the urban environment. The sensors are then installed in participants’ gardens, after which the monitoring data is periodically transmitted to the KWR servers. KWR then provides watering recommendations on the website, which is also sent by email. Depending on developments in the weather and soil moisture, the recommendations will be sent twice a week and at least once every three weeks. The monitoring station is being developed and the results will be collected in collaboration with the platform, an initiative for citizen science.

Ownership raises awareness

The idea behind the drought monitoring project is that allowing the participants to build the sensors and make the observations themselves increases ownership. Because citizen science involves delegating part of the research, there is more of a sense of solidarity among the participants.

Customised watering recommendations

The project includes combining the sensor data and “translating” them into concrete action perspectives. In this case, watering recommendations for the city of Eindhoven. These recommendations are sent to the parents of the youngsters working on the project and to a broader group of interested drinking-water customers in Eindhoven. In order to communicate with the latter group, Brabant Water is sending out a mailing to 5,000 randomly selected addresses in a number of city areas with large numbers of gardens, asking whether the residents are interested in these watering recommendations.

Greater awareness about water use

This project will not only enhance the knowledge base about the value of citizen science in the drinking water domain but also provide more insight about the demand for, and impact of, watering recommendations in society as a whole. The study will look at whether people’s thinking about the use of tap water changes as a result of the advice given and the extent to which this has an effect on their approach to watering. The amount of watering may be reduced, with water savings as a result. The time at which people water their gardens may also change, flattening peak demand.