Cleaning up the Ganges River with help from IoT

Nov 21, 2017   |   Jerry Lee - Microsoft's director of product marketing, Data Platform and IoT

Springing from the Himalayan mountains and flowing into the Bay of Bengal, the Ganges has been the holy river of India for centuries. Personified as the goddess Gaṅgā, the Ganges is worshiped by Hindus who celebrate lost relatives by immersing their ashes in its waters, and who believe that bathing in the river causes the remission of sins and liberation from the cycle of life and death.

Stretching across nearly 1,600 miles, the Ganges is also an economic powerhouse and a vital lifeline for the country. The river provides water to about 40 percent of India’s population in 11 states, serving an estimated 700 million people. It is home to at least 150 species of animals and marine life, irrigates more than 140 million acres of arable land in the basin alone, and supports as much as 54 percent of India’s gross domestic product.

But for decades the Ganges has been in peril. Cities and populations in its path have expanded dramatically, demanding more from the river while leaking a growing scourge of urban refuse into it. In daily use by citizens, the Ganges is polluted with all manner of contaminants — from plastic bottles to sewage to industrial waste and even human remains. Agricultural runoff is up as well, while more dams and an increasingly arid environment slow the river’s renewing flow of fresh water.

In an effort to turn the situation around, three years ago the Indian government created a new ministry with a charter to restore, manage and monitor the Ganges. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has been tasked with the huge challenge of not only cleaning up the ancient river, but also monitoring its water quality levels to enforce requirements for each Indian state along the waterway.

To combat pollution and restore balance to the Ganges, the CPCB has turned to IoT. As part of its Digital India initiative, the government has been working with Indian ISV TechSpan Engineering to implement a monitoring system built on the Azure IoT platform, using sensors provided by the Austrian firm s::can.

Taking a look at the numbers behind the devastating pollution of the Ganga River. Image courtesy or World Bank Group.

TechSpan’s EnLite water quality monitoring application and HydroQ+ portal were customized for the project. Using the power of the cloud, IOT and big data, the solution taps into the robust s::can sensors already in use by the CPCB to provide measurements across 17 parameters — from chloride and fluoride levels to temperature and color.

To bring the full power of the cloud and Azure data-handling to the solution, TechSpan is using Azure IoT capabilities such as Azure Stream Analytics, in conjunction with SQL Server, table/blog storage integration and more.

The solution now includes 36 monitoring stations, spread across 2,500 kilometers and spanning four Indian states. Every 15 minutes, the stations send data to the Azure IoT Hub capturing live water quality measurements. In the coming weeks the board plans to roll out 24 more stations, with an eventual goal of 200.

The data is being used initially to enforce environmental policies that apply to Indian States with shores on the great river. The approach is solving a longstanding political problem around enforcement, where states have routinely blamed each other for pollution.

Through the real-time information being captured, the CPCB can clearly see which areas of the river are experiencing the most pollution, as well as the types of pollution present at each monitoring station. States with water quality levels falling outside established thresholds can face hefty fines or other incentives to drive adherence to water quality regulations.

Along the way, the Indian government is collecting a vast supply of data on pollution trends, sources, chemical compositions and more. And as the board continues to build out its data-gathering capabilities, the system’s accuracy and effectiveness can be improved — through analytics, machine learning and bot-based solutions — to boost the potential of achieving a long-term win in the fight against pollution, for the Ganges and beyond.

With that goal in mind, the Azure-based solution from TechSpan has been made available to s::can—the Austrian firm is beginning to offer the technology globally so other companies can benefit from the innovation happening along the ancient shores of the Ganges.

It’s all part of how the near limitless adaptations of IoT can be used to solve the world’s most complex challenges. Monitoring the health of a river ecosystem across hundreds of miles may have seemed like an impossible task just a few years ago, but today IoT is creating a practical way for nations to care for these irreplaceable resources.

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