Using wireless sensors to solve Himachal Pradesh’s water problems

How we used wireless sensor networks in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, to solve the water problem in the hills.

Himachal Pradesh is one of the most beautiful states in India, filled with mountains and streams and all the greenery in the world. So logically since there should be no problem with water. Well that’s almost true. Yet, even though the sources of water are abundant, the utilization of the same is disorganized. The result is a state with a heavy water problem.

Himachal Pradesh has seen an increase in demand by over 3.93 crore litres of water per day from its drinking water supplies in the 39 irrigation and public health (IPH) divisions in the state in 2011. To further add to the problem, rains in the state have been showing a decreasing trend and there have been particularly harsh years like 2009 when the state witnessed a deficit of 60% during the monsoon. In fact Bilaspur district registered a deficit of 83%, Solan district 70%, Kangra district 66%, Hamirpur district 65% and Lahaul and Spiti district 58%. There is no way of knowing when the water tanks are running out of water or when they should pump more in order to make up for the shortage. Or even measure the usage in various areas in order to judge the gap between requirement and availability.

Himachal Pradesh seems to intuitively suggest plentiful water. Yet the region was racked by water troubles due to inefficient management of the resource. Pic: wikipedia.

Recently, when AirJaldi hosted a workshop on wireless sensor networks and their environmental applications, we realised that wireless networks could help us better manage water in HP.

Before going into how they were used, what are wireless sensor networks? These are spatially distributed autonomous sensors to monitor physical or environmental conditions such as temperature, sound, pressure, etc. and to cooperatively pass their data through the network to a main location. These can be deployed over a specific area where a specific phenomenon is to be monitored.

This workshop was taken by Akiba from freaklabs who taught the participants how to use sensor devices and put them together to form a network in order to successfully correlate the data.

Arduino sensors used in the workshop

The workshop had a bigger purpose than to just teach the participants about sensor networks. And that was to use it to be able to solve the problem of water in the Dharamshala area of Himachal Pradesh. The workshop consisted of three major parts. The first part was the actual workshop to teach the participants about sensor networks using Arduino which is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. Arduino can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators. It is intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.

Participant working on an Arduino setup.

The second and third parts were actual sensor network deployments at the Tibetan Childrens Village (TCV) and Sarah Tibetan Center for Higher Learning. In both deployments, SONAR water level sensors were used to measure the water level in storage tanks fed by nearby streams; data that would then get uploaded to Cosm servers. These sensors were used to collect data on how much water is pulled daily and monthly as well as the average usage. They also captured insights to judge the situation and be able to successfully pump in the right amount of water from the surrounding rivers before we reach a situation where the tanks become empty.

One of the water tanks used for measurement.

The idea is to be prepared and never have the tank go empty. With this data we at AirJaldi hope to be able to implement this solution in other various places and also be able to use the sensor networks to solve water issues.

Wireless sensor networks can be used for various purposes and the proper implementation of the same is something that can help in solving a lot of everyday problems hampering the growth of the country. We hope to see wireless networks used a lot more in innovative problem solving for grassroot issues.

A Delhi wala by heart, Saurabh Mehra has been working with AirJaldi in Dharamsala for the past one year. AirJaldi believes in empowering communities through wireless connectivity. more


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A Delhi wala by heart, Saurabh Mehra has been working with AirJaldi in Dharamsala for the past one year. AirJaldi believes in empowering communities through wireless connectivity. more

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  • mikebartnz

    I too am using the Arduino to set up a tank level sensor and also chose sonar in the end but may have to put in a relay because the tank is so far away.

    • let us know if we can help in any way,
      best of luck!!

      • mikebartnz

        Thank you.

  • Saurabh

    I didn’t get the concept … Why not just keep the tank always full using a simple switch like the ones in toilet flush tanks?

    • comparing the tanks used to support communities with toilet flush tanks is a bit unfair…but leaving that aside there are a lot of other things that can be monitored through these sensors and we can have a system to pump in the exact amount of water that we need so there is no wastage..secondly this project was done keeping in mind other scenarios also for example in himachal the streams are always flowing but in other states where there are limited supply of water there this can be used to extract the amount needed and not more than it also can be used to monitor other datas like increase in usage , if there is a decrease in the supply of water etc….i hope this helps

      • Saurabh

        Yes that is starting to explain why you didn’t use a simple switch.
        Pls note that I respect your work and the project. I’m just asking because it is very interesting and the article didn’t cover all the details.
        Now I have another question:

        In any given scenario, wouldn’t this be the simplest and optimum solution?
        if ( (there is water in the stream to pump) && (the tank is not full) )
        { pump water; }

        Because once the tank is full, it would only pump the exact amount that is needed.
        And when the water stream goes dry, everyone would have the maximum water possible , i.e. a tankful.