Big data project aims to improve Dutch flood control, save the government millions

The initiative aims to provide water experts with a real-time intelligent dashboard

A big data project called Digital Delta aims to investigate how to transform flood control and the management of the entire Dutch water system and save up to 15 percent of the annual Dutch water management budget.

IBM will collaborate with Rijkswaterstaat, the part of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment that is responsible for the design, construction, management and maintenance of the waterways and water systems in the Netherlands. The project also involves the University of Delft, local water authority Delfland and the Deltares Science Institute, the organizations said in a joint news release Tuesday.

They will investigate whether data gathered by more than 100 different projects in the Netherlands that deal with water management can be combined and be made accessible to accelerate water management innovation, said Djeevan Schiferli, an IBM Business Development Executive who is involved in the project.

If the research is successful, the system can be applied to other areas in the world, Schiferli said. The principle has already been discussed with governments in the U.S. in New York and New Orleans, as well as in Japan, South Korea and Australia, he said.

In the next 12 months, the Digital Delta group will investigate how to integrate and analyze water data from a wide range of existing sources, including precipitation measurements, water level and water quality monitors, levee sensors, radar data, model predictions, and current and historic maintenance data from sluices, pumping stations, and locks and dams, the group said.

Because 55 percent of the Dutch population lives in a location prone to flooding, every water-related event is critical and can impact businesses, agriculture and citizens' daily lives, they said.

Due to this, the Dutch water management budget adds up to €7 billion (US$9.2 billion) each year, and costs are expected to increase €1 billion to €2 billion by 2020, unless something is done, according to the release. By combining data, Digital Delta thinks it can save up to 15 percent, Schiferli said.

Digital Delta wants to reduce costs by dealing with IT and the available data in a better way, he said. At the moment, parties use a third to half of their budgets to collect and disseminate the data, according to Schiferli. "And that is even before the data can be interpreted," he added.

The initiative aims to provide water experts with a real-time intelligent dashboard to harness information so data can be shared immediately across organizations and agencies, according to the release. Involved organizations can use the dashboard to help prepare for imminent difficulties as well as enabling authorities to coordinate and manage response efforts. Over the longer term, the project aims to enhance the ongoing efficiency of overall water management, it added.

Digital Delta's goal is to improve the management of the Dutch water system in many different ways. For instance, by modeling weather events, the Netherlands should be able to determine the best course of action including storing water, diverting it from low-lying areas, and avoiding saltwater intrusion into drinking water, sewage overflows and water contamination, they said.

One satellite company can, for instance, spot a 100 meter stretch of dike that is sagging, Schiferli said. If those responsible for tending to the dike know this, they can put sensors in just that stretch instead of in the whole dike that is, say, 10 kilometers long, he said. Monitoring a stretch of 100 meters is much cheaper than fitting the whole dike with sensors, he said.

While all of the relevant data to determine where to put sensors may now be available, it is not combined so not everyone has access to it and this leads to unnecessary expenditures, he said.

Another project in the initiative aims to link a sensor to a well in a traffic tunnel, Schiferli said. If the data of that sensor is linked with the maintenance system and weather data, an estimation can be made of how likely it is the well will overflow or clog when heavy rain is expected, he said. The system could then send a warning to relevant authorities to check the well, which may prevent a traffic jam in the tunnel, he said.

IBM's Intelligent Water Software can be used for this. Rijkswaterstaat and local water authorities will manage water balance data and share the information centrally through the Digital Delta platform, the organizations said. This should make it possible for the Dutch water system to optimize the discharge of water and improve the containment of water during dry periods, and prevent damage to agriculture, the group said.

Also, a scalable early flood warning method will be developed by combining weather data and, water system simulation models and real-time measurement data from the water system, they said.

The Digital Delta project is aimed at water management. Similar systems could be developed to deal with droughts or for use in ship traffic, said Schiferli.

"The Australians, for instance, said they know a lot about forest fires -- that knowledge could be useful to the Dutch when they have to deal with a fire in the dunes," Schiferli said, adding that international cooperation is also a possibility.

The current research project costs €5.5 million and will go on for 12 months after which the governments decide if they want to go through with it, he said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to

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