A high-tech sensor project was put through its paces during recent heavy rains in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven.

Sensors were used to monitor the waterways throughout the Illawarra Shoalhaven, as part of the cutting-edge project that’s a partnership between Wollongong City, Shellharbour, Kiama and Shoalhaven councils, Lendlease and the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility. The project also received funding from the Australian Government under the Smart Cities and Suburbs Program.

Several of the experimental systems were designed by Wollongong City Council and the SMART Infrastructure Facility.

The systems combine data from a range of sensors and will be used to train artificial intelligence to recognise blocked drains and sandbank height levels, measure the build-up of rubbish in filters, and continuously monitor water quality.

“It’s early in the life of this project but the recent rains were an opportunity to start putting this tech to the test,’’ Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM, Chair of Illawarra Shoalhaven Joint Organisation said.

“This Smart Waterways project is focused on looking at new ways to apply cutting-edge technology for the benefit of our communities. The project provides a new exciting opportunity for leaders within our region’s scientific and technological communities to come together and explore smart technology applications to address the ways we respond to flood water management.”

The Illawarra Shoalhaven has a history of significant floods, flooding will occur again in the future due to our local conditions. The recent flood of the Shoalhaven River is a reminder of this reality we live in. Floods can have devastating consequences and can affect the economy, environment and the people of our region.

The innovative research project explores how we may be able to use smart technologies to better understand the region’s waterways and reduce the impact of severe weather events, with a long-term focus on fine tuning innovative technology to predict flood behaviour.

A laser-based sensor has been installed at Stuart Park in North Wollongong and another sensor will soon be installed at Shoalhaven Heads. This system monitors estuaries, the area where a river meets the ocean.

“Some lakes, lagoons or rivers are separated from the ocean by a sand hill. Having a better understanding of these will help us manage the risks associated with flooding more effectively,” said Shoalhaven City Council’s Mayor Amanda Findley.

Another system aims to automatically detect when drains are blocked. A camera-based sensor has been installed at a culvert in North Wollongong with three more to be installed, including one in Kiama.

“We want to better understand the risk of culvert blockage, to further improve our maintenance of culverts to reduce the impacts of flash flooding,” said Kiama Municipal Council’s Director of Engineering and Works’ Mike Dowd.

At Calderwood Valley, sensors have been installed to monitor the build-up of rubbish and debris within stormwater traps and transmit live data to a digital platform. “We are working with the local council to make long term maintenance of these assets easier and ensure they are working optimally,” said Arthur Ilias, Development Director, Residential and Urban Regeneration at Lendlease.

Sensors are being installed in the Shoalhaven and Shellharbour areas to monitor water quality. “These sensors will allow us to collect continuous live data so we can observe water quality in real time” said Mayor of Shellharbour City and Deputy Chair of ISJO, Marianne Saliba.

“Sensors installed in Macquarie Rivulet will assist Council in remotely monitoring the quality of water entering into Lake Illawarra. This continuous data will be analysed to better understand the health of this major tributary within Shellharbour LGA and quickly identify any issues.”

The project is also trialing new high-tech water level sensors that can measure water levels with the same accuracy as traditional technology at a fraction of the cost. If they are proven to work, this could save the region thousands of dollars and provide better data for council engineers.

“We know our area is prone to flash flooding that can happen at any time. Wollongong was fortunate to not be affected by significant flooding in this recent East Coast low – but our southern neighbours were not as lucky. By trialing this new technology now, we’re taking steps to protect our area and public safety into the future,” said Cr Bradbery.

Installation of the sensors and the collection of data has started, with more to be installed in waterways across the Illawarra and Shoalhaven over the next few months.