To help get the most accurate and detailed analysis of streamflow into its water supplies, Melbourne Water is trialling innovative drone technology in partnership with the University of Newcastle.

The 20kg drone is used to better predict how much rainfall flows off forests and into dams and is the latest example of how innovative technology is being used by Melbourne Water to improve safety, gather better data and save money.

With a changing climate leading to protracted warmer and drier conditions, there is significantly less rainfall across greater Melbourne – with about 30 per cent less water going into Melbourne dams.

This means it’s crucial to make the best use of the water available by using it more efficiently and looking at alternative water sources such as recycled water, groundwater and harvesting stormwater.

Monitoring catchments is also vital to maximising Melbourne’s water security.

The drone is used to capture forest data which then estimates how much rainfall is being soaked up by the forest surrounding the Maroondah catchment and the flow on effect of that into storages at the Watts River and Maroondah catchments.

Melbourne Water’s Manager Drinking Water Research, Dr Shane Haydon, said traditionally, scientists use so called ‘bottom-up’ measurements of how much rainfall trees absorb.

“This method involves a less accurate analysis based on data from small-scale forest plots scaled up to the whole forest and then combines that with rainfall statistics and streamflow to estimate the shortfall,” Dr Haydon said.

“The drone is much more accurate and can take a direct measurement of a tree’s diameter, as well as other parameters. A tree’s diameter can be used to indicate a tree’s water use.”

The technology allows an accurate snapshot of a much larger expanse of forest than the traditional individual tree measurements in plots.

Melbourne Water hopes the data captured will also help with monitoring climate change, impacts of fire on the catchment, regrowth and long-term streamflow predictions.

Siobhan Day is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and Pump Industry magazine, and has been part of the team since early 2019. With a background in management in the non-profit sector, Siobhan has extensive experience in communications, professional writing and client management. She holds a Bachelor of Business and Communications and is currently completing a postgraduate degree.

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