SA Water is trailing the use of drones as a safer and more effective way of taking water samples, particularly from hard to access locations like some parts of the River Murray, to ensure safe, clean drinking water is provided across South Australia.

Water sampling is part of the utility’s ongoing, comprehensive water quality monitoring program, with more than 117,000 water samples collected during 2021-22.

Led by SA Water’s Australian Water Quality Centre (AWQC), the drones were used throughout February 2023 to collect water from Happy Valley Reservoir.

AWQC’s Acting Senior Manager Laboratory Services, Dr Thorsten Mosisch, said collecting samples from large, open water bodies can be logistically complex, time-consuming and costly.

“To collect samples from rivers and other sources like reservoirs, we usually need to launch a boat and deploy two operators, therefore using a drone will speed up and streamline sampling procedures and reduce any possible risk associated with on-water operation,” Dr Mosisch said.

“Challenges with traditional water sampling methods also become more prominent during unique situations like the River Murray floods, making it more difficult to safely and efficiently collect samples.

“Collecting water samples can pose safety risks depending on the conditions present at the site such as an unstable riverbank and strong water current.

“Water is collected at locations and times that provide a representative sample and give an accurate description of the overall water quality. A drone can be remotely operated from the shore or riverbank and programmed with the exact GPS location of where we need to collect a sample, which also helps to ensure consistent repeatability.”

The drones are able to collect a single 2L water sample or four individual 250mL samples.

“Our water quality and operational teams require frequent monitoring data to generate information about a water source and to help predict how surface waters will respond in situations such as flood events,” Dr Mosisch said.

“Being able to carry out this monitoring more efficiently means we can focus on any water quality changes, and both adapt and respond quickly.

“If this trial is successful, we will be looking to roll out the use of drones to support water quality sampling at our rivers and reservoirs, which provide drinking water to large parts of metropolitan and regional areas of the state.”

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