Rezatec launches deployment to monitor water pollution around Lake Maumelle for Central Arkansas Water.

Central Arkansas Water, a metropolitan water utility system located in Pulaski County, Arkansas, USA has partnered with Rezatec, a world-leading data analytics company, to conduct a deployment to identify and monitor sources of contaminants entering one of its primary drinking water sources, Lake Maumelle.

Lake Maumelle is a 13.9 square mile man-made reservoir that provides approximately 65 percent of all drinking water to the Arkansas state capital city of Little Rock, and the surrounding area with a population of 450,000 people.

The reservoir’s watershed is comprised of a variety of different land uses, both agricultural and forestry related. Central Arkansas Water suspects that these activities may have been contributing to increased levels of sediment and in turn nitrogen and phosphorous entering the reservoir.

Rezatec’s watershed management tool uses satellite data, hydrological analysis, and machine learning to map land use and create soil erosion risk models to deliver a comprehensive watershed risk analysis – a solution already successfully deployed for several other utility companies in Europe and Asia.

The aim of the deployment is to provide a retrospective analysis that can be used in conjunction with more traditional methods of monitoring to help identify source locations where pollutants (derived from herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers, metals, etc.) are at risk of flowing into the reservoir.

This data can then be used by Central Arkansas Water to enable positive engagement with key landowners to target reduction in diffuse pollution levels in the catchment areas and manage the impact to water quality caused by farming practices and soil erosion associated with forestry operations.

By adopting a watershed-based approach to water quality and preventing pollution from entering into raw water sources, Central Arkansas Water hopes to protect the abundance and quality of drinking water for its customers and reduce water treatment costs.

Randy Easley, Water Resources Scientist, Central Arkansas Water commented: “It is increasingly important for water utility companies to explore new and innovative methods of watershed management to address the challenges of budgetary restraint, stricter regulatory compliance requirements, and increased environmental pressures.”

Philip Briscoe, Chief Operating Officer, Rezatec stated “Water utilities are looking for more comprehensive and cost-effective ways to map and monitor land use/land cover to predict change across landscapes within watersheds, in order to better understand the relationship between land use and water quality. Satellite data can provide innovative and efficient solutions which are being adopted by an increasing number of organisations around the world”.

The applications for satellite data and machine learning within the water industry are not restricted to watershed management. Rezatec also provides solutions for assessing pipeline failure risk in water distribution networks and monitoring dams for signs of potential weakness.

Why Canadian forestry companies are one card short of a royal flush

It’s been a tough year for the Canadian forestry industry. A combination of factors has seen both the price and demand for lumber drop, leading to the closure of several mills and a significant drop in output.

This can be seen, in part, as a strategic move by the timber companies owing to the unique way in which the Canadian timber market operates and their liability to the Crown.

In difficult market conditions, regular and accurate data is the missing card to a winning hand.

The Canadian Timber Market

The vast majority of forested land in Canada is owned by the Crown. Timber companies typically lease this land on a long-term cycle, allowing them management and harvesting rights. In return, the timber companies pay the Crown stumpage fees (calculated at the start of the lease period and fixed for the duration), as well as face a quota on how much timber can be cut for the duration of the lease, known as the Annual Allowable Cut (AAC).

In the situation where the price of logs or lumber falls and crown stumpage fees remain unchanged, this will lead to lower margins – even losses – and, so, decreased viability. The natural reaction is to reduce operations and wait for the price of lumber to stabilise; however, this means reduced revenue, inefficiency and the loss of livelihood for employees.

What’s causing the fall in lumber prices

There are a number of factors that have adversely affected the price of Canadian logs and lumber in the first half of 2019:

US housing market
There has been a drop in demand for lumber due to a slowdown in the US housing market. Fewer houses are being built leading to a decrease in demand.

Tariffs
Canadian lumber is subject to US tariffs, making it more expensive to sell into the US market. Additionally, the escalating trade war between the US and China has had ramifications for lumber prices across the whole of North America. With less US timber being exported to China, there is greater domestic supply.

Low inventory
Log inventories have been adversely impacted by wildfire-related logging curtailments, particularly in the Pacific North West. Wet weather and pest have also had adverse effects.

How to beat the dealer

One option would be to sit it out and wait for the price of lumber to increase but, with AAC quotas to meet and shareholders to report into, this is not an attractive proposition for most forestry leaders.

A more beneficial solution is to improve your hand and find a way to operate profitably through even the toughest of market conditions, and maximise margins using new technology and better data.

Satellite data and machine learning algorithms are providing valuable new insights into forestry operations. Having up-to-date data on forest inventory; being able to accurately forecast 5-year cycles; and mitigate the risk of fire, pest and disease allows forestry leaders to improve the efficiency of their operations and identify the most profitable parcels of land for harvesting and acquisition.

Rezatec’s forest monitoring and management data services enable improved margins, enhanced competitive advantage and optimised forest management. Many of the leading forestry companies are already adopting this technology and capitalising on the insights it provides. Those that don’t risk being left in the dark.

Satellites vs. Lidar for Forestry Management?

Traditionally, monitoring and managing large forests has been a very costly and labour-intensive activity; involving ground teams to walk and observe a representative sample of forest. In recent years however, two new forms of forest analysis have emerged: Lidar and Satellites. Each offers new levels of data and insight not previously available to forest owners, but each with different characteristics.

Understanding the features of each method is crucial to identifying how and when to apply them to best effect.

In this blog post we look to unravel the two technologies to help foresters to gain a deeper understanding of both.

Lidar Data

Lidar (light detection and ranging) is an optical remote-sensing technique that uses laser light to examine the surface of the earth. Benefits of Lidar data include having high accuracy and good detail, however there are several drawbacks. Firstly, due to the labour-intensive process of collecting the data the costs are very high, this would typically include aircraft, employment costs and equipment. Then the price of obtaining the Lidar data isn’t the only thing you’ll have to pay for… The data will have to be processed by a highly skilled analyst and presented in a way that’s understandable showing the commercially important insights that were gathered.

Another disadvantage of Lidar is the gap between data updates, which can often be 5 – 10 years. By the time you’ve got your set of data, paid for someone to analyse it and are ready to use it, it could be out of date and your forest could look completely different. There could have been an infestation of beetles, or even fire damage! You’ll then have to wait up to 10 years to go through the whole process again and recapture a new set of data.

Realistically Lidar is only used to look at a portion of the forest, rather than a tool to manage the entire forest.

Satellite Data

Satellites can provide both optical and radar data across your entire forest. The refresh rates are also much higher with satellites typically passing overhead every week (cloud cover permitting). This frequency of monitoring allows for a much faster response to events, as well as temporal analysis – monitoring change over time.

The combination of both optical and radar data also affords a much wider range of applications. For example, you can determine tree species, mensuration and health analysis. The continuous management of forests using such up-to-date information means there are fewer chances to miss environmental and health changes. This can play an important factor in ensuring insurance claims are valid, by detecting things like fire and storm damage much quicker.

Satellite data has other advantages over Lidar; it is much less weather dependant as synthetic-aperture radar (a form of radar that is used to create two-dimensional images) can penetrate cloud cover, whatever the weather.

Image: Rezatec portal showing tree species distribution 

How to use this data?

Whichever method of gathering data you use, you’ll soon realise the biggest percentage of forest management costs arise from ground truthing, to make the data you’ve captured useful. With satellite data the need for ground-based manual data collection can now be minimised with the use of machine learning algorithms. This can reduce the amount of validation required and improve ground-based efficiency and targeting. So you only visit the relevant areas, hugely reducing costs.

Summary

Both Lidar and satellite data provide useful insights and can be used to complement each other. Rezatec’s GIS platform can incorporate Lidar as well as a number of other data sources, but satellite data is unique in its versatility, frequency of updates and ability to monitor very large areas.

By using earth observation satellite data, you get a continuous large-scale view of your forest. You can pair this with existing Lidar data you already have to enrich your view or use the satellite data as your stand-alone forestry management analytics.

Want to find out more? Download our guide: ‘Satellite-derived forestry intelligence’ or request a demo.