Forecasting the Future – the new frontier
Just imagine the economic and human benefits of knowing that a flood or drought will hit, two weeks out… it’s a scenario that some Ontario residents will soon experience, courtesy of a unique partnership involving a Regina-based company.
Regina-based ISM Canada is developing a unique tool that will, by the spring of 2018, be forecasting flooding and drought…weeks before these events happen!
“It’s a unique and leading-edge project which enables us to really leverage the expertise of our predictive analytics team,” said Naiomi Lynn, Technical Delivery Manager – Analytics, ISM Canada.
In an exciting move, ISM Canada, Ontario-based Aquanty Inc., and Ontario’s South Nation Conservation Authority have partnered on a project which could offer far reaching benefits for environmental agencies, communities and residents across this country.
This is the second such project for the team of Regina-based ISM Canada, one of western Canada’s leading market providers of innovative IT business solutions and predictive analytics; and Aquanty, a hydrological science and research company which provides cutting edge hydrogeological computer modelling software and services to companies across the country. The pair are also currently collaborating on a project, led by Aquanty Inc. for the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association.
“These are very exciting projects because they have such a potential to make such a difference to residents, landowners, farmers and more. Monitoring and managing our water is not only important for today, but has benefits long into the future,” said Steven Frey of Aquanty Inc.
This project is constructing a real-time hydrologic predictive forecasting platform for the South Nation Watershed in eastern Ontario.
One of 36 provincial Conservation Authorities in Ontario, South Nation oversees a watershed of more than 4,300 square kilometers.
The Authority is mandated to manage and protect the watershed, and to regularly provide flooding and drought information to municipalities and emergency service organizations within its region.
South Nation currently bases its short-term weather predictions on data collected from two weather stations in the vicinity of the watershed; from seven stream flow gauges throughout the South Nation River and its tributaries; and from in-person site visits by Authority employees.
However, as weather events become more extreme and happen with more frequency, the Authority has begun looking for a tool which will enable a much more reliable approach to predicting serious weather incidents, further into the future. That’s where ISM’s expertise in predictive analytics has come into play. Predictive Analytics is the practice of mining and analyzing data to enable informed predictions about the future.
“If you look at recent trends, we are experiencing weather that we haven’t had in the past, so we are being forced to change the way that we work. Relying on limited weather data collection points isn’t enough anymore for us to really understand and predict how weather incidents will impact land and communities across the entire watershed….so for us this is really exciting, because it is enabling us to do a better job of forecasting,” said Sandra Mancini, Team Lead, Engineering, South Nation Conservation Authority.
Mancini says South Nations officials became aware of the predictive analytics work being done by ISM Canada and Aquanty Inc. on the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association project, and very quickly initiated contact.
The three organizations saw the opportunity a partnership could provide, agreed on a partnership, and developed a plan.
South Nations applied for and received funding from Agriculture Canada’s AgriRisk Initiatives (ARI) program, which supports research and development in relation to new risk management tools for agriculture. The AgriRisk grant support was critical to the initiation of the project. As a result of the funding approval, in January of 2017 the partner organizations began work on a new tool. The AgriRisk grant support continues to play a key role in the ongoing work.
The product under development by the three organizations, brings together technology with “Big Data” and ISM’s highly trained predictive analytics team to provide insights not possible with most current tools.
“This is a very significant initiative. There are organizations which are able to do part of what we’re doing but none that we have been able to find which are able to deliver what this team is delivering in terms of the depth and breadth of insight… in real time,” said Ronda Boutz, Team Lead, Special Projects, South Nation Conservation Authority.
In the project, ISM provides important access to data from The Weather Company, owned by its parent company IBM. Data from more than 200 IBM Weather Company stations will be integrated with the information collected from the two data stations and seven stream flow gauges currently used by South Nation. Unique to this project, real-time ground water and soil moisture data is integrated into Aquanty’s hydrological model of the watershed.
In addition, ISM is developing a dashboard which will organize and analyze the aggregate data for predictive purpose, and is making this meaningful and accessible for the appropriate audience.
The groundwater–surface water hydrologic model, which will go into the testing phase this fall, provides South Nation employees with the ability to foresee the impact of different weather conditions on land across the watershed. The integration of ground water and soil moisture data enables South Nation to identify whether the ground is dry enough to soak up falling rain, or wet enough to cause run off.
Once constructed, the platform will be used to help guide surface water management practices within the watershed, towards flood and drought mitigation.
“We thought it would be a great undertaking if we could actually produce something that people could have access to – and they could see if there is going to be a drought or a flood, enabling them to plan ahead for what is coming, and what measures they would need to take,” said Mancini.
According to Mancini the project is a proof of concept, created to both inform the Authority, and identify the potential benefits for a much wider audience.
While the project is targeted for completion in the spring of 2018, the team is already hoping to develop a second phase which would provide public access to the tool, enabling farmers for example to predict when best to harvest based on the likelihood of rain, or residents to check on whether an approaching storm will cause flooding in their community.
“It can help farmers plan when to put the crops in and when to take them off. We’ve had some challenges the last few springs when farmers plant and then a week later the crops are under water, so having access to a more robust 14 day forecast for watershed conditions would allow them to better plan their operation and minimize the risk of crop loss,” said Mancini.
Not only is the new approach expected to provide much more robust and informative predictions, it is also expected to be cost-effective, because the new automated system reduces the need for on-site employee soil testing.
The partner organizations involved in the South Nation proof of concept aren’t the only ones interested in its outcomes. Conservation Authorities across Ontario are watching this project with excitement, as are insurance companies.
Beyond its direct application to the South Nation Watershed, this project is providing a live demonstration of the way in which the latest in weather forecasting, hydrologic modelling technologies and predictive analytics can be used as decision support tools for the management of water resources under increasingly variable climate/weather conditions.
If the level of third party interest is any indication, the South Nation Proof of Concept could have long reaching implications for the way in which watershed forecasting is done into the future.