Knowing what’s left in the tank

Technological cunning and community connections are combining to provide water shortage warning systems to suit local Pacific situations.
Water tanks in the Cook Islands.
Installing a sensor on the AIC community water tank at Arutanga. Matt Brenin of Green Earth Development works with Timothy Tangirere of Infrastructure Cook Islands and Kaitai Kaitai of the Aitutaki Island Government Water Works Department. Photo: Infrastructure Cook Islands.

Work has begun on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands on a project that will help households and communities to avoid water shortage crises.

Running out of fresh water is a growing risk for many Pacific island nations, as climate change advances.

A new partnership has brought together information technology, weather forecasts and local water use information to provide a Drought Early Warning System (DEWS). 

The new system has been tested in Aotearoa New Zealand and is now going into trials on Aitutaki. The first step is for communities there to decide together who will test the system, so it can be set up to suit local conditions and the families and organisations who will use it. 

The second stage of the trial (in 2023) is currently planned for Tongareva | Penrhyn, the northernmost island in the Cook group.

Household focus, regional reach

Infrastructure Cook Islands and Aitutaki Island Government staff discuss water resources at the AIC community water tank at Arutanga. Photo: IOT Water..
Infrastructure Cook Islands and Aitutaki Island Government staff discuss water resources at the AIC community water tank at Arutanga. Photo: IOT Water.

The DEWS warning system is based on smart sensors that detect the current level in a water tank, and link it with information provided by families about their daily water use. This is then combined with weather forecasts, to give the household warning when supplies are running low.

The information can be combined for a geographical area, to help communities recognise shortages, and give disaster response organisations early notice of the need for water relief in different areas.

The aim is to avoid crises and build community resilience to the increased risk of droughts on Pacific islands, as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns shift.

Our partners

Household radar sensor.
IOT Water radar sensor on household tank, Arutanga, Aitutaki. Photo: Infrastructure Cook Islands.

DEWS is a multi-layered partnership. The Aitutaki Island Government is working with the non-government organisation Engineers without Borders New Zealand and Infrastructure Cook Islands. In Aotearoa New Zealand, contributions have come from the University of Canterbury engineering student who first proposed the idea, experts in ‘internet of things’ technology at start-up IOT Water, Northland District Council, Te Aupouri iwi and the community in Ngunguru who ran a feasibility pilot.

Funding is through Aotearoa New Zealand’s International Development Cooperation.


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