Capturing the rain

Residents of Roeselare – a municipality in Belgium’s Flemish region – have been experiencing abnormal droughts and intense rainfall in recent years which has led to catastrophic floods. To avoid more negative consequences, the city council is working with students to collect precipitation data via a network of pluviometers. The information is then used to devise a more innovative water management system and help tackle the consequences of climate change.

The pluviometers were created as part of Roeselare’s Smartwaterland. The initiative collects information on local rain precipitation and feeds it into a dedicated platform. The municipality will then use that data to take more accurate water management decisions and, in case of an emergency, provide prompt relief to the local population.

Smartwaterland was the first citizen science project coordinated by Roeselare together with other partners.

Jasmien Wellens, Project leader in innovation and digitalisation at the City of Roeselare

CitiMeasure contributed to Smartwaterland, providing Roeselare with guidelines and advice in two main areas: communication and impact evaluation.

“Together with Roeselare, we selected key recommendations from the CitiMeasure Behaviour & Policy guidelines. These recommendations were then used to shape a communication plan to disseminate Smartwaterland,” says Mohammad Gharesifard, the Project Coordinator of CitiMeasure. “We also used external sources from other well-known projects to identify areas where the project was most impactful to design a monitoring and evaluation framework”, he concludes.  

Other partners include the University of Applied Sciences, which helped to develop the digital pluviometer. Along with a private company, the university also created a manual for teachers on how to build the pluviometers and how to bring it to the classroom.   

Thanks to these efforts, students are now building the pluviometer in their science class, where “they also learn about geography, climate change or data,” says Jasmin Wellens, Project Leader in Innovation and Digitalisation at the City of Roeselare. “Then, they take these pluviometers home and gather the rain data that they can see on their laptops’ dashboard,” she adds. That’s how 12 and 13-year-old students learn how much rain has fallen and how to measure the temperature.

“When the students study mathematics, for example, they use just the data from a book, but when they use their own data, they have much more fun,” says Wellens.

The information gathered by the pluviometers has extensive practical applications, Wellens explains: “We suffer from climate change because in the summer we have very long dry periods, while in the winter we have floods sometimes.” It’s then essential “to have more insights into water rainfall to take more evidence-based policy decisions” and to improve urban plans, she adds.

Smartwaterland won the Flemish government’s “The Smart in the City” award for its innovative pluviometers. Wellens says that she would like to invest the grant to transform the pilot into a bigger experiment by trying it out in different schools in Roeselare, “or maybe even in other cities in the region.”

Citizen measurement (or citizen science) initiatives contribute to a sustainable transition in European cities. By using an array of tools and instruments, citizens can play a role in the measurement and monitoring indicators on air quality, temperature, soil moisture, biodiversity, or risk management, among other environmental areas.

Smartwaterland is one of the three CitiMeasure pilot case studies. Citimeasure organises a webinar on 9 March to share the findings of Smartwaterland and the other two pilots that participated in the citizens’ science projects. You can register here.

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer