Every monsoon, 56-year-old Hasmukh Patel keeps round-the-clock vigil on the water levels of Auranga river at Bhairavi village in Gujarat’s Valsad district. An employee of the Narmada Water Resources, Water Supply and Kalpsar Department of the Gujarat government, Patel was once an important link in the disaster management chain, forewarning the district administration of any rise in water levels that could lead to flooding in Valsad and neighbouring areas downstream. Not anymore.
While Patel continues to keep a check on the water levels for his department, he has largely been replaced by a six-inch sonar river gauge that provides real-time measurement of water levels. The gauge is part of the ‘e-Megh’ project, an innovative IOT— or Internet-of-Things — based early flood warning system that forewarns over two lakh residents of Valsad and 21 villages located downstream about heavy rains in catchment areas and possible inundation.
The small, concrete structure near Bhairavi bridge that Patel continues to occupy also sports a solar panel on top and an elaborate battery-system that acts as a power-back up for the sonar river gauge, that sends readings to the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) office in Valsad town, 40 km away.
“In 2016, there were no rains in Valsad, but still, flood waters from Auranga river inundated the entire city and neighbouring villages, causing widespread destruction. That is when we decided to do something about the annual flooding. We examined the river measurement data for the last 20 years and correlated it with the rainfall data and found that heavy rain in catchment areas of the river was sure to cause flooding in Valsad,” said C R Kharsan, district collector of Valsad district, who implemented the e-Megh project on a pilot basis on the Auranga river.
On August 21, Kharsan was recognised under the category ‘Inclusive Innovation’ at the first The Indian Express Excellence in Governance Awards. “In regions where there is no dam, people can take a cue from this and accordingly implement warning systems in flood prone areas,” Kharsan said after receiving the award.
In 2016, over 26 people lost their lives as waters from the swollen Auranga inundated large parts of Valsad town and 21 villages located downstream. In 2017, over 14 persons died in the deluge. “In 2018, no lives were lost and this is reflection of the success of the new system. This year too no lives were lost and we relocated 1,000 people in time before the flooding,” said Kharsan. Though Auranga is one of the four rivers that flows through the district, it is the only one that does not have a dam that could forewarn of a possible deluge.
The IOT-based system integrates the sonar river gauge in the Sahyadris with an elaborate online system of hooters at four most vulnerable locations — Dhamdachi, Valsad-Pardi, Hanuman Bagda and Lilapore. “Any alarming rise in water levels at Bhairavi activates the hooters within 10 seconds and provides the administration with two crucial hours to act before the flood waters reach the downstream areas,” says Jayesh Mav, Field Operations Manager, Responcity Systems (P) Ltd, a private entity that manages and operates the early flood warning system for the district administration.
It also sends out SMSes, warning officials of the impending danger. The data provided by this system can be accessed by the district administration officials on their smartphones.
The hooters give both a primary and secondary warning. “If the hooters placed on top of water-tanks and buildings emanate a single 10-second hoot, it’s a warning. But, if the hooter goes off three times within 10 minutes, then it signals danger,” Mav added.