Hydropower operators are in the business of turning blue water into green, renewable energy. This sounds simple but in fact managing water is extremely complex. Hydropower producers must strike the right balance between optimising energy production and protecting delicate ecosystems upstream and downstream of their facilities. They must produce reliable sources of power for citizens but also protect them against the dangers of floods and droughts. Hydropower producers must meet laborious licensing and regulatory requirements from a multitude of agencies and stakeholders. And to maintain optimal reservoir levels and power production rates, they must effectively forecast the availability and flow of water resulting from future precipitation.
Managing water is definitively complex. So is managing water data. To most effectively use valuable water resources, hydropower operators depend on the availability, reliability and accuracy of the data produced by their hydrological monitoring programmes. This means having a quality management system (QMS) – a set of standard operating procedures that govern the data production process to ensure that the data are of a consistent, known quality. It means selecting and maintaining an elaborate array of sensors and communications technologies that take advantage of the latest innovations. It means having a sufficiently dense network design that samples the right data, in the right locations, and at the right frequency to provide the right raw data from which to produce the needed information on reservoir levels and stream flows.
Today’s hydropower operators collect enormous amounts of real-time hydrological data and they depend on modern data management systems to ensure that they have the timely and accurate water information that they need to effectively manage operations, regulatory requirements, and forecasting.


Aquatics Informatics is a Canadian company founded in 2003 that is gaining global attention from hydropower producers. Its AQUARIUS time-series software is being adopted as a water accounting platform that arms hydropower operators with accurate, defensible and timely water data. It is a water management platform which allows conformity to the latest hydrometric standards.
Aquatics Informatics recently announced that the US Geological Survey (USGS), the world’s pre-eminent water agency, is deploying AQUARIUS across the US to improve the consistency and reliability of its continuous water data. While the USGS has been using AQUARIUS to build accurate rating curves since 2005, it will now be retiring its automated data processing system (ADAPS) and using AQUARIUS as its national real-time water data management platform.
AQUARIUS is designed to support the latest standards set out by the USGS, and also the recommendations from the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). It allows hydropower operators to conform to the latest hydrological science, principles and standards because it is the software used by the very agencies who are the leaders in defining the standards.

Confident calculations

Hydroelectric utilities around the world are regulated to meet minimum stream flows but measuring and tracking the flow of water are highly complex activities. The accuracy of computed discharge data is critically dependent on rating curves. The science and art of drawing rating curves has been fine-tuned over the last 100 or more years of dedicated work by the world’s leading hydrometric agencies.
The relationship between river stage and discharge is very seldom completely stable. Rivers scour and fill, debris builds up on control features, and ice and plant growth can all dramatically affect a rating curve. Calculating accurate river flows from a rating curve means adjusting the curve to account for these changes to river controls.
AQUARIUS allows water resource managers and hydrologists to quickly visualise gauging measurements and shift ratings to account for various stream conditions. Users can focus on hydrologic and hydraulic relations, rather than struggling with curve fitting. Rating shifts can be easily applied as constants or can be phased in through time to avoid jumps in the calculated hydrograph. The innovative AQUARIUS rating curve development toolbox is used by the USGS, Water Survey Canada and a host of other leading organisations to develop accurate and legally defensible ratings.
Hydropower companies, like the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA), depend on AQUARIUS to effectively build rating curves. ‘Having accurate rating curves is very valuable to us and AQUARIUS has streamlined that process,’ said Randy Bowersox, manager of hydroelectric facilities with the NCPA.
Supporting real-time operations
Hydro plants need real-time data they can trust to make timely operational decisions. However records from remote environmental monitoring stations usually contain at least some anomalous or erroneous data. To ensure the highest quality data, these anomalous records need to be quality controlled. The anomalies can range from sensor drift that needs to be corrected to outliers that need to be deleted.
AQUARIUS offers a unique portfolio of tools to automate the pre- and post-processing of hydrometric data – providing real-time sanity checking, error detection, data cleaning, data flagging and automatic bias corrections and rating shift management.
Water resource managers can set extreme allowable values, automatically eliminating erroneous data. They can set allowable rates of change and apply both flat line and spike corrections. Automated procedures result in the highest quality real-time data and eliminate the majority of the tedious manual data workup process, freeing up time for higher level analysis.
Automated email notifications provide timely warning of hydrological events and station health indicators that require immediate attention. This allows management to make fast operational decisions that optimise the production of hydropower. Emails can also be automated for external stakeholders, for example, to notify regulatory bodies of compliance related incidences.

Regulatory compliance

As a result of their use of public water resources and their potential impact on fish, wildlife and local communities, hydropower operators around the world face heavy regulatory and licensing oversight. Complying with the monitoring and reporting requirements from multiple parties and agencies can not only be laborious but also interfere with optimising power generation.
Hydro plants in the US must comply with increasingly complex regulatory requirements from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, state regulatory agencies and more. There are, for example, regulations for meeting minimum reservoir levels, stream flows, fish flows and maximum ramping rates. Hydro plants looking for ways to effectively achieve compliance requirements and manage reporting to regulating agencies are turning to AQUARIUS.
In addition to helping produce quality, defensible data in accordance with current hydrometric standards, AQUARIUS features a reporting toolbox that allows hydropower operators to generate reports from a large list of templates, including the USGS primary computation record report. Reports can be tailored and customised to match specific operational needs and regulatory reporting requirements. Adopting a modern water accounting platform, like AQUARIUS, is critical to meeting monitoring requirements, expediting reporting and implementing a strong compliance programme.
AQUARIUS also features an automatic audit log. It maintains a permanent record of all original data, and tracks all processing steps (who did what, when and why). By automatically building an auditable data processing, correction and editing log, AQUARIUS provides the transparency needed to legally defend published environmental data, if it is ever put under scrutiny.
Randy Bowersox, from NCPA commented: "All of our official water records are managed in AQUARIUS to streamline complex regulatory reporting requirements. Using AQUARIUS as our water accounting solution allows the NCPA to build accurate rating curves as well as manage and compute all of our water data in accordance with USGS standards – this is critical as a FERC co-operator interfacing with the USGS."

Accurate historical data

Accurate historical water data leads to improved forecasting, helping hydropower producers make better operational decisions today to meet future energy demands. Keeping too much water in reservoirs is dangerous in advance of the rainy season – it can result in flooding or even dam failures. But releasing too much water before a dry season could mean too little water to meet upcoming energy demands. Hydroelectric utilities must keep accurate historical water records and effectively forecast the availability of water from future precipitation, and depending on their location, snow melt rates.
The British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (BC Hydro) is one of North America’s largest hydropower producers. It operates 31 hydroelectric facilities and three thermal generating plants, totalling 12,000MW of installed generating capacity. BC Hydro recently selected AQUARIUS to managed water data used for forecasting. ‘We are pleased to be working with Aquatic Informatics to help us better manage our water supply and forecasting data,’ said Stephanie Smith, manager of hydrology and technical services at BC Hydro. ‘AQUARIUS will enable us to provide more frequent updates to our statistical water supply forecasts, and will improve the traceability and tracking of forecast changes over our existing system.’
Modern platform
Managing vast amounts of water data is a complex task but hydroelectric utilities are adopting modern water accounting platforms, like AQUARIUS, to streamline hydrological data management with an interactive visual environment that simplifies data storage, processing, validation, statistical analysis and reporting. Hydropower producers currently using AQUARIUS include the Northern California Power Agency, BC Hydro, Idaho Power, the Salt River Project and Sarawak Energy.

Ed Quilty is President and CEO of Aquatic Informatics. www.aquaticinformatics.com