Drones and Stormwater Management

In recent years autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), also known as drones or quadcopters have been highly debated and portrayed as a privacy risk to individuals and a risk to aircrafts. While both could be true, we have seen that there are many benefits that potentially outweigh the risks. One of the many advantages is in the management of conservation efforts and in our case, stormwater management.

The benefits have been well documented in the case of management in remote areas. In places with extreme conditions and little access roads like Africa, drone technology has served as an important conservation tool. Conservationists have used them to monitor areas for logging and poacher activity, as well as for restoration efforts and to monitor remote areas. They have also been used in places like California providing a safe an inexpensive means for monitoring the spread of wildfires. These are just a few examples of cases that drones have served the environmental community around the world.

Simply put the use of drones or UAVs in stormwater management can also be a huge asset for any land use. Agricultural uses seem to have some of the greatest benefits. Large areas of land that are not accessible for local farmers can now be examined and managed with live feeds from drones for between a thousand and ten-thousand dollars for more advanced equipment. Crop health monitoring may be the biggest benefit for farmers, aiding in the ability to inspect cropsallowing for coverage of more acres, and also capturing data that cannot be seen by the human eye. Another important aspect is using drones to examine the fertility of soils. Maps captured can determine the strength of nutrient uptake in a field or the variable rate application (VRA). Using real time data, plots that are healthier require less fertilizer application, decreasing fertilizer cost and reducing runoff.

Applications for more urban areas like Northeast Ohio are also very practical and have already been put to use. The City of Lakewood has started using drones to combat high stormwater flows and to monitor outfalls into Lake Erie. The drones safely monitor these pathways in hard to reach areas, instead of rappelling down a cliff.

Civil engineers can use LIDAR technologies from drones to make three-dimensional site maps for modeling. Placement of structural controls of stormwater can also be done in remote situations where there are safety risks, steep slopes, etc.Other remote stormwater features such as bioswales and basins can be monitored quickly without trekking through thick vegetation.

They can also have applications with water quality monitoring in our streams and lakes. Drones can be equipped with pH and temperature sensors to regularly collected data in offshore places. This could prove effective for monitoring near Toledo, with a cost-effective means for monitoring algal blooms.

The applications of drones in conservation and environmental management are endless, and will surely see a large increase in use in the next decade. Giving real-time video and data with sensors, along with visual records done safely for a low price, will aid in the advancements of drone technology.

Ted Talks: Drones and Conservation

Lakewood's Drone Program

Precision: Agriculture Drone Application

Blog Author: Dalton Macalla, Cuyahoga SWCD Intern

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