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Tennessee professor designs water gauge that could help warn communities about floods

Posted at 10:15 AM, Nov 03, 2022

PUTNAM COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) — In the aftermath of the 2021 Waverly, Tennessee, floods, families said if there was only some sort of warning, they might have been able to escape.

The United States Geological Survey has water sensors in place on the big lakes and rivers but often they aren't in rural areas, in part, because of the cost.

"Standard United States Geological Survey gauge may cost about $25,000," said Alfred Kalyanapu, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.

In fact, only one-third of the state's watersheds has at least one water gauge. That soaring price tag gave Kalyanapu an idea.

"Maybe I can build some smaller sensors that are low-cost and affordable," he said.

So he teamed up with a group of his engineering students at TTU. Several years and trial and errors later, they came up with a solution. It's a $500 sensor, that can be mounted on bridges and structures over bodies of water, that works just like the USGS gauges.

"The sound wave hits it and comes back and the return is what’s converted into the distance," said Kalyanapu.

It can send real-time data to a website Kalyanapu designed with the help of his students.

"They can actually see as the data is streaming in, you can see, is the water level rising for is it falling?" he said.

It's a resource the community of Waverly now has at its fingertips.

A few months ago, the Tennessee Tech team installed two new sensors along Trace Creek that can also be monitored online. TTU's goal is to put a sensor like this in every watershed in Tennessee. That way, no matter where you live, you know the water levels.

"If you need any sensors like this, please contact us. We’ll be happy to work with you," said Kalyanapu.

The proud professor hopes, if nothing else, he can give communities the gift of time. "Early warning is very important because that will enable emergency managers to plan ahead," he said.

This article was written by Chris Davis for WTVF.