Rivers Can Tweet At You To Tell You When They Flood

How thoughtful of them!

Between last December and February, Great Britain experienced some of the worst flooding it had seen in 250 years. Heavy rains caused rivers to well up and spill over their banks, causing more than $1.6 billion in damage. By 2050, researchers expect flooding costs in Europe to reach nearly $30 billion annually.


So it’s no surprise this dire situation would lead people to think up new flood-protection ideas. One online mapping company thought: Wouldn’t it be nice if rivers could tell people when they are about to flood?

This past summer, the firm, Shoothill, developed a tool called GaugeMap, so the 2,400 rivers in England and Wales can ping interested parties. Individual sensors are able to tell farmers and fishermen when flooding is imminent or if water levels are particularly low.

Shoothill managing director Rod Plummer has been in the online mapping business since 2006, helping the United Kingdom’s Environment Agency create local flood alerts. “One of the things we noticed is that some of the people who work in government who try and visualize things in maps–they’re not so good at presenting it for the likes of my mother,” he says.

So, Plummer went to work developing a clean, easy-to-understand mapping tool anyone could use–and not just for flood alerts. “You’ve got firemen who worry about flooding, and you’ve got fishermen who worry about carp,” Plummer says. “A kayaker wants low water, but if it’s too low, the kayak will run along the bank and damage aquatic life.”

Essentially, it’s an Internet of rivers for laymen, updated every 15 minutes. People who rely on the rivers can subscribe to tweets from specific waterways twice a day.

Plummer says GaugeMap can be applied to other vulnerable areas, too. His company’s in talks with some municipalities in Australia and New Zealand, but says GaugeMap could work almost anywhere with gauges or sensors in place. With sea levels projected to rise as much as four feet over the next century, a tweeting river doesn’t sound like too terrible an idea.


About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.