PUB uses 'fish alert' to monitor clean water

Singapore is now home to some award-winning, water quality-monitoring fish.

National water agency PUB’s automated fish activity monitoring system has won an Honour Award in the applied research category at the biennial Asia Pacific Regional Project Innovations Awards, organised by the International Water Association.

The top prize in the category went to Australia for a new water purification and sludge recycling method.

The honour for Singapore was announced on Tuesday during the Singapore International Water Week, which ends today.

The PUB project began research in 2006 and uses freshwater tiger barbs to detect contaminants in the water supply. The fish’s physiology is similar to that of human beings.

Starting last year, 42 units with one tank each have been deployed around the country. They are located where water is treated and distributed, such as waterworks and service reservoirs, which store treated water.

Water samples are diverted to the standalone tanks, which contain 20 fish each. The system monitors the fish using cameras and detects their movement. If half of the fish die, an alert is triggered and a water sample is automatically collected for testing.

A PUB spokesman said the technology reduces the manpower needed to monitor multiple locations at the same time. PUB has used the fish before but its staff had to manually inspect the tanks.

‘The signals from the systems are all sent to one control centre, so you need only four to five people there to monitor many installations around the island,’ she said.

Each unit costs up to US$80,000 (S$101,300) and the technology was jointly developed by PUB and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s Institute for Infocomm Research.

The fish also detects unknown contaminants, making them better than other detection methods.

In addition to this, the PUB has carried out about 350 research projects with the local water community.

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