Department Urban Water Management

Urban Water Observatory

Spatially-distributed monitoring of the urban water cycle 

The Urban Water Observatory (UWO) is a long-term (5-year) initiative of ETH and Eawag to establish a sensor network in Fehraltorf, allowing spatially-distributed monitoring of urban water cycle processes. It is a coordinated field research lab, a test bed, a sensor lab and a ‘hands-on classroom’ rolled into one. Our primary objectives are:

  • Conduct transdisciplinary environmental research within and at the interfaces of urban water systems
  • Answer pressing questions regarding future developments of water infrastructure
  • Increase transparency and public awareness for and around the urban water cycle

Details about research questions can be found -> here

How and where are we active?

We monitor rainfall, flows, levels and other system states at high spatial density (higher than 1 sensor per hectare) within the sewer network, in rivers and groundwater using modern sensors and innovative wireless data transfer technologies (->LoRaWAN). With this work we aim to better understand the interrelation between rainfall (driver) and the corresponding response processes, including surface runoff, pipe flow, overflow activity, as well as impacts on the adjacent compartments, such as sewage treatment plant, groundwater, and rivers. We will furthermore extend our study's scope by monitoring water quality parameters (ph, conductivity, turbidity).

How can the results be utilised?

This unique approach generates spatially-differentiated information on flows of water and matter in an urban environment. Data and metadata are made publicly available for research, soecially for residents living in Fehraltorf.

Through these measurements we gain a better insight into the spatio-temporal system dynamics, enabling us to optimise stormwater and wastewater handling towards a more efficient management and, most and foremost, a better water quality in aquatic ecosystems. Within the scope of this initiative we will test novel analysis techniques (-> DIMES IItypo3/) and innovative monitoring strategies, such as real-time monitoring and control of system dynamics in urban catchments (LoRaMeshtypo3/).

Future environmental engineers from ETH obtain insight into the set-up and operation of the Urban Water Observatory. As part of the forward-thinking education at ETH, students learn how to use modern monitoring and analysis techniques with a unique data set.

Who do we collaborate with?

Setting up such a sensor network would not be possible without the support from the municipality of Fehraltorf and its residents. We receive further support from surrounding communities, as well as local enterprises in various ways. For this, we would like to express our sincere thanks to all supporters!


15-Apr-2019: With the start of the 3rd rollout phase we are extending our LoRa® sensor network to more than 80 different sensor nodes, deployed below and above ground. We successfully developed a new Synchronous LoRa Mesh Network technique to overcome low transmission performance in range-critical situations, particularly relevant for applications in underground infrastructure (-> read paper Aqua & Gas in Deutsch or IEEE in Englisch).

Former team members


Dr. Jörg Rieckermann Group Leader Tel. +41 58 765 5397 Send Mail

Project team

Christian Ebi Sensor Networks and Electronics Tel. +41 58 765 5992 Send Mail
Simon Bloem Tel. +41 58 765 6472 Send Mail
Christian Förster Data Management / Software Development Tel. +41 58 765 5951 Send Mail

Project partners