RiverWatch, a startup that provides monitoring services to improve water quality, is rebranding to AquaWatch and extending its product offer to improve the quality of all water, not just the quality of water in rivers and other recreation areas.

The startup will not only monitor municipal waters and aquaculture, it will also offer users a water health score, built into its monitoring services.

“The core of our business has changed,” founder James Muir says. “We are getting broader, and we now have the technical ability to meet demand which has been greater than what we originally imagined. That demand is coming from many different companies tasked with water management, hence the rebrand.”

RiverWatch currently works with several regional councils, providing environment and catchment monitoring services. It also has a presence in Ireland and Australia.

Initially founded in the Wairarapa in 2018, the startup provides hardware and services for monitoring water quality. It does this through a unique sampling tool called the ‘Mighty Waka’ with sensors connected via IoT (the Internet of Things).

“It’s like a ‘Fitbit’ for water health, a way for monitoring water quality,” Muir says. “We are in the business of water intelligence, and of assisting and encouraging people to improve water quality.”

James Muir (left), AquaWatch cofounder, and Laurent Daghdevirenian, environmental engineer from Watercare services Ltd.

These health monitors are, floating devices the size of a rugby ball and made out of recycled milk bottles, have accurate sensors that provide data across five different measurements: temperature, conductivity, turbidity, which measures water clarity, dissolved oxygen, measuring how much oxygen is present in water, and pH, which measures acidity and alkalinity.

Muir, a scientist from a farming background, spent several years building the technology, testing and trialling the software, with a bit of a dip in progress due to Covid-19 restrictions along the way. It now has an increasingly broader mandate, over and above river-watching and monitoring water in lakes and streams. As the startup has now outgrown its name, branding and marketing will be added into a new AquaWatch website.

Muir, who currently lives in Kuaotunu, Coromandel, says he has been waiting for technology to develop and catch up with his vision and ideas on water quality monitoring and management.

“We needed to have connectivity in remote areas, sensors that could sample and send this info, but the technology wasn’t quite there. As soon as the technology came along it was like, ‘Oh, we can make a business out of this’.”

The business idea was initially formed after Muir was asked to monitor water quality on his father’s Wairarapa farm, and realised how quickly water quality could change and what could happen if water quality deteriorates. He also developed technology himself and now that this technology is up to speed, more water areas are being intelligently monitored.

“We are in the business of water intelligence. We are monitoring and giving interpretations of data, learning the ‘voice’ of water,” he says.

The AquaWatch AI camera, uses the latest technology to continuously gather visual data, to provide more sophisticated insights and solutions.

Muir says the water monitors provide real time alerts to any change or issue in water quality. “Rather than finding out later that water quality has deteriorated, we can know instantly and respond appropriately. This enables proactive water management instead of reactive water management.”

The advantage of Riverwatch over other water monitoring services, Muir says, is its practicality and the ability to use shared data for good purposes. “What others are providing is not as practical. We come with a very practical perspective; you can buy something that is easy to install into the water, easy to operate, delivers excellent data, and you are able to interact with it immediately. Nobody else here provides that. What we offer is affordable, user friendly monitoring in real time, and it provides powerful analytics for trend analysis over time as well.”

Muir knows the company will be achieving its purpose when water quality is successfully managed and improved in the long term, leading to better overall standards of water in places like aquaculture, rivers, lakes, and streams – and tap water.

“This business will be successful when we see positive changes in water quality,” Muir says.

Story by Dave Crampton In partnership with Nelson Regional Development Agency (NRDA).

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