Solving Non-Urban Water Metering Across Australia’s Most Extensive Water Network

Q&A with Ben Starr - SigSense, Director

In 2018 the New South Wales government in Australia introduced a non-urban water metering framework to ensure robust and fair water management. Partnering with Kallipr, Sigsense created a solution using the Captis IoT device to log water usage data that complied with the NSW regulation requirements.

In this Q&A, Ben Starr, Director at SigSense, discusses the challenges of non-urban water metering in remote areas of Australia and showcases the solution for secure, reliable and cost-effective automatic meter reading.

Can you explain what non-urban water metering is and the aim of the regulations brought in by the NSW government?

Non-urban water metering refers to the monitoring and measurement of water taken from sources in rural areas, primarily for irrigation. This usually involves the installation of water meters (Pattern Approved) at various extraction points such as rivers, groundwater sources, and irrigation channels to quantify the volume of water being used and to transmit this water use data back to the government.

A Captis device installed on a remote property as part of the NSW non-urban water metering scheme

In December 2018, the New South Wales (NSW) Government in Australia introduced the Non-Urban Water Metering Framework as part of its broader commitment to improving water management. The aim of this framework is to ensure accurate and transparent measurement of water taken from non-urban sources, 

promote compliance with water regulations, and support sustainable water resource management.

The key objectives of the Non-Urban Water Metering Framework as we understand them are to:

  • Enhance transparency: By accurately measuring water usage, the framework aims to provide a clear picture of water extraction and usage patterns in non-urban areas, which can help identify potential over-extraction or inefficiencies.
  • Improve compliance: With better monitoring, the framework ensures that water users adhere to the regulations and licenses set by the government, which in turn helps prevent over-extraction and illegal water usage.
  • Support sustainable water management: By collecting data on water usage, the framework enables better decision-making and policy development for the sustainable management of water resources in the long run.
  • Build public trust: The accurate measurement and reporting of water usage can build public trust in the government’s ability to manage water resources effectively and fairly.

To achieve these objectives, the framework establishes a set of rules and guidelines for the installation, maintenance, and reporting of water meters in non-urban areas. It required that the installation and maintenance of meters and telemetry devices (called Local Intelligence Devices or LIDs) be undertaken by suitably qualified third parties (called Duly Qualified People or DQPs). It also outlines a staged rollout targeting high-priority users and areas first.

What are the main challenges Sigsense faced in developing a solution to meet the non-urban water metering requirements?

We worked with our partners Kallipr to implement a new version of the Captis IoT data logger that would meet the requirements of the NSW regulator. Changes made to the  device included housing updates and cabling to accommodate tamper evident seals, and on-board storage to meet DPIE’s requirement to log five years of data.  

How does the Captis IoT device work and what makes it a suitable solution for monitoring water consumption in remote areas?

The Captis device logs water usage and sends the data both to the landowner and the government body

The Captis device is an innovative solution built initially for Automatic Meter Reading in urban environments. 

With its configurable nature and robust housing, SigSense identified an opportunity for this product to work within the non-urban water metering framework. 

The device leverages the evolution of low-cost IoT technology, making it a suitable and cost-effective alternative to traditional programmable scientific or industrial dataloggers, which were once expensive and difficult to use. The economies of scale realised by the Captis, which is produced in production runs of 10,000 or more, enable the realisation of significantly more cost-effective monitoring solutions than competing products.

The Captis IoT device works by collecting data from water meters (via a wired Pulse or Modbus connection). This data is then transmitted wirelessly to the NSW government’s Data Acquisition System (DAS) on the Telstra NBIoT or CatM1 network. These networks provide long-range communication capabilities at lower costs compared to traditional cellular networks, making them ideal for IoT applications in remote areas with limited connectivity. Telstra’s coverage across NSW with their NBIoT network means that almost every site is connectable. 

The Captis IoT device is particularly suitable for monitoring water consumption under the non-urban water metering framework in remote areas due to the following factors:

  • Affordability: The low cost of Captis devices enables the rapid deployment of monitoring systems, making it feasible for the NSW government to implement comprehensive water metering programs without incurring exorbitant costs.
  • Ease of use: The configurable nature of Captis devices simplifies the installation and setup process, making them more accessible to a wider range of users compared to traditional dataloggers.  The team at SigSense can easily provide remote support and over-the-air configuration assistance to installers. 
  • Remote data access: The wireless communication capabilities of Captis devices enable real-time monitoring and data access, even in remote areas with limited connectivity, allowing the government to efficiently track water usage and ensure compliance with regulations no matter how remote the site.
  • Scalability: The modular and flexible design of Captis devices allows for seamless integration with various types of sensors and systems, making it easier to scale up the monitoring network as the program expands.

Overall, the Captis IoT device represents a significant breakthrough in remote environmental monitoring technology. Its low cost, user friendly, and scalable features make it a suitable solution for the NSW government’s non-urban water metering framework, facilitating the efficient and sustainable management of water resources in remote areas.

Over 4,600 Captis devices have been installed across 800,000 square kilometres of land, and the solution has gained certification from WaterNSW as one of the key LIDs and is the chosen supplier of 2,400 government-owned meters.

How has the introduction of the non-urban water metering framework impacted water management in NSW and what benefits has it brought to individual landowners and farmers?

By promoting fair and sustainable water use, the non-urban water metering framework benefits landowners and farmers by fostering a more equitable and efficient water management system.

  • Transparency and trust: The framework ensures that all water users are held accountable for their water usage, building trust among stakeholders and demonstrating that compliant farmers are operating within their allocated limits.
  • Fairness in water allocation: With accurate water usage data, the government can make better-informed decisions about water allocations, ensuring that those who use water responsibly receive their fair share.
  • Protection of water resources: The framework helps prevent over-extraction and promotes sustainable water use, ultimately preserving water resources for future generations and supporting the long-term viability of agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin.
  • Recognition of responsible water use: Farmers who have been using water efficiently and sustainably can be recognized for their efforts, potentially leading to incentives or other benefits.

What lessons can be learned from the development and implementation of this solution and how can they be applied to similar water monitoring projects in other regions?

A DQP installs a Captis device on a remote property

Complexity of rollout of a non-urban metering framework increases as options expand. The more data formats, LIDs, meters, telemetry options and data transport types,  the harder it is to ensure the quality, security and compliance of the data transmitted. Complexity results in both cost of administration and quality cost in reliability of the system.  

Other departments embarking on non-urban metering frameworks including automatic meter reading should consider the costs, both to landholders and administrators of each system, and standardise each element to the greatest extent possible.  

What does the future landscape look like for non-urban water metering outside of NSW?

There are regions in Australia where landholders with water licences only self-report usage once or twice a year.   

In urban areas, being metered for our meagre water use at our house, and being billed for consumption per litre is very normal. 

The measurement of water extracted for irrigation and accounting of water usage against licences is such a critical element to management of this essential natural resource (surface and groundwater).  I can only envisage over the next decade that every pump extracting water from groundwater or surface water will be metered, and consumption transmitted.

In this way, the non-urban market will finally catch up to the state of play with every family in Australia. 

See more at 

Other News & Insights