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Small sensors are warning one northern NM pueblo of post-wildfire flooding

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Courtesy of NSF Civic Innovation UNM team
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lewisnetwork.org
A group of "LEWIS" sensors installed along an acequia on Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo land.

Over the past year, the University of New Mexico was awarded $1 million from the U.S. National Science Foundation to explore community resilience to natural disasters.

So, scientists, PhD candidates, professors, and high school students decided to take this money and develop low-cost sensors to monitor post-wildfire flooding on pueblo land.

Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, around 70 of these sensors have been placed all over the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo in north central New Mexico.

Their purpose? To monitor rainfall.

Dubbed “LEWIS” sensors by the science community, low-cost, efficient wireless intelligent sensors cost about $250 to make. And, when they went through testing, they were definitely a bang for your buck.

Fernando Moreau is the team leader for the project. He’s an associate professor at the department of civil, construction, and environmental engineering at the University of New Mexico.

“It was almost as good as commercial sensors––which are $15,000," Moreau said.  

The sensors can also measure lots of other things like humidity and smoke contamination. But Ohkay Owingeh wanted to monitor rainfall for other reasons.

“Long term planning," Moreau said. "Should we have a development in this part of town? Or avoid it because of the flooding? Emergency responders. They want immediate access to this data. When an emergency hits this neighborhood, it’s different in this other one.”

For right now, the collected data will be exclusively available to the pueblo. Moreau’s team is also working on an emergency siren system meant to alarm residents of potential flooding.

The project is looking to expand to other pueblos near Santa Clara and Las Vegas.

Bryce Dix is our new local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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