Students Preparing a Changing Earth

The Water Canary – A Revolution in Water Contamination


The Water Canary

While water may be necessary for life to survive, it also has a dark side. Diseases thrive in water, infecting millions in a population without a hint of their source. Analyzing water safety was no simple feat- it required expensive equipment, intelligence, and lots of waiting. Knowing real-time data about what bodies of water are contaminated is the utmost priority in the agenda of returning clean water back to the people. Without this information, entire areas can be infected leading to deaths of thousands. Thankfully, today there is the Water Canary which has made water-testing accessible to everyone. The Water Canary provides a cheaper, simpler alternative to the original ways of testing. The whole process is has been broken down to a green and red light.

Impact of Water Contamination

Over 3 million people a year die from waterborne disease. Water issues are a real threat to entire populations, but unfortunately the majority are unaware. Even countries with filtration systems cannot control the germs that water encounters on the journey to the glass from the plant. These filtering plants are also a luxury to which most of the world has no access. In Haiti, only 17% of the population has access to improved sanitation. In 2011 Cholera outbreaks infected hundreds of thousands of people, and the source of the germs remained hidden in plain sight. The help Haiti needed wasn’t there, and water-testing required education, equipment, and time. After natural disasters the earthquake in Haiti, there is an important need to restore clean water to the people as quickly as possible, for water is survival. Without this basic necessity of life, millions die slowly. When the water is polluted, the victim is only given two choices- drink the water and die, or don’t drink the water and die. This is a situation under which no human deserves to live.

The Water Canary at TED

Development of The Water Canary


Inspired by the use of canaries to detect toxic gas in coal mines, the Water Canary provides priceless information on the status of water contamination on a massive scale. The simplification of the testing process is for lack of a better word, ingenious. This small yellow box, about the size of a juice box, uses the wavelength of light (spectroscopy) traveling through water to detect the presence of pollutants. Once a small sample of water is inserted into the Water Canary, the top will flash a red or green light; red if it isn’t safe, and green if it’s clean. This process is light years simpler than the old method of mixing various chemicals and waiting up to a day for a indication.

The true brilliance is in the wireless transferring of GPS data to global servers. Using a Wi-Fi connection or physical cable, the device can send information to the servers to provide maps based on points tested throughout an area. This development means real-time monitoring of water contamination available visually on a map of an entire region, accessible by everyone.


Unfortunately, the one downside I see is the price tag. To manufacture a Water Canary, it costs $100. Not many people can afford this even though it’s much cheaper than a chemistry kit and an education.

Benefits of the Water Canary

The benefits are far greater than the simplicity of the Water Canary implies. The worry of dirty water has been alleviated, and the governments can now respond much more effectively to their peoples’ needs. If this technology were available during the black plague era, imagine the lives it would save. Thankfully we have this technology now, and the minds behind this deserve credit for the survival of thousands they will save in the future. This invention has completely revolutionized the way the people are informed. The barriers of education and wealth have been broken and the people are in control of an important part of their lives again. The Water Canary is a little yellow savior.

Learn More About the Water Canary

The Water Canary Website

TED Blogs with Sonaar Luthra

Anything to Say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s