Small idea with big potential: USQ student investigates flood early warning systems

Every Queenslander knows the tragic legacy of floods, with rising waters directly impacting hundreds of thousands of people in the state over the past decade.

Cairns-born Mitchell Redenbach moved to Toowoomba in 2014 to study civil engineering at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), and his choice of final year project was relevant to both his previous and new homes.

“I think part of my drive to get involved in water engineering, such as flood modelling, came from growing up in North Queensland where the wet season brings flooding practically every year,” he said.

“When I moved to the Darling Downs it wasn’t long after the 2011 floods, and it was clear that it was very fresh in everyone’s mind.

“I wanted to create an early warning system using only low-cost water level gauges because many small communities may not have the money to install a more expensive, conventional system."

Mr Redenbach’s project, ‘Practical Applications of Low-Cost Water Level Gauges in Flood Early Warning Systems’, considered Jondaryan as a case study.

“The issue with flood prediction based on forecasting is that it can be wrong, having the potential to cause complacency and people not being prepared in time,” Mr Redenbach said.

“My project was based only on the empirical evidence - water levels.

“By looking at upstream water levels and flood peaks in order to predict downstream flooding, I created a hydraulic model while testing gauge options at the USQ labs.”

Mr Redenbach presented his work at the Queensland Water Symposium in Brisbane recently, taking part in the 2018 Michael Woodhouse Undergraduate Awards.

He was awarded second place among the many undergraduate research projects related to water engineering.

“It was a good experience to attend the symposiums as there was a lot of great knowledge sharing there, particularly from established members of the engineering profession,” he said.

“They were more than happy to chat about project improvements and up-and-coming modelling techniques.”

Mr Redenbach will graduate next year, but has already secured full-time work with engineering consultant Water Modelling Solutions.

He has previously worked with the company as a Student Engineer on a casual basis, assisting with a variety of tasks including modelling and mapping.

As for his low-cost flood early warning system, Mr Redenbach believed it could inspire others to investigate alternative solutions.

“It’s sort of a proof of concept. As engineers, problem-solving can be very technical and result in expensive solutions,” he said.

“My project shows that that with innovation and more investigation, perhaps cheaper answers are out there that could help people in need.”

Learn more about USQ Civil Engineering.

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Mitchell Redenbach was awarded second place at the 2018 Michael Woodhouse Undergraduate Awards.