Low Cost, Automated Water Sampler

Internet-of-Things Connected for Scalable, Near-Real-Time Water Quality Research

At a Glance

Researchers at Colorado State University’s Agricultural Water Quality Program (AWQP) have developed a low-cost, automated water sampler (LCS) with Internet of Things (IoT) technology for scalable, near-real-time water quality research. This can be utilized in edge-of-field (EoF) monitoring and is significantly less expensive than current commercial water samplers.


In Colorado and across the United States, agriculture is being identified as one source of nutrient pollution in State and Federal waters. Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus run off farmlands and accumulate in surface waterways, causing water quality issues. Although agricultural nonpoint sources are not currently regulated in Colorado, initiatives are set up to encourage the adoption of Best Management Practices (BMPs) that protect surface water quality. Quantifying BMP impacts on water quality requires robust, EoF, monitoring systems that can accurately measure flow and collect water for nutrient and sediment analysis. National Resource Conservation Service EoF standards currently require equipment that is often too costly for pragmatic and scalable research. The CSU AWQP intends to create additional research and regulation opportunities for Colorado and beyond using this technology.


The AWQP-developed LCS is comprised of six main components as shown in Figure 2: 1) a cellular-enabled microcontroller, 2) a 12V battery and solar charger, 3) a peristaltic pump with liquid sensor and tubing for water sample collection, 4) a 12V, 10W solar panel, 5) a water depth detecting sensor and, 6) a cooler for sample preservation.

Like commercial models, the LCS can detect and measure water flow in an installed flume via depth, sample water at pre-determined or user-triggered intervals (ex: hourly), preserve water samples for later collection, remote data monitoring through cellular communications, and stay powered remotely through solar and battery means. However, the LCS model accomplishes this at approximately 1/15th of the cost of a commercial apparatus. In 2023, the LCS costs approximately $700-1,000 to build and deploy. Commercial models also require the purchase of a cellular modem for wireless connectivity (along with a paid subscription), whereas the LCS integrally incorporates wireless connectivity into the microcontroller itself.

The LCS designs, instructions, and software code are available on GitHub, under a GPLv2 license. Permissive commercial licenses are available upon request and execution of a license agreement with CSU STRATA.


  • Low-cost to build and deploy.
  • Real-time data streaming and device control via integrated cellular capabilities at no extra cost.
  • Easily repairable as parts are easily accessible online or via 3D printing.


  • Wastewater treatment plants
  • Stormwater systems
  • Agricultural field monitoring
  • River monitoring
  • Water resource management
Last Updated: April 2024
water sampler near a creek in a green field

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