Smart and connected stormwater systems – Science Nation

[♪♪] Miles O’Brien:
Rain clouds are gathering on a chilly afternoon
in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Time to release some water
from the Ellsworth detention pond on the edge of town. All it takes is a few taps
on a smart phone. [water splash] Miles O’Brien:
And these two twelve-inch valves open up. [water rushing] Miles O’Brien:
Like many cities its size, Ann Arbor has had to grapple with aging stormwater
infrastructure. More people and more buildings
mean more strain on the system. This pond dates back
to the 1970’s. Evan Pratt:
We’re in an urban environment. We’re kind of boxed in, we don’t have room
to make the pond bigger. What we need is something
innovative and different to make
the pond function differently. [♪♪] Miles O’Brien:
With support from the National Science Foundation, civil and environmental
engineer Branko Kerkez and a team
at the University of Michigan are building a new
generation of smart and connected
stormwater systems. Branko Kerkez:
That’s kind of the vision behind this
is instead of new construction, what you’re able to do
is take your existing system, retrofit it with these
autonomous technologies, and effectively squeeze
more out of it. Miles O’Brien:
They start by deploying wireless sensors
all through a watershed, especially areas prone
to flooding during storms. The sensors are programmed
to monitor and wirelessly report
back data, like water levels
and flow rates. Branko Kerkez:
We actually want to go into a city or a new community and figure out how
their stormwater systems are actually functioning, and you won’t really know
what they’re doing until you measure it. [♪♪] Sara Troutman:
So, the green nodes indicate that the sensors
are operating well and they’re sending us
real-time data. Miles O’Brien:
They’re developing algorithms that sort through
all that sensor information to figure out how stormwater
could be most efficiently routed through the system
to prevent flooding. Sara Troutman:
So, I’m actually analyzing the data
that these sensors provide us. So, looking at the data seeing how the network
itself is operating and then using that data
in a control algorithm to tell us how those assets
should be controlled, how a gate should open,
how a pump should be set. Miles O’Brien:
They are testing out their smart system here
in Ann Arbor, as well as other locations
around the country. The sensors can test
for water quality too. Ponds and wetlands
are home to microbes that can break down pollutants. Branko Kerkez:
So, a lot of stormwater systems aren’t just designed
for flooding. They’re also designed
for water quality because what you want to do
is you want to treat that water and hold it back
during the storm events to effectively remove
the pollutants that are in that water. Miles O’Brien:
Kerkez likens this effort to building a self-driving car.
The ultimate goal is autonomy. Branko Kerkez:
What if you not necessarily took the human
out of the loop, but you helped the human make
better decisions and ultimately, once trust builds overtime
into this autonomous system, then you might have something
like a self-driving car one day, but for water systems. Miles O’Brien:
For Evan Pratt, this partnership
has been “win-win.” Evan Pratt:
For me to replace this infrastructure would cost
millions of dollars, but for just $25,000, we found a way to squeeze 33%
better performance on pollutant
loading out of it. Miles O’Brien:
Building smart stormwater systems, putting autonomous
technology to work, when the water starts to rise. For Science Nation,
I’m Miles O’Brien.

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