Cleveland Water Alliance, partners pilot sensor tech for water quality

LimnoTech’s Ed Verhamme carefully deploys the water quality sensor while an ODNR staff member steadies the canoe. This device is installed alongside a much more expensive unit to enable direct performance comparison and will stream data to the internet in real-time thanks to the newly installed LoRa radio gateway.

The Cleveland Water Alliance, in partnership with Michigan-based LimnoTech and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), are partnering in a pilot project to show how inexpensive sensor technology used in everyday products such as dishwashers and cell phones can help monitor water quality to improve the health and safety of Lake Erie.

Staff from ODNR are being trained on how to use and monitor the sensor technology, which will provide real-time results and remote-accessible data. This will save significant time – months, even years – in collecting reliable data and drastically reduce the cost of doing so.

The project is taking place along a three-mile stretch of Old Woman Creek, which flows into Lake Erie, in the Western suburb of Huron. Approximately 30 sensors will be installed at four different sites – three in the water and one at a weather station. These low-cost sensors will potentially do the work of legacy sensors but at roughly 10 percent of the cost.

They will measure and collect data in several key areas: wind speed, air temperatures, solar energy (how much sun is hitting the water), water temperature, water levels and flow and turbidity, the degree to which the water loses its transparency because of suspended particulates.

Turbidity is important because it is considered a good measure of water quality. The sensors will measure how much sediment is coming through the water and how many nutrients from chemical runoff from farms are passing through. This can cause harmful algal blooms in the lake that can make the water undrinkable and dangerous. Reducing such harmful algal bloom is a goal of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio program.

“Through the H2Ohio initiative, Governor DeWine has made improving water quality a priority for the State of Ohio,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “ODNR is proud to support the Smart Watershed Pilot project to test these new innovative water quality sensors. We hope these sensors will be able help us to assess water quality benefits at our H2Ohio wetland projects at a considerable cost savings to the State.”

Bryan Stubbs, executive director of the Cleveland Water Alliance, a nonprofit organization that works to build the Blue Economy and use technology to solve water problems, said he’s eager to get this project underway.

“We now have affordable technology to better monitor and collect data from our water, and we’re excited to apply it to the first time in this pilot project,’’ Stubbs said. “Before we can solve Lake Erie’s problems, such as harmful algal blooms, we need the data to give us a starting point and be able to continuously collect reliable, real-time information using affordable, accessible technology.”

This project is funded by ODNR’s Office of Coastal Management.

Ed Verhamme, an environmental engineer with LimnoTech who is spearheading the project, said the use of this technology is a giant step forward to help biologists with ODNR be more efficient and expert in their water monitoring.

“The sensors are not new but the application of them is,’’ Verhamme said. “We’re taking Smart technology that has been used in other sectors for years, such as Smart Building sensors, and applying it for the first time to water. It’s exciting.”

Innovation like this will contribute to the growth of Northeast Ohio’s water-related industry. It is one of the fastest-growing segments of the economy in Cuyahoga County, according to a recent report by the Ohio Aerospace Institute. Nearly 1,000 new water cluster jobs (929) were created in Cuyahoga County from 2013-2016, according to the report. This growth was significantly more than in aerospace, advanced manufacturing, energy, and biohealth.

“There are so many great ideas and products coming to market to help keep our Great Lakes safe, healthy, and accessible,’’ Stubbs said. “We have a lot more to do but projects like this are a critical part of the effort.”

About the Cleveland Water Alliance

Established in 2014, CWA is a non-profit organization that seeks to better utilize the economic and job-creating potential of Lake Erie while also urging greater care of this valuable, natural asset. We are among the region’s leaders working to bring together Northeast Ohio’s water providers, business and political leaders, researchers and environmental organizations to establish Cleveland as a nationally recognized center for water innovation.

For additional information, contact Sue Valerian at 216.262.1946.

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