Prof. Nassauer secures $1.8M to develop smart, connected stormwater systems

connected stormwater systems
Originally published: 
October, 2017

Professor Joan Nassauer is co-PI with U-M Environmental Engineering Professor Branko Kerkez on a $1.8 million NSF grant to develop “the internet of water.” They are part of a team of engineers, design and social scientists, computer scientists, and environmental experts working in tight collaboration with decision makers and citizens across four communities in Michigan, Indiana, Tennessee, and Virginia.

The three-year grant was awarded through NSF’s Smart and Connected Communities program, which aims to integrate people with information and communication technologies to improve economic opportunity and growth, safety and security, health and wellness, and overall quality of life.

Much of the stormwater infrastructure in the United States is approaching the end of its design life, resulting in more flooding and degraded water quality. Floods are the leading cause of severe weather fatalities across the United States. Furthermore, large quantities of metals, nutrients, and other pollutants are washed off during storm events, making their way via streams and rivers to lakes and costal zones. To contend with these concerns, most communities across the United States maintain dedicated infrastructure (pipes, ponds, basins, wetlands, etc.) to convey and treat water during storm events. Building new and bigger stormwater infrastructure is cost prohibitive for many communities, including many cities in Michigan.

This project explores how to use existing infrastructure more effectively by using sensors to anticipate changes in weather and the urban landscape, and adapt their operation using active flow controls, like gates, valves, and pumps. The team will close fundamental knowledge gaps to explain (1) to what extent real-time control can improve the hydraulic and water quality performance of individual stormwater sites, (2) how to identify and overcome the barriers that public perception poses to the adoption of smart stormwater systems, and (3) how system-level interoperability can be achieved to guarantee safe and effective performance at the scale of entire communities (100s to 1000s of controlled sites).

Prof. Nassauer’s work in the project investigates how to use this technology to respond to community needs and preferences in the context of aging infrastructure and climate change. Helping communities learn how to use this technology could improve community resilience to extreme weather events.