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UM researchers think tech could help cities better manage stormwater

University of Michigan Civil and Environmental Engineering students install a stormwater sensor.
Branko Kerkez
Civil and Environmental Engineering
University of Michigan Civil and Environmental Engineering students install a stormwater sensor.

More frequent and more intense storms are challenging the capacity of many cities’ stormwater systems. Climate change models indicate it's only going to get worse. Research at the University of Michigan is looking at how municipalities can better manage a lot of water coming in all at once.

Associate Professor Branko Kerkez at the the university's Civil and Environmental Engineering school says by using monitors and gate valves connected by the internet, systems can adjust to store water where there’s capacity so it doesn’t rush into areas already overwhelmed by stormwater.

“So a good example is: it’s raining a lot in one part of town. It’s not raining that much in another part of town. So, you might have storage assets that are not full all the time.”

That internet-connected monitoring system could feed into a central computer to assess what’s happening in real time and respond.

“Just like a car that, self-driving, steers itself given changing conditions, water systems in the future may be able to control themselves dynamically in response to these inputs,” Kerkez explained.

That could help avoid flooding and avoid sewer overflows that pollute rivers and lakes.

This smart stormwater management tech is just in the research stage, but big systems such as the Great Lakes Water Authority are working with the researchers to explore its potential.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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