It is well documented that Lake Erie is an essential asset to the communities and industries that populate its shores. Unfortunately, our lake is an asset under threat. In August of 2014, a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) deprived 500,000 Toledo residents of public water for 56 straight hours. The International Joint Commission estimated a net regional economic impact of $65 million. Current science suggests that, barring significant intervention, blooms of this scale may become an annual norm, ensuring the loss of $1.3 billion over the next 30 years.
These numbers are startling, but we believe that our lake’s vulnerability is actually an opportunity. By re-framing crises like the 2014 bloom as technical challenges, we can catalyze the creation of monetizeable solutions. This is the basis of the Blue Economy – an ecosystem of water-based tech solutions that drive economic growth, ecological stability, and human health simultaneously.
Our first step towards this vision was the Erie Hack – Lake Erie’s first Water Innovation Competition. In early 2017, over 100 partner organizations from nearly every major urban area in the Lake Erie region aligned to put their best and brightest to work for our Great Lake. Over 200 technologists, entrepreneurs, creatives, and environemntalists competed on 42 teams for $100k in prizes. Teams worked on everything from underwater acoustic telemetry and nano nutrient sensors to data storytelling and gamefied water conservation.
As teams developed and matured, HABs quickly emerged as an area of great interest. Three of our top five finalist teams worked on the detection and monitoring of the nutrients that drive this phenomenon. Considering this urgency, nutrient loading and HABs were the natural focus of our next project.
We are now working with US Ignite, Great Lakes Observing System, Cisco, and others to bring next-generation networking and sensor technology to bear on the challenge of monitoring and managing nutrients. We aspire to generate robust and resilient nutrient monitoring pilots with the potential to scale across the Great Lakes. Even beyond that, we hope to begin laying the groundwork a for system with the capacity to integrate sensors for emerging pollutants as quickly as we can create them. A truly holistic regime of water monitoring and management.
We hope that you will join us as we build the Internet of H2O.