A heavy rainstorm shouldn’t cause pollution. But many cities have combined sanitary and storm sewers, and that’s precisely what happens when a cloudburst strikes. The swamped system overflows, forcing raw sewerage into rivers and lakes.
The conventional solution has been to build separate sanitary and storm sewers. Unfortunately, that fix is costly and time-consuming. In South Bend, for instance, the price tag has been estimated at $200 million over 20 years. But Jeffrey Talley, Notre Dame assistant professor of civil engineering, has a better idea: Make the existing sewers smart.
In Talley’s scheme, thousands of electronic sensors would be placed throughout the sewer system. If sensors detect an overflow developing, they activate valves to divert sewerage to underused sections of the system, preventing pollution.
Indiana’s 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, which promotes research with commercial promise, found the idea so hopeful that it awarded Talley a $1 million grant.