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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Smart Sewers/Note on Emerging Science

Air Date: Week of

The effects of combined sewer overflow in West Haven, Connecticut. (Photo: Christopher Zurcher/CTEnvironmentalHeadlines.com)

Mechanized sewers may be the answer to storm overflow getting into nearby water bodies. Jessica Ilyse reports.


GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Just ahead – how about a nice hot cup of genetically modified joe? But first this note on emerging science from Jessica Ilyse Smith.

SMITH: What happens when crisis strikes the sewers?

[MUSIC: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Theme Song]

SMITH: No, it’s not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the rescue, but engineers working to save our waterways from sewage overflows.


SMITH: Researchers at both Purdue and Notre Dame University have teamed up with the company, EmNet, to create a network of mechanized sewers for the city of South Bend, Indiana. Their goal is to reduce overflow of raw sewage into nearby waterways during heavy rain. Overflow is a problem for nearly 770 cities in the U.S., where everything from toilet waste to street-water runoff is combined in one sewer system. This method leaves little capacity for water build-up during a large storm.

Combined sewer overflows are problematic for both aquatic ecosystems and humans, who use lakes and rivers for recreation. Raw sewage released into waterways may contain E. coli, as well as other disease-causing bacteria and parasites. The EPA estimates there are at least 40,000 such overflows each year.

The effects of combined sewer overflow in West Haven, Connecticut. (Photo: Christopher Zurcher/CTEnvironmentalHeadlines.com)

To solve this problem, the newfangled sewers each contain a computerized network that can coordinate with other manholes in the area to monitor the flow of wastewater. By adjusting to weather conditions, this system will control pressure sensors and valves, holding sewage in retention basins until the threat of the overflow has passed.

Now, that’s Turtle Power!

That's this week's note on emerging science; I'm Jessica Ilyse Smith.



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