Erie Hack 2021: Improving Lake Erie Surface Water Quality - For Now and Next

October 6, 2021

Our last two blog posts have taught you all about our 2021 Erie Hack Challenge Statements, which were synthesized from a NASA-facilitated regional stakeholder engagement process and are serving as a guiding force of Erie Hack 2021. The third blog post in our 2021 Challenge Statement series will take a deeper dive into our final challenge statement around surface water quality.

Did you know that Lake Erie and its watersheds are more significantly impacted by human activity than any other Great Lake?

These impacts are fueled by a mix of longstanding challenges like agriculture-driven harmful algal blooms and industry-driven heavy metal pollution as well as emerging contaminants such as microplastics, pharmaceuticals, and PFAS - which are human-made chemicals that have been used for decades in industrial processes, such as for waterproof fabrics, nonstick cookware, and food packaging. Because they never break down in the environment or human body, they can lead to health issues including developmental problems in children, testicular cancer, thyroid problems, and cholesterol.

Recently, high population and industrial development have contributed to the accumulation of plastics pollution in the Great Lakes - nearly 80% of trash found on beach cleanups in the region is identified as plastic. As plastics are broken down into microplastics, they can end up in drinking water or in organisms, such as fish -  which are then consumed by other species within an ecosystem or by humans. Microplastics can cause a myriad of health issues such as a weakened immune system and hormone imbalances.

Additionally, heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and chromium from Ohio’s deep-rooted industrial history enter Lake Erie through air and water pathways, harming fish, degrading habitats, and impacting human health. In the winter, road salt is widely used to keep roads safe during snowy and icy weather, but it frequently runs off into adjacent watersheds, causing chloride pollution of local waters.

Moreover, stormwater management - used to prevent issues like flooding and basement backups - has been identified as a key area of focus for local and regional officials across Lake Erie’s watersheds; however, this work is often unsupported by advanced technologies and misunderstood by residents.

The Challenge

Over the coming months, Erie Hack teams will develop practical solutions, such as devices, processes, hardware innovations, and digital tools that address the danger of toxins, chemicals, and other pollutants in Lake Erie, its watersheds, and its surrounding communities.

Winning teams from previous Erie Hack competitions include Extreme Comms Lab (out of Buffalo, placing 2nd in the competition in 2017), who pitched underwater WiFi for real-time subsurface data transmission and early detection of water quality concerns, as well as CCTronic  (out of Toledo, placing 2nd in 2019), who created an IoT application for a system of smart and connected valves and filters to intelligently clean runoff from drainage tiles on farms.

This year’s winning pitch will receive $30,000 - along with support services and mentorship - to bring their idea to life and help conserve our precious freshwater asset.

The team formation deadline is quickly approaching at midnight on Friday, October 15 - don’t miss your chance to participate in this one-of-a-kind innovation competition! Register today at

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