Erie Hack 2021: Tackling Water Infrastructure Challenges around Lake Erie

September 22, 2021

As you may have read in our last blog post, Erie Hack 2021 will gather problem-solvers to ideate and innovate around three Challenge Statements developed through a NASA-facilitated regional stakeholder engagement process.

One of these statements focuses on issues surrounding water and wastewater infrastructure in our communities.

Lake Erie cities are old, and their water infrastructure is no different.

In many cases, drinking and combined storm/wastewater pipes have been left undisturbed since they were first installed over a century ago. Lake Erie infrastructure is in need of a serious upgrade.

Pipe failure and capacity challenges result in water leakage and combined sewer overflow, issues already made worse by increasingly frequent and extreme storms driven by climate change. These spikes in precipitation overwhelm our aging stormwater infrastructure and result in erosion, flooding, basement backups, and combined sewer overflows.

Meanwhile, “green” stormwater infrastructure - an approach to water management that uses plant life to mimic the natural water cycle - is often touted as a more environmental and community-friendly replacement for traditional “Grey” storm/wastewater infrastructure, but it is often difficult to evaluate and manage its performance.

Further, lead and other contaminants that leach into drinking water from obsolete pipes or enter the system through damaged pipes are critical risks to human health in our communities.

The Challenge

Competing teams at Erie Hack 2021 will develop practical solutions - from hardware devices to digital tools - that address the financial, environmental, and/or health impacts that population shifts and/ or climate change have on our aging infrastructure. Winning teams will receive prize dollars ($30,000 to this year’s first place pitch!) and support services to expand their positive impact on the future of Lake Erie.

Past innovations include TACSO (the 2019 winning project), a geodesic dome made of polymers to catch garbage that wind up in Lake Erie because of sewer overflow during storms and CAZWest (2019 finalist), SMS-based chatbots and analytical dashboards to help decentralize the process of storm and wastewater data collection.

If you're a creative, engineer, or entrepreneur interested in contributing innovative solutions for a resilient water economy, be sure to visit to learn more about and register to participate in our Lake Erie innovation competition today.

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