The network is currently active, with six out of the fourteen drinking water treatment plants located along the corridor contributing real-time water quality data to the online cloud-based platform.
Originally created in 2006 with funding from the US Department of Homeland Security, US EPA, and state of Michigan funding, the network was maintained through financial contributions from all fourteen treatment plants until 2011, when a lack of funding and public support caused operations to cease temporarily. In 2015, efforts to bring the network back online were bolstered with a $650,000 grant provided to Healthy Urban Waters by the Erb Family Foundation. In December 2017, an additional award of $375,000 provided by Michigan’s Office of the Great Lakes and administered by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) was granted to upgrade aging monitoring equipment and provide training to plant operators contributing to the Network. Healthy Urban Waters and SEMCOG are currently working to re-engage the remaining treatment plants that have not re-joined this program since its 2015 revival.
In 2006, all participating water treatment plants along the corridor were provided with YSI multi-parameter sondes (bundled probes) while about half received total organic carbon analyzers, fluorometer and gas chromatograph/mass spectrometers units. The sondes which are relatively cheap and easy to maintain include sensors for general water quality parameters including dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, temperature, turbidity, oxidation reduction potential, blue-green algae and chlorophyll. The total organic carbon analyzers, used to detect total organic carbon, the fluorometers, used to identify hydrocarbons indicative of petroleum spills, and the gas chromatograph units for measuring volatile organic chemicals all require far greater expertise to use and are more time-consuming and expensive to maintain. In 2016, feedback from participating water treatment plant operators indicated that keeping things as simple as possible will help the reboot of the monitoring corridor achieve success. Going forward, instead of attempting to equip all monitoring locations with the ability to detect the maximum array parameters, the network will be designed to meet specific treatment plant’s needs, with consideration to the upstream/downstream location of specific threats and potential sources of pollution with respect to drinking water intakes. For example, treatment plants upstream of Chemical Valley and petro-chemical pipelines do not need to sensor for industrial chemicals being used exclusively down-stream. Blue-green algae and chlorophyll may not need to be monitored in the two rivers along the corridor due to lower nutrient loads (relative to Lake St. Clair and western basin of Lake Erie) and fast river currents that inhibit algae growth. Conversely, blue green algae probably should be monitored where taste-and-odor problems have been periodically detected.
More information on the history, current status, and future goals for the network, as well as potential strategies to secure reliable long-term funding can be found in “An Assessment of the Current Status and Recommendations for Reactivation,” published in September 2017. Additional technical information about the network can be found in “Huron-to-Erie Water Quality Data Platform,” a manuscript that will appear in Environmental Processes (publication pending).