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We drive innovation through collaborative partnerships with the public and private sector to link promising new water technologies with industry needs.


Smart Lake Initiative


Making Lake Erie the First Smart and Connected Great Lake.


You’ve heard of Smart Cities. We’re working to make Lake Erie the first “Smart and Connected Great Lake” that can be the model for innovation and help protect one of the world’s most precious and vital fresh water supplies.

The Smart Lake initiative leverages the urgency surrounding harmful algal blooms to build the first “Smart Lake,” a new breed of smart and connected infrastructure that enables intelligent community water management. The health of the lake is vital to the health of its surrounding communities and economies. Not only do 11 million people depend on Lake Erie for drinking water, but in the eight Ohio counties that border Lake Erie alone, the lake has a $15.1 billion dollar tourism-related economic impact.

Lake Erie communities impacted by the potential of toxic drinking water need an integrated solution to effectively quantify and manage this regional ecological crisis and the nutrient pollution that drives it to prevent economic harm and damage to public health.

Nutrient data is not collected with the frequency or granularity required to understand the impact of individual projects or run data analytics to understand trends. Important steps are being taken to address this problem, but an end-to-end monitoring solution has yet to be developed.

Having identified this need, CWA’s vision is to create the first “Smart Lake.”


Innovation Competitions

Since 2017, CWA has launched three innovation competitions to put some of the region’s greatest minds to work on solving Lake Erie’s most challenging problems. 

The innovations that are identified and accelerated by these competitions are leading the way to a smarter, more responsive, more familiar lake.


Erie Hack


We see Erie Hack as a Lake Erie-wide platform for exchange, an answer to the call for solutions from our key regional stakeholders.


Erie Hack is a $100,000 data and engineering competition that unites coders, developers, engineers, and water experts to generate enduring solutions to Lake Erie’s greatest challenges. The competition leverages some of the best minds in the region while educating and elevating the value of water in Northeast Ohio.

Coming from a shared vision of the cultivation of an ecosystem of innovative water technology solutions, the Erie Hack competition had its first successful run in 2017. This $100,000 innovation challenge activated over 200 techies, creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, and environmentalists from six cities around the Lake Erie Basin to tackle Lake Erie’s key challenges.

The competition quickly gained a following, engaging over 100 partner organizations and attracting coverage from over 150 press outlets as it put the regions best minds to work for our precious water resource.

To identify the region’s most pressing water issues, Cleveland Water Alliance developed a set of seven key “Challenge Statements” in collaboration with NASA Glenn Research Center and over 150 regional stakeholder organizations. Erie Hack teams are tasked with imagining and developing practical solutions to water-based issues impacting Northeast Ohio.

The solutions that emerge are diverse in nature: processes, hardware innovations, apps, devices, or digital tools that ultimately have the capacity to build the “blue economy” – the emergent economic sector dedicated to the sustainable stewardship of freshwater in the Great Lakes Region.

Erie Hack provides students and professionals alike the opportunity to combine their own expertise with mentoring from regional experts to create technologies with the potential to invigorate Lake Erie’s environment and economy. The competition has brought together researchers, college students, academics, professionals, hobbyists, techies, entrepreneurs, and more for rich collaboration that grows long beyond the scope of the competition. 


Erie Hack 2017

The first Erie Hack was an overwhelming success, attracting over 40 teams that generated ideas to solutions for Lake Erie’s greatest problems, while garnering national media attention, and coverage by NPR’s All Things Considered.

The $40,000 cash grand-prize winner of Erie Hack was Micro Buoy, a team out of Wayne State University in Detroit. Its creation is a nano-sensor, contained in a buoy, that can detect environmental contaminants in the water. In addition, the team received $10,000 in support services. Other winners included Extreme Comms Laboratory from University of Buffalo, Water Warriors from University of Akron, and Purily from University of Michigan. Cleveland Water Alliance also maintained engagement and offered acceleration support to 11 teams from the competition, including continued involvement in numerous projects and funding opportunities.


Erie Hack 2019

Erie Hack launched for a second time on February 7, 2019 in six cities across the Lake Erie Basin, including Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit, Windsor, Toledo, and Erie. After a series of team formation events, hacking days, mentorship opportunities, and pitching contests, the Erie Hack finalists will pitch their ideas to a panel of expert judges at the Erie Hack final on June 20, 2019 during the Cuyahoga50 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga river burning.


Internet of H2O


The Internet of H2O Challenge, organized by the Cleveland Water Alliance in partnership with DigitalC and US Ignite, sought to develop a robust and resilient nutrient monitoring program with the potential to scale across the Great Lakes. Five teams competed for $50,000 of cash prizes, decided by judges comprised of industry leaders and government managers.

The winning team, Team GLASS, was a collaborative effort between H2Ometrics, OHM Advisors, Green Eyes, and HESCO. Together, the team delivered a robust, scalable, interoperable, real-time nutrient monitoring system. The team members offered unique expertise and access to technologies that allowed for advanced nutrient detection, telemetry, cloud data analytics, and system integration.

The technology demonstrated for the competition included the Green Eye Science NewLAB automated chemical measurement system, Trimble Telog remote telemetry units to collect and transmit the data to the cloud, and the H2Ometrics platform for data monitoring and analytics.


High School Hack


Cleveland Water Alliance organizes a condensed version of Erie Hack for high school students that is designed to spur interest in entrepreneurship and our local water resources.

Innovative ideas can come from anywhere. In 2017, the winner of the High School Hack was Lorena James, a 17 year old from Buffalo, NY. She developed a method of grinding up invasive Quagga and Zebra mussel shells to create a completely biodegradable 3D printing filament.

With the $1000 dollar top prize she won at the High School Hack, she was able to patent her innovative design developed throughout the competition. Lorena cites Erie Hack as  “a life changing experience.” She noted that without it, she would have never pursued entrepreneurship as a career path. “It will continue with me for the rest of my life.”

The High School Hack inspires the next generation of water leaders.


Other Innovative Initiatives


NOAA Ocean Technology Transfer


Harmful algal blooms threaten our drinking water, environment, and economy. In Lake Erie, these toxic blooms often happen when runoff from nutrient-rich soil drains into the warm western basin. This creates the perfect storm for blue-green algae to thrive, producing a toxin called microcystin. HABs hit the national stage in the Toledo Drinking Water Crisis of 2014, when elevated microcystin levels in the Toledo tap water rendered the water undrinkable for several days.

Today, cities around the world face rapid urbanization, evolving regulations, and an uncertain climate and thus, a growing number are exploring “smart,” data-driven solutions which allow for real-time, continuous remote monitoring. The IOOS Ocean Technology Transition (OTT) is a federal project designed to accelerate promising technologies from the research and development stage to operation. Cleveland Water Alliance joins GLOS, NOAA GLERL, NCCOS, LimnoTech, Ohio Sea Grant, and others to build a harmful algal bloom early warning system in Lake Erie.

The development of an HAB Early Warning System will mean that drinking water treatment plants and other water managers can expect harmful algae before it becomes a problem. This warning system will keep our taps safe from toxic water. The Cleveland Water Alliance’s role in this 3-year grant is to develop a sustainable technical framework and business model for the HAB Early Warning System.

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