MSEWAGE: A MOBILE TOOL FOR TRACKING SEWAGE OUTFLOWS

SHORT DESCRIPTION

Crowdsource the mapping of sewage outflows and open defecation areas to predict contamination risk in water bodies.

CRISIS STATEMENT

Throughout the world today, vast amounts of raw, untreated sewage enter our waterways resulting in disease outbreaks and environmental degradation. For example, the 2011 cholera outbreak in Haiti began when sewage from a camp for UN security personnel contaminated a river upstream of where people were getting their drinking water. This problem is not limited to low-resource areas: New York City uses an older combined sewer system that mixes wastewater and storm runoff. Heavy rain events overwhelm the capacity of the treatment plants causing raw sewage to be discharged into nearby rivers. When extreme weather events occur, such as Hurricane Sandy in the eastern USA, flooding and lack of electricity or running water cause wastewater treatment plants to stop working. We don’t currently have a good way to map and track these releases in real time.

NEEDS STATEMENT

We propose to enhance a system to identify the location and estimated size of sewage outflows, which would contribute to a local heat map of the highest risk areas. These areas could then be targeted for water quality testing, cleanup and follow-up monitoring by local officials or involved citizens. The tool would be equally useful in an informal urban settlement in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, or the Hudson River in New York City.

mSewage is a database of sewage outflow locations with a RESTful API. It also includes a basic web app and global map. It is derived from mWater, an integrated system for reporting water sources and quality information.

There are several problems that need work:

  1. Create a heat map of at risk areas based on sewage information
  2. Create a more sophisticated map that shows different icons for different outflow types. Larger outflows should appear bigger on the map without crowding smaller outflows
  3. Combine public waterway information with the sewage information to show areas at risk of contamination. Maybe even include population information. (Open Street Map or GRanD might be useful).
  4. A more advanced version could include a digital elevation model to find the land and water bodies that are located downhill from the outflow
  5. Improve the web app to make it more user-friendly
  6. Add more functionality to the web app, including possibly the heat map.
  7. Something else imaginative with the data available through the API!

IMPACT STATEMENT

By crowdsourcing the identification of open defecation sites and sewage outflows, we can leverage the time and enthusiasm of local community members to produce sophisticated data on environmental contamination while promoting awareness of these issues. Once enough data is entered, we can begin to identify areas at the greatest risk for disease outbreaks in a community and help local governments and health officials target their limited resources. Later, we will combine this database with water quality monitoring data to validate the predictions of the model and we will strategically place sensors with cellular data connections to report on current conditions. The sewage effluent maps will help to quickly identify new contamination risks. Imagine how many lives might have been saved if someone had used this tool to report and stop the sewage outflow in Haiti before the cholera outbreak.

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