A Green Solution to New York’s Water Problem

Professor Jennifer Cherrier (Credit: The Graduate Center/Char Adams)

For decades, constant flow from New York’s water system has sent excessive amounts of phosphorus into the state’s lakes and rivers — only compounded by plant material in the waters. This results in toxic blue-green algae bloom that taints drinking water and harms wildlife. 

“That toxin interferes with liver function. So any animal that comes in contact with the toxin can be hurt by it,” says Professor Jennifer Cherrier (GC/Brooklyn, Earth and Environmental Sciences). “Us too, if we went swimming in the water. It looks like green paint in the water.”

In Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, dogs playing in the tainted water have gotten sick. While phosphate in the city’s drinking water helps to keep lead from leaking, too much running into rivers and lakes has created a major water quality issue. 

Now, Cherrier, along with her team at Waterway Ecologics, is using a nature-based technology system to tackle the issue starting in the park. It’s called EcoWEIR.

EcoWEIR filters water underground and allows plants to absorb excess nutrients. The system then holds the water and uses a smart-sensor to determine if and when the water should be released into the sewer system or the soil.

“It’s like a Brita filter in the ground. The container that the water goes into, you get pure water that goes into your pitcher,” Cherrier explains. “In this case, we’re filtering the water and we’re holding it there so you can use it when you want to. EcoWEIR gives nature a boost. You give nature the time it needs to treat the water and do all the magic we expect it to do.”

Cherrier also utilized the talents of two master’s students and a Graduate Center Ph.D. student, Nia Rene, whose dissertation focuses on ecoWEIR technology. The system is currently being tested in Prospect Park before being utilized elsewhere. The project is funded through a two-year grant from New York State Parks. 

Cherrier got a patent for ecoWEIR in 2017 before joining CUNY. She says the process was long and arduous, but recommends researchers everywhere patent their creations. 

“I think it’s really critical for scientists to bring their science to market,” she tells The Graduate Center. “Otherwise, it just remains in an ivory tower. We need to commercialize our innovations.”

Submitted on: APR 6, 2020

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