NSF, Athens Clarke County, MNGPD

 Key researchers

Brian Bledsoe, WenZhan Song, Kyle Johnsen, Krista Capps, Nahal Hoghooghi, Nandita Gaur

Project description

Residential systems collect and treat wastewater from home toilets, sinks, baths, and washing appliances and are a key component of the water infrastructure of the United States. Approximately one in four U.S. households relies on septic systems to treat their wastewater. Most of this vast hidden infrastructure is poorly maintained and periodically overloaded by periods of high water use and/or household leaks. Improving the functionality of these systems will lead to significant improvements to public health and environmental quality by reducing the volumes of untreated or under-treated wastewater released into the environment, which in turn will reduce exposures to dangerous pathogens in groundwater and surface waters, improve aquatic ecosystem health by reducing excess nutrient discharges, and avoid economic losses of closed fishing areas and beaches associated with high bacterial levels in the water. The results of this project will ultimately enable the development of smart septic systems, improved infrastructure asset management, and reduced threats to homes, health, water supplies, and the natural environment.

Project goal

This project will be the first to integrate high quality data on household-scale water use and leak patterns from existing smart water meters, in situ sensor measurements of septic system behavior, automated processing of infrared (IR) aerial imagery that can show septic system failure, and continuous monitoring of septic contamination in community streams with water quality sensors to enable smart septic systems, infrastructure asset management, and reduced threats to homes, health, and water supplies. The project will also create innovative data analytics tools that will generate household water usage profile breakdowns for specific fixtures and appliances, and further detect, classify and quantify water leakages and the impact to septic tank failures. The development of these processes and constituent technology will be performed in close collaboration with septic management and regulatory officials as the state, regional, and local level to ensure that the processes and products that result from this research will a meaningful real-world impact on this important and long-neglected issue.

Project status/outcomes


Relevant links

More information on the NSF website.