Data tells a story. Meet the team who reads it.

From predictions to prevention, how data is driving daily decisions that protect Lake Erie.


Flow Monitoring Technician Sue Chmura documents Matt Horner’s elevation survey at a Highland Park Golf Course stream restoration project.

Data drives all aspects of our work. So how does an organization tasked with the protection of one million residents and a 420-mile stream network collect, analyze, and maintain a relentless flow of numbers, volumes, quantities and calculations?

Say hello to Systems Integration.

Our Systems Integration department performs data analysis and quality control for the District’s wastewater and stormwater systems to ensure that the organization is compliant with, or exceeds, all current regulations, and has the data to back it up.

Manager Karen Sokolow and her team collect data at 160 remote sites throughout the wastewater collection system, via a cellular-based remote terminal unit (RTU) data-acquisition system. The data, along with alert notifications, is made available to over 350 end users.

“We analyze the data to determine why systems fail,” said Sokolow.

“We can predict potential problems, make recommendations, and troubleshoot our instrumentation and equipment. And we’re using technology to fulfill our mission of preventing and lessening sewer overflows into the environment,” said Sokolow. One way to do this is to use monitors at locations that regularly overflow during dry weather.

Troublespot monitoring

After making physical inspections of more than 200 regulators, Systems Integration staff, working with Sewer System Maintenance & Operation, found that some sites overflowed more frequently than others. The regulators are designed to allow combined sewage to overflow during wet weather to avoid backups and flooding, but if they overflow during dry weather it means there is a blockage or equipment malfunction.

Sue Chmura calibrates a flow monitor.

About 84 of the sites were put on “troublespot” routes for more frequent inspection. “Our SSMO crew would go out to make sure these weren’t blocked, but there was no guarantee that any one location wasn’t overflowing as soon as the crew left,” explained Flow Monitoring Technician Sue Chmura. “So we installed flow monitors in these locations to watch levels in the sewer.”

Depending on the site, the team will monitor with either an ultrasonic sensor, which shoots a signal down towards the water, or a pressure transducer, which sits inside the water. An antenna transmits data via cellular communication.

An alarm system notifies SSMO if there’s an issue. “If there’s no rain and we get an alarm, we know there’s a problem,” she said. Several factors can contribute to this problem: a big pipe flowing into a smaller one, or low flow during dry weather, or sharp bends all allow grit to collect and accumulate. “Things randomly get lodged,” said Chmura.

“We send out text alert notifications to warn of rising levels and try to dispatch crews before overflows into the environment occur,” said Chmura. “Now we’re catching problems long before they cause overflows.” In some cases, remote monitoring replaces the weekly inspection routes the SSMO field crew used to perform.

“Hopefully, with troublespot monitoring, we can eliminate dry-weather overflows altogether,” said Chmura. The Sewer District’s Project Clean Lake tunnel construction program also will help address many overflow problems.

Stream restoration at Highland Park

Systems Integration also uses land surveying equipment to obtain coordinate data and locate wastewater collection and stormwater assets.

The Flow Monitoring team assists the District’s Watersheds department by surveying elevations at points along the creek at Highland Park Golf Course, to monitor erosion.

“With the data we collect, we can keep track of how much the creek is moving around,” Horner said. The District shares the coordinate data with the City of Cleveland, which owns and maintains the Highland Park property.

Horner uses GPS surveying equipment to measure longitude, latitude, and elevation, pinpointing the location to within a millimeter. He uses fixed structures, like footbridges, as reference points. “Since the bridge doesn’t move, we can compare elevations of the creek with that, and see how much changes over time.”

Other projects in the works

Systems Integration maintains real-time data for rain gauges throughout the Sewer District’s service area and provides daily reports to over 200 communities, staff, and consultants. Other projects include:

  • Installing a monitoring system for the District laboratory’s de-ionization process and tanks.
  • Assisting with beach season reporting at Cleveland’s Villa Angela and Edgewater beaches.
  • Developing an early warning system to alert plant operators of changes in flow to the plants.
  • Developing operational data and regulatory reports for internal and external stakeholders, to monitor CSO locations for EPA compliance.

Systems Integration also processes over 30,000 Ohio Utilities Protection Services tickets annually.

Flow Monitoring Tech Dan Conner prepares a regulator for installation of a flow meter.

Story by Senior Communications Specialist Michael Uva. Featured in our annual technical magazine Clean Water Works (Volume 4).



Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Official Medium channel of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in Cleveland, OH