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Sensors Help Combat Sewer Problems in South Bend, Ind.

The sensors enable water flow to be directed into pipes where capacity is available and thus prevent pollution from ending up in waterways or backing up into basements.

(TNS) -- SOUTH BEND — As the city faced a 100-year torrential rainfall last August, technology inside the combined storm sewers did its job of minimizing the amount of raw sewage that flowed into the river.

The work of EmNet, a company formed in South Bend under a partnership with the city, the University of Notre Dame and Purdue University in 2004, has had a lot to do with helping South Bend solve its sewage overflow issues as it tries to comply with federally mandated improvements to the sewer system.

The company uses wireless sensors installed under manhole covers to monitor water levels in sewer pipes across a city. The sensors can open and close valves in the system, enabling flow to be directed into pipes where capacity is available and thus prevent pollution from ending up in waterways or backing up into basements.

And now the 13-year-old company is taking on a bigger role by rolling out a new Blu-X Smart Water Platform to help cities with pollution caused by sewage overflowing into waterways.

EmNet's Tim Braun, enterprise architect, and Luis Montestruque, president and chief technical officer, spoke about their services Tuesday at the Renaissance District Meet-up at Union Station in South Bend.

While much of Braun's talk centered on how the company's start in South Bend has added to its technology base in working with other cities, most of the speech extolled the ways that sensors, monitoring software and models are helping reduce the flow of raw sewage into waterways.

South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart and some 800 other American cities are mandated to make sewer improvements under order from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Braun believes that while some cities have infrastructure that can be enhanced with wireless sensors to accomplish the task, others — like South Bend — will have to construct such things as underground storage pipes and tanks.

"Many times, we can take the infrastructure a city already has, if the infrastructure is operating well enough," Braun said. By using the EmNet technology platform, models can be run to show how to use the city's existing system more efficiently.

South Bend is trying to find ways to lessen the costs of the federally mandated project by using technology like the kind designed by EmNet.

Costs have been estimated as much as $851 million to fix the sewers, but the price tag could surpass $1 billion with financing and interest. The city currently is seeking alternatives with respect to possible cost savings.

Any alternative plans have to be approved by the EPA as part of the existing consent decree.

South Bend Public Works Director Eric Horvath said by phone Tuesday the EmNet system has been instrumental in greatly lessening the sewage flows into the St. Joseph River.

"We are better at monitoring the flows, we clean our sewers better and smarter and valves placed in the system help us divert flows to maximize our infrastructure," Horvath said.

©2017 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.