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This Professor Is Using Nature Tech to Solve a NYC Water Problem

For decades, New York’s tap water has had phosphorus in it to prevent lead leaks — which is good for drinking water. But the excessive phosphate seeping into the state’s lakes and rivers produces toxic algae bloom, spelling trouble for water supplies and wildlife.

“It’s blue-green algae. They’re harmful algal blooms because they produce toxins,” say Professor Jennifer Cherrier (of both Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center). In fact, dogs playing in the water at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park have gotten sick

“That toxin interferes with liver function. So any animal that comes in contact with the toxin can be hurt by it. Us too, if we went swimming in the water.” 

With that, the environmental scientist invented ecoWEIR, a nature-based water system that EcoWEIR filters incoming 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.

The system utilizes technology to work with nature’s existing systems.

“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. ”

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. 

In addition to her team at Waterway Ecologics, Cherrier has enlisted the help of a Graduate Center Ph.D. student, Nia Rene, for the project. Rene’s dissertation focuses on ecoWEIR technology.

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Jennifer Cherrier (Professor and Department Chairperson, Earth and Environmental Sciences) | Profile 1