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Mike McKay says Erie Hack provides shared solutions to shared problemsMike McKay says Erie Hack provides shared solutions to shared problems

Erie Hack competition looks to address the lake's most pressing problems

Erie Hack, a data and engineering competition designed to generate innovative technology solutions for some of Lake Erie’s most pressing problems, is now open for registration.

Since its inception in 2017, the program has leveraged the expertise of researchers, designers, engineers, developers, and creative individuals across the region to activate, cultivate, and accelerate solutions to the health of the lake.

The multi-month challenge is a collaboration among Cleveland Water Alliance and partners from Toledo, Buffalo, and Windsor-Detroit, including WEtech Alliance and Tech Town Detroit. This year’s event kicks off virtually September 21st.

Mike McKay, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER) says Erie Hack provides shared solutions to shared problems, noting that one of the lake’s most challenging issues is dangerous algae bloom. These annual formations of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, result in discoloured or foul-smelling water, affecting both human and ecosystem health.

“The event is focused on trying to find solutions to the myriad of problems that plague Lake Erie,” Dr. McKay says. “While the focus is not solely on the algal blooms, that tends to be one of the areas people concentrate their efforts.”

He says that although the problem has been studied for more than two decades, the issue came to the forefront in 2014 when the city of Toledo issued a “Do Not Drink” advisory that lasted more than 48 hours and affected a half-million people.

The algae bloom had encroached on the city’s water intake and toxins had passed into the water supply.

“What you’ll see with Erie Hack is a lot of the teams looking to build early alert systems for these kinds of toxins or other contaminants in the lake to prevent another incident like the one we saw in Toledo. You’ll see some teams devising ways to actually remove the algae from the lake and transform it to a value-added commodity. But what we really need, and what we’ll see, is people trying to innovate agriculture, which really is the root source of the problem.”

Dr. McKay explains that runoff from the area’s many crop fields inadvertently feeds algae blooms.

He says that a number of teams from previous Erie Hack events have commercialized their products and formed small businesses. He is hopeful that events like these may lead Windsor to eventually find its place as ‘the water tech capital of Canada,’ and a leader in clean water technology.

Teams have until Sept. 20 to register by visiting:  clevelandwateralliance.org/eriehack