Ann Arbor pilots storm water sensor system

The package of open-source sensors, hardware and algorithms to measure and control storm water allowed the City to completely redesign its storm drainage system using its current infrastructure.

Ann Arbor pilots storm water sensor system media 1


NSF awards $1.8M to help develop smart stormwater system | The University Record

NSF awards $1.8M to help develop smart stormwater system | The University Record

Smart Cities Connect 2018: How Ann Arbor (Mich.) Drained Stormy Waters Smartly | StateTech Magazine

A small open source system provided officials with a great deal of control over water drainage.

Smart Cities Connect 2018: How Ann Arbor (Mich.) Drained Stormy Waters Smartly | StateTech Magazine


  • Flooding is often the most damaging aspect of storms, affecting more property and claiming more lives than anything else.

  • Aging drainage infrastructures in cities are often in need of complete redesign, but this is usually cost-prohibitive.

  • The Open-Storm system uses deployable nodes and remote-controlled valves to transform a city's existing infrastructure.

  • Benefits have already been noted, not only in terms of cost savings, but also lives saved and positive environmental impacts.

  • The system is being tested across the United States and could even provide the solution to California's drought.


Flooding is one of the most damaging aspects of natural disasters, both in terms of lives lost and property damaged. This is not a problem that’s limited to the immediate area surrounding the weather event and can often impact communities hundreds or even thousands of miles away. For example, a hurricane in August of 2014 dropped 5.2 inches of rain on Warren, Michigan in 13 hours. This overwhelmed the city’s storm systems: more than 18,000 homes were damaged, primarily through basement flooding, 1,000 vehicles were stranded in the floodwaters, and the overall damage in the city was estimated to be $1.2 billion.

A traditional approach to resolving this issue would be to redesign, revamp, and reconstruct a city’s drainage infrastructure. Unfortunately, this is cost-prohibitive in many areas, despite the risk of tremendous storm damage. Ann Arbor is piloting a system that uses a series of sensor nodes (10 to 20 per square mile) that transmit data via a cellular network to create a virtual picture of what is happening, then employs remote-controlled valves in existing infrastructure to shuttle storm waters efficiently.

The effects are immediate. Before the test system was installed, it cost Ann Arbor $22 per gallon to drain stormwater. The system’s smart capabilities decreased that cost to $16 per gallon, saving the city approximately $1 million in infrastructure costs. This is due, in large part, to the smart water valves, which only cost a few thousand dollars.

In addition to immediate cost savings and increased safety, there are also considerable environmental benefits. Ann Arbor’s watershed drains into a wetlands area downstream of the city; when storm waters are dumped in an uncontrolled fashion, sediment is stirred up and can negatively impact the local ecosystem.

The $ Open-Storm system$  allows water to be maintained in holding areas and slowly released over time so any negative impacts are minimized. This system is considered to be integral to a 20-year watershed restoration plan to restore the health of the Ann Arbor watershed, and positive effects among the wetland’s insect life have already been noted.

The system has been so successful that other cities across the country are already considering adapting it for their own use. Planners in Los Angeles think that it might hold the key to resolving California’s drought: rather than dumping a tremendous amount of fresh rainwater into the ocean, as the current infrastructure is designed to do, it could be controlled and redistributed to areas that need it. South Bend, Indiana; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Knoxville, Tennessee are partnering with Ann Arbor to test the system in their locales. The National Science Foundation recently awarded a $1.8 million grant, one of only three in the nation funded at this level, to the University of Michigan to continue testing this approach.

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Ann Arbor, MI

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Washtenaw County, MI

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