Stormwater Symposium

Oral

397205 - Policing from the Sky: Using Drones to Identify Illicit Discharges

Thursday, June 7
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: Mirage Room
Co-Authors: Joseph Naughton, Milwaukee, WI – Marquette University

Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) regulated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) are required to identify and eliminate illicit discharges within their stormwater system. However, identifying non-stormwater discharges within a stormwater network is inherently difficult using the current approach of physical outfall inspections. Inspections are labor intensive and in many cases outfall locations are physically difficult to access, limiting the number of outfalls that can be inspected and the chances that illicit discharges are actually identified. Therefore, new approaches are needed that can overcome these challenges to identify illicit discharges efficiently and effectively. One approach is the use of drones equipped with thermal cameras that can detect differences between the thermal signature of a waterbody and an illicit discharge. A number of studies have proposed or demonstrated how drones can be used to detect environmental anomalies; however, specific methods that use drones and thermal imagery for detection and elimination of illicit discharges into urban stormwater systems are lacking. Therefore, this study proposes a methodology using drones equipped with thermal cameras to detect and eliminate illicit discharges in municipal stormwater systems. A case study application in Milwaukee, Wisconsin demonstrates that drones equipped with thermal cameras are an effective supplement to physical outfall inspections. This approach overcomes the limitations of physical outfall inspections, thereby increasing the ability to identify and eliminate illicit discharges when they occur.

Walter McDonald


Marquette University

Dr. McDonald is currently an assistant professor at Marquette University in Civil, Construction & Environmental Engineering. He obtained a PhD in Civil Engineering from Virginia Tech in 2016 and holds a MS in Civil Engineering (2012) from Texas A&M University and a BS in Civil Engineering (2010) from Texas Tech University. While at Virginia Tech his PhD research integrated an innovative span of environmental sensors, urban stormwater management, and statistical hydrology. His major research interest include developing novel methods to design, manage, and monitor green stormwater infrastructure under changing land use patterns and climate variability. His work also evaluates the uncertainty and quality of hydrologic data, while concurrently seeking to develop a greater understanding of how we can use that data to solve increasingly complex and ambiguous problems.

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