Remote Pressure Monitoring: Another Tool for Leak Detection

phone with alert
By Harold Mosley

A car struck a fire hydrant in the middle of the night in California, creating a massive water leak. Even before first responders were notified, a pressure sensor sent a text alert to the water utility manager, who was able to dispatch a crew to the scene within minutes.

What’s significant is that the utility responded long before receiving a call from emergency crews or an alert from its SCADA system installed in a nearby pump station because of a recent deployment of pressure sensors within the water distribution system.

Pressure monitoring is a way to spot leaks that cause water loss and contamination in a distribution system. Only in recent years have pressure monitoring systems been expanded to include remote telemetry. This is significant because it allows alerts, or event notifications, to be made within minutes of a spike or drop in pressure that falls outside of the normal operating range.

Additionally, remote pressure monitoring allows utilities to log significant savings by avoiding labor costs. For example, dispatching a crew to take readings on the farthest points in a distribution system, which could be as far as 20 miles away, could take them out of commission for as much as half a day. What’s the point if the system is running normally? The technology can also be applied to improve hydraulic modeling.

Remote pressure monitoring is increasingly being implemented by progressive water utilities, both large and small, to get better visibility into their distribution systems. This results in lower operating costs and reduced stress on their aging pipe networks.

Until a few years ago, there had been few remote pressure monitoring systems on the market, and what was available was primitive and expensive. This left water utilities with no option but to send crews to manually capture readings from gauges at hydrants or in the ground. While more advanced gauges were added to fire hydrants, which contained SD cards that could be removed and read, the process was still labor-intensive. It also meant that utilities didn’t have that information coming to them, which would have been especially useful from the farthest points in the distribution system.

With newer advancements in remote pressure monitoring, there’s a better business case now more than ever to consider the technology.

Remote pressure monitoring systems
Remote pressure monitoring systems can be installed by way of a saddle or direct tap into the distribution main or at the meter vault.

New Technology

The more advanced remote pressure monitoring systems are using 4G cellular, allowing utilities to see readings in near real time, depending on how they want to configure the data. Additionally, they are engineered to be deployed anywhere in a distribution system and can be installed by way of a saddle or direct tap into the distribution main or at the meter vault. The most effective systems also include a lithium battery pack that can be replaced, require a minimal amount of planning, and are able to operate in a wide variety of climates and flow conditions.

One example is the smart hydrant by Mueller that serves as a communication hub and physical platform for both pressure and leak monitoring systems that communicates via cellular network to the cloud-based Sentryx Water Intelligence Platform. The platform records and displays important data, creates reports and notifications and can connect to workforce management software, billing software, and more. Utilities can install new smart hydrants or retrofit most existing Centurion hydrants that have been in operation since 1975.

Additionally, for water utilities using the Jones wet barrel fire hydrants, they too can be converted into smart hydrants. Simply by installing remote pressure monitoring and fixed leak monitoring technology from Mueller, the Jones dome-top fire hydrants are capable of logging and reporting pressure conditions and identifying leaks in the distribution network.

smart hydrants
Utilities can install new smart hydrants or retrofit most existing Centurion hydrants that have been in operation since 1975.

What to Consider

When evaluating remote pressure monitoring systems, there are many factors to consider. Here are the most important:

  • A lot of utilities want to know what’s causing their line break issues and many theorize transient pressures are the culprit. At what rate does a prospective device measure for transients? At what rate does the device monitor in a standard mode? Can the device monitor for both, or is a separate one needed to monitor for each to capture the full extent of a transient?
  • Does the device offer an unfiltered data collection and reporting option for hydraulic modeling?
  • How mobile is the device? This comes into play for hydraulic modeling studies. The best ones allow monitoring of a zone for a short time, and then they can be easily removed and stored for future studies.
  • Does it blend into the environment or the hydrant, if that’s where you plan to install the device? A device that stands out is more likely a target for theft or vandalism.
  • How easy is it to interface with the system? How accessible is the data? Can the data be changed by me or do I have to contact a third party? The data should be owned by the utility. The user interface should be configured so the user has access to how that data is managed, and rights to the information, at all times. In case something drastic happens, you may want to quickly change settings to get a different view of the system. Having to contact a third party means you could miss the window of opportunity.
  • Does the manufacturer offer system-wide health monitoring of its product population, and also individual pressure monitoring devices? Having both will improve dependability and reliability of the product.
  • Does the manufacturer have a proactive, multi-tiered support team for troubleshooting and use guidance for its customers?

From early leak detection to labor savings to improved modeling, remote pressure monitoring offers a wealth of benefits to water utilities. Advancements in the technology make it more feasible than ever to recoup an investment within a reasonable time frame. However, when evaluating a potential new system, it is critical to recognize how its specifications match the needs of your utility.


Harold Mosley

Harold Mosley is a product manager for Mueller. His expertise in automated flushing, pressure and water quality monitoring, bacteriological sampling and advanced water quality monitoring and mitigation has helped utilities deliver safe reliable drinking water. 

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