Stopping the Leakage

Modern Leak Detection Continues to Be a Focus Area for Utilities to Reduce Non-Revenue Water and Operating Expenses

Water loss is an area in which many water systems have expended time and resources to address. In recent years, with evolving leak detection and metering systems, utilities can reduce their water loss rate and save money.

It is no secret that across the United States many cities are struggling with aging infrastructure, a primary cause of main breaks, leaks and physical water loss. Other areas throughout the country have dealt with severe drought conditions, which have depleted water sources, making the water they do have an even more invaluable commodity. Conservation, and ensuring that water is not lost in the distribution process, is more critical than ever.

Helping utilities address water loss has been a primary focus for many manufacturers and service providers in the industry including Mueller which, through its Echologics division, has worked to enhance the ease by which utilities locate leaks. This is perhaps best demonstrated through the company’s EchoShore-DX fixed leak monitoring technology.

“In the past, leak monitoring was around to reduce non-revenue water, but leak monitoring now is also geared toward improving asset management and addressing specific repairs that are needed,” says Hannah Lindsey, Echologics Product Manager for Mueller.

EchoShore-DX incorporates the use of acoustic monitors, which are installed in fire hydrant caps throughout the water system. The sensors then record data, including throughout the night, while listening for sounds of potential leaks. That data is then uploaded to a cloud-based user interface where it can be analyzed by utility staff to identify points of interest. The sensors are able to identify even faint acoustical noises emitted by leaks before they become detectable by conventional methods. 

Lindsey says there are two areas she sees as key to improving water loss that EchoShore-DX helps to address: asset management and repair efficiency. She cites two utility use cases that illustrate the benefits.

Asset Management – East Bay Municipal Utility District

Water utilities want to maintain their infrastructure for as long as possible. Because EchoShore-DX finds leaks as a preventative measure, it helps utilities to do just that. Lindsey references some work done by East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) in Oakland, California, in which the utility was using EchoShore-DX to detect leaks in the distribution system. The utility is subject to penalties if treated, chlorinated water from the distribution system leaks into rivers, streams or waterways. Therefore, in addition to monitoring leaks at various points in the distribution system, it also monitors specific infrastructure in close proximity to waterways.

In 2018, field crews at EBMUD were alerted to a potential leak that was occurring under a bridge near the bank of a river. “Water was gushing out of the water main and we were able to alert them of this possible catastrophic failure. The value connection to asset management is that we were able to prevent this leak from going on for a longer period of time,” Lindsey explains, adding that field crews believed the leak could have gone unnoticed because of its proximity to the river. It was determined that the leak was resulting in 300 gallons of water per minute lost. “Because it was so large, we also drastically decreased the damage that would have occurred to that surrounding infrastructure,” she says.

Repair Efficiency – New Jersey American Water

New Jersey American Water serves 18 counties and more than 631,000 residential, commercial and industrial drinking water customers, and an additional 46,000 wastewater customers. A significant portion of its annual investment goes toward upgrading underground water mains, of which it has more than 8,500 miles. Since 2016, New Jersey American Water’s operations and engineering teams have used EchoShore-DX to help find and fix leaks and prioritize repairs. In the first 18 months of implementation, EchoShore-DX enabled the utility to identify and repair 118 active leaks. 

According to New Jersey American Water’s former project manager Russell Titus, Sr., prior to beginning the program using EchoShore-DX, the utility had performed traditional leak detection, going point-to-point, listening for leaks on services, hydrants and valves. The more labor-intensive approach required, on average, two to three years to perform leak detection on the entire system. Now with its new strategic approach of deploying the EchoShore-DX acoustic sensors throughout the system, the utility can prioritize areas where there has been a history of main breaks and areas where pipe has historically been weakest. Titus says the program has allowed New Jersey American Water to reduce the impact to customers and fix leaks on a more scheduled basis and reduce production of potable water.

New Jersey American Water was able to save up to $1.9 million in operating expenses in the first two years of using EchoShore-DX. As of early 2019, its average water loss rate was down to 17 percent – compared to statewide averages of 25-30 percent. It is also estimated that 1.7 million gallons of water is saved per day from utilization of the EchoShore-DX technology.

Related — Investing in a Strategic Approach: A Look At New Jersey American Water’s Leak Monitoring Program

New Capabilities & Integration

In taking a broader view of how acoustic leak detection technology has advanced in the marketplace, Lindsey says the early warning capabilities of new solutions like EchoShore-DX technology enable utilities to prioritize repairs based on actual need while also prioritizing the most effective allocation of repair crews.

“What’s new today is that we have alerts that tell [field personnel] exactly where to go,” she says. “And what’s new for Echologics is we offer a high efficiency leak monitoring, enhancing the alert time. With the way we record and the way our analysis works, we can get a valuable leak alert in as little as four hours.”

EchoShore-DX technology also has a history tracker component which uses an algorithm to automatically check for a correlation of leaks at specific locations that have a leak history. In that sense, the EchoShore-DX system can show the likeliness of a pipe that reports an anomaly of having a leak.

Lindsey explains that it is all centered around utilities maintaining critical pipelines and improving response time when there is a problem, adding that EchoShore-DX technology allows for better monitoring of critical areas in the distribution system, such as near hospitals or other essential businesses. 

As the first Mueller product to be released on the Sentryx Water Intelligence platform, EchoShore-DX can also give utilities the ability to turn data into insights. In addition to providing a range of data on possible leak locations and trends, users can simultaneously view data from other sensors like an increase or reduction in pressure that may relate to a problem area on a pipe.

“With the Sentryx platform, utilities can look at the analysis behind the data, look at where leak noises are persistent and view the trend of leak correlations over time,” says Lindsey. “We’re working to get our customers insightful data so that they can make more intelligent decisions about each of their unique water networks.”

Editor’s Note: This article is sponsored content and first appeared in a Mueller-sponsored eBook developed by Water Finance & Management covering new technology for water distribution system monitoring. Click here to download the complete eBook.

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