Water Utility Perspectives on Water Loss Prevention

April 21, 2015

In Part 2 of this continuing series on regional water conservation, one of our writers for Water Efficiency, William Atkinson, researches and writes about a Spokane, WA, water utility that succeeds in identifying leaks and other sources of water loss through technological integration and the analysis of its water utility system.

A water utility’s leak detection program must consider multiple variables, including the region’s soil type, common at-fault sources in its water system (fire hydrants is just one example that Atkinson cites), and the possibility of improper installations. Continue this series below as Atkinson discusses the Modern Electric Water Co.’s Leak Detection Program.

In Part 2 of this continuing series on regional water conservation, one of our writers for Water Efficiency, William Atkinson, researches and writes about a Spokane, WA, water utility that succeeds in identifying leaks and other sources of water loss through technological integration and the analysis of its water utility system. A water utility’s leak detection program must consider multiple variables, including the region’s soil type, common at-fault sources in its water system (fire hydrants is just one example that Atkinson cites), and the possibility of improper installations. Continue this series below as Atkinson discusses the Modern Electric Water Co.’s Leak Detection Program. [text_ad]

When Water Gets Away (Part 2) By William Atkinson

Methods of tackling water loss vary. In the introductory segment of this series, writer William Atkinson wrote: “If water utilities were charities, they would be expected to give their water away for free, and if water wasn’t so difficult and expensive to process in the first place to make sure it is safe for human consumption, then it wouldn’t matter if millions of gallons “disappeared” from the system as a result of leaks. However, water utilities are not charities, and water treatment is not an inexpensive process. “As a result, it is incumbent upon every water utility to make sure that as little water as possible is lost from its system, and to make sure that every gallon that is provided to customers is properly billed for. Here, we look at a number of programs that have been incredibly successful in reducing water losses.” Modern Electric Water Co. “As a water utility, we are always looking for leaks,” says Bryan St. Clair, water superintendent for the Modern Electric Water Co. (MEW) in Spokane, WA. And it is a never-ending opportunity and challenge. “Over the decades, the technology that is available to identify water leaks has gotten more refined. However, the need to conserve water continues to become greater.” While all water utilities suffer from water losses, MEW has an additional challenge, the result of the type of soil in the region. “We have found leaks that are leaking 40 gallons a minute that never come to the surface,” he says. “The reason is that we have a lot of alluvial soil, rocks and sand, which sucks the water up like a sponge.” The utility itself uses Geophones to identify as many of its own leaks as it can. However, according to St. Clair, the most important key to success in a leak detection program is to work with a good leak detection contractor that has the right equipment. MEW works with American Leak Detection (ALD). The utility has arranged for ALD to come out for one or two weeks a year, for two years in a row, to cover 100% of the utility’s system during that period of time. It then skips the third year, and has ALD come back the following year, for two years in a row, and so on. “We arrange to put a crew guy with them when they are working,” says St. Clair. “And, depending on the road we are working on and the amount of traffic, we often end up needing to do some of the work at night.” ALD then provides the utility with a leak detection report, usually on the order of about 20 pages. “We then spend the spring and fall repairing the leaks they located,” he says. “We are busy doing other things in the summer.” Besides the scheduled visits, the utility will have ALD come out at other times. “If our people are out and hear something and can’t readily find it, we will have American Leak Detection come out and find the leak for us,” he says. What are the most common causes of leaks for MEW? There are several. Some of the most common sources, according to St. Clair, are fire hydrants that have been operated or closed improperly. A second cause is improper installation of water services, such as situations where pipes were bent or threaded incorrectly. A third is the result of someone tunneling underneath a pipe, and the ground subsequently settles on top of the pipe, causing downward pressure. A fourth involves contractors accidentally hitting a pipe. A lot of times, according to St. Clair, contractors don’t want to report it or admit it, because they are afraid they are going to be charged. “We explain to them that we won’t charge them, but that we need to know about breaks as soon as possible so we can repair them,” he says. Partial funding for the leak detection program comes from a federal wholesale regional utility, Bonneville Power Administration. “One reason they are willing to fund these programs is that, when we are able to save water, it saves power, since we don’t need to pump as much water,” says St. Clair. As a result of the utility’s aggressive and constant leak detection efforts, system losses are currently down to about 8.7%. Visit the following link to read the first installment of this series: Part 1.

When Water Gets Away (Part 2) By William Atkinson

Methods of tackling water loss vary.

In the introductory segment of this series, writer William Atkinson wrote:

“If water utilities were charities, they would be expected to give their water away for free, and if water wasn’t so difficult and expensive to process in the first place to make sure it is safe for human consumption, then it wouldn’t matter if millions of gallons “disappeared” from the system as a result of leaks. However, water utilities are not charities, and water treatment is not an inexpensive process.

“As a result, it is incumbent upon every water utility to make sure that as little water as possible is lost from its system, and to make sure that every gallon that is provided to customers is properly billed for. Here, we look at a number of programs that have been incredibly successful in reducing water losses.”

Modern Electric Water Co.
“As a water utility, we are always looking for leaks,” says Bryan St. Clair, water superintendent for the Modern Electric Water Co. (MEW) in Spokane, WA. And it is a never-ending opportunity and challenge. “Over the decades, the technology that is available to identify water leaks has gotten more refined. However, the need to conserve water continues to become greater.”

While all water utilities suffer from water losses, MEW has an additional challenge, the result of the type of soil in the region. “We have found leaks that are leaking 40 gallons a minute that never come to the surface,” he says. “The reason is that we have a lot of alluvial soil, rocks and sand, which sucks the water up like a sponge.”

The utility itself uses Geophones to identify as many of its own leaks as it can. However, according to St. Clair, the most important key to success in a leak detection program is to work with a good leak detection contractor that has the right equipment. MEW works with American Leak Detection (ALD). The utility has arranged for ALD to come out for one or two weeks a year, for two years in a row, to cover 100% of the utility’s system during that period of time. It then skips the third year, and has ALD come back the following year, for two years in a row, and so on.

“We arrange to put a crew guy with them when they are working,” says St. Clair. “And, depending on the road we are working on and the amount of traffic, we often end up needing to do some of the work at night.” ALD then provides the utility with a leak detection report, usually on the order of about 20 pages. “We then spend the spring and fall repairing the leaks they located,” he says. “We are busy doing other things in the summer.”

Besides the scheduled visits, the utility will have ALD come out at other times. “If our people are out and hear something and can’t readily find it, we will have American Leak Detection come out and find the leak for us,” he says.

What are the most common causes of leaks for MEW? There are several. Some of the most common sources, according to St. Clair, are fire hydrants that have been operated or closed improperly. A second cause is improper installation of water services, such as situations where pipes were bent or threaded incorrectly. A third is the result of someone tunneling underneath a pipe, and the ground subsequently settles on top of the pipe, causing downward pressure. A fourth involves contractors accidentally hitting a pipe. A lot of times, according to St. Clair, contractors don’t want to report it or admit it, because they are afraid they are going to be charged. “We explain to them that we won’t charge them, but that we need to know about breaks as soon as possible so we can repair them,” he says.

Partial funding for the leak detection program comes from a federal wholesale regional utility, Bonneville Power Administration. “One reason they are willing to fund these programs is that, when we are able to save water, it saves power, since we don’t need to pump as much water,” says St. Clair. As a result of the utility’s aggressive and constant leak detection efforts, system losses are currently down to about 8.7%.

Visit the following link to read the first installment of this series: Part 1.

About the Author

William Atkinson

William Atkinson specializes in topics related to utilities and infrastructure.

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