Arlington Water Utilities Taking Leak Detection to the Next Level

Arlington Water Utilities employees work hard each day to make sure residents and visitors have water when they need it. For Ric Owens, Arlington’s leak detection specialist, that means making sure precious gallons of treated water aren’t lost on the way to the customer’s tap. Since 2014, the City of Arlington has invested in the latest acoustic sensors and correlation software to track down leaks so that they can be repaired.

One look at Water Utilities statistics from recent years shows a return on those purchases.

  • As the full-time leak detection specialist program got off the ground in fiscal years 2015 and 2016, locating and fixing leaks in the city’s water distribution system saved residents between $30,000 to $40,000 a year. In fiscal year 2017, the savings jumped to an estimated $117,614 in savings.
  • In part because of leak detection efforts, Arlington’s non-revenue water losses the amount of water treated but not sold or accounted for in main breaks or fire department use dropped from 12.75 percent in 2014 to 9.12 percent in 2016.

Now, Arlington is on track to take its leak detection efforts even further.

In 2018, Arlington Water Utilities started a district metering pilot program. District metering, which was developed in the United Kingdom, involves placing a large meter at the point where water enters a defined area like a neighborhood, known as the DMA or District Metering Area. Then, flow and pressure from that meter can be compared to data from individual household or business water meters to find out if water is entering the DMA and not making it to homes or businesses.

The DMA also will monitor the minimum night flow of the district between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. Once a base minimum night flow is determined, any increase in flow indicates leaks. Two district meters were installed in North Arlington. They will cover about 90,000 feet, or 17 miles, of water main.

Buzz Pishkur, director of Arlington Water Utilities, said district metering will be a significant complement to Arlington’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure, or AMI, program. That program involves replacing residents’ water meters with new meters that can be read remotely and more frequently.

“District metering allows us to measure water demand in a given area. AMI metering then allows us to effortlessly measure the amount of water being metered in that area and make a comparison.  This is a high level way of identifying potential leaks long before they may surface or worse cause a road or other structure to collapse,” said Pishkur. “Estimating water loss and the pressure impacts of leaks or main breaks is challenging, and our leak detection specialist’s work may make that a more exact science.”

Owens’ hope is to someday have as many as 25 district metering areas throughout Arlington. Then, he can use that data to determine where to deploy his more sensitive equipment.

Even before district metering, Arlington was a leader in leak detection. Owens was first in the U.S. to use some of the most advanced equipment, such as:

  • Acoustic loggers from Israel-based company called Aquarius Spectrum. The loggers can be placed on water main valves and use advanced acoustic technology to correlate the location of a leak. The results are sent through a 3G cellular network to a webpage. Then, Owens can get GPS information that tells him where in the system to look for the leak with sensitive ground microphones.
  • A product from Aquarius Spectrum called iQuarius, which has acoustic sensors for surveying assets such as water meters, fire hydrants, and valves. It is deployed, monitored and analyzed using cell phones. Data including sound files, frequency level, and intensity information is also transmitted to a web page for analysis. iQuarius can also correlate between two points with cell phones.

He was also one of the first in country to use acoustic correlating loggers from California-based Vivax-Metrotech Corporation. Owens can set eight of these correlating detectors out at any given time during the day to record at night. Then, he can get 35 different leak detection correlations with the push of button. A downloadable sound file, as well as information about decibel levels, frequency and intensity are sent to his laptop for review.

Finding what technology works best to make sure Arlington’s water isn’t lost has kept Owens busy. Now, putting those investments into action is keeping him even busier.

“I tested about six different units and came up with what works best for us. Every city will have their own problems, their own specialties, you might say, that are unique to that city that might make different equipment better for them,” Owens said.

He is already on track for another banner year. During October, the first month of fiscal year 2018, Owens pinpointed two leaks near Six Flags Drive and Texas 360 that were losing 10 million gallons a month combined. In both cases, water that escaped from the water mains was funneling into a storm drain and may have gone unnoticed for months.

Owens added: “This is true out of sight out of mind water, the true non-revenue water that we would not know about if it weren’t for this equipment.”

 

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