Making Every Drop Count: Unitywater uses leak detection as a foundation for condition assessment

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Courtesy of Pure Technologies

It stands to reason why many utilities respond to leaks only after they receive a call about water gushing from a street or a complaint from a customer about a damp basement, or other signs of visible leakage.

Human nature reflects the adage that is often easier to respond to an issue rather than to proactively seek ways to mitigate the potential problem before it happens. Let sleeping pipes lie.

It is estimated that about 12 billion gallons of water is lost per day globally, a lot of which could be prevented with the implementation of proactive leak detection programs.

While water loss is a growing problem, reducing it has not historically been a major priority for many service providers. Some utilities are unaware of what their true water loss is, and many existing pipeline programs focus on reducing main breaks or replacing aging pipe. However, reducing water loss contributes to reducing main breaks, and saves capital for these broader pipeline management or replacement programs.

Simply put, reducing water loss is a smart investment for utilities, and the first step to ensuring long-term water service reliability. Successful water loss reduction in water loss can help ease the financial burden on both utilities and rate payers, as well as drive innovation and economic development.

Pipe age not always indication of actual pipe condition

While the presence of a leak is thought to be an indicator to the overall condition of buried water infrastructure, it's not always true. The common belief that age of a pipe determines its likelihood of failure is rarely correct - in some cases , a new main can be in worse shape than one two or three times as old, due to operational, environmental and installation factors, which can have more impact on the condition of a buried asset.

Leak detection is a necessary step to reduce water loss and prevent major water main breaks. The benefits of leak detection are obvious in increased revenues, lower risk of contamination, lower liability due to a reduction of main breaks, and increased public trust.

Today, due to refinements in processes and advances in technology, leak detection has transformed from the realm of art to science. Not only can a comprehensive leak-detection program find leaks but it can also be an integral part of asset management and provide valuable data for ongoing system maintenance.

Unitywater undertakes leak detection pilot with SmartBall® platform

Unitywater operates in one of the fastest growing regions of Australia, providing essential water supply and sewerage services to about 16 percent of Queensland's population. Unitywater maintains and operates more than 11,000 kilometers (6,835 miles) of pipes, as well as pump stations, reservoirs and sewage treatment plants spread out across the Moreton Bay, Noosa and Sunshine Coast regions.

To improve its operations with a new innovative leak detection pilot, Unitywater recently teamed with Pure Technologies (Pure) to deploy the SmartBall platform through 8.9 kilometers (5.5 miles) of pipeline in the Landers Shute-Woombye region, one of the main water pipelines supplying the Sunshine Coast.

The SmartBall tool is a free-swimming platform that can simultaneously identify leaks, gas pockets and areas of pipe wall stress in pressurized metallic pipelines. The journey took three hours and 12 minutes and the trial resulted in three leaks being detected. These leaks were forward-estimated to lose $31,000 worth of water on an annual basis, had they remained undetected.

Unitywater has repaired two leaks already and is investigating the other.

Using technology to work smarter and streamline business

'The advantage of this innovation is that it allows us to monitor our assets from inside the pipe, rather than attempting to draw conclusions from indirect, external clues. Plus the data collection is in real time and on the spot,' said Simon Taylor, Executive Manager Infrastructure Planning & Capital Delivery.

'If we can discover leaks early, we can take the immediate necessary action to repair them before they become a major problem. This is a good example of using technology to work smarter, streamline the business and save valuable dollars, which ultimately means we make savings that we can pass on to our customers.'

With its proactive leak detection pilot, Unitywater is building a strong pipeline foundation and setting a good example for others to follow.

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