In spite of advances in technology and an ever increasing societal demand for greater conservation of resources, water loss is a sobering problem across the United States. The worst part is, much of the water that is lost has already been purified, meaning that in addition to being wasteful, an underlying financial cost must also be written off. And it’s a monumental cost indeed; researchers estimate that more than 2.1 trillion gallons of water – enough to submerge the better part of Manhattan under 300 feet of water – is lost each year to aging infrastructure, leak-ridden pipes, ineffective meters, and broken water mains.
The problem is a considerable one – hundreds of thousands of miles of aging pipes, buried and unseen, a factor that makes assessing the condition and locating leaks a costly and arduous task.
Indeed, over the last 40-50 years, there has been a serious neglect of water infrastructure. Now, we are starting to experience how serious this impact can be on the nation’s water system. Most pipes in current use across the nation are not only aging, but many are far past their lifespan. If we talk numbers, a staggering 240,000 water mains break every year in the United States alone. Worse, it’s not just confined to residential areas, as many service buildings and businesses such as hospitals, schools and factories, rely on safe water.
The Challenge of Early Leak Detection
While there are a number of ways to assess a pipeline’s condition, acoustics play a role in the identification process. For example, an underground pipe can make a variety of different sounds, all of which are indicative of a leak:
- A hiss sound is generally associated with a sudden reduction in pressure.
- A splashing sound is generally associated with water free-flowing around the pipe.
- A thumping sound is generally associated with pressurized spray coming into contact within the soil cavity in which the pipe is located.
Depending on the scenario, any or all of these sounds can be present. Even so, it can be incredibly difficult to locate the position of the leak or rupture in a timely manner resulting in greater water loss and greater repair cost. Furthermore, these sounds emanating from sections of the underground water system buried at a depth of only 8 feet can be incredibly difficult to register, and pipes made of different materials transmit sound much differently.
Simply put, it’s easy to see why water loss prevention using the current methods is such an inefficient operation. Thankfully, up and coming technology is making the water leak detection process much easier and much more responsive, promising a greater degree of conservation. What’s more, this technology also promises to identify leaks before they even occur.
Smart Water Leak Detection Systems
There’s no arguing that smart technologies have made a number of tasks much easier and much more cost efficient. Since an overwhelming majority of water delivery equipment is located beneath the ground, incorporating a leak detection service capable of continuously monitoring the integrity of the entire system is immensely valuable. What’s better still is that these types of systems can wirelessly send a number of customizable reports to a central monitoring console where the data is evaluated.
If any irregularities are identified, a repair or assessment team can be dispatched immediately to replace any compromised components. The interesting thing is, is that this modern technology is also based largely on acoustic waves – but instead of relying on the acoustic sounds of a leak or rupture that’s already occurred, the system emits its own acoustic signal along a section of the pipeline and, using sophisticated algorithms, analyzes the signal to determine if there are any indications of an impending rupture.
An All Around Cost Effective Solution
In addition to the obvious benefit and cost savings of preventing a rupture before it occurs, the installation of this acoustic system (which is comprised of a series of sensors, or nodes, combined with a microprocessor, and wireless connectivity) can be done without impeding operations. In fact, sensors are generally placed on a water delivery system’s above ground components, which of course is non-intrusive.
If the above wasn’t incentive enough, an advanced leak detection system is a great alternative for jurisdictions with a shortage water system inspectors. Financial benefits aside, a sophisticated system can monitor chlorine levels, water temperature, and pH in real-time which of course can lead to identifying possible areas of improvement in the water purification process.
There are big benefits to a system like this for manufacturers and other industrial users of water. Many don’t realize just how much freshwater they are losing because of aging systems (it is estimated to be around a third). Smart water systems can send out alerts to a team of engineers the moment a leak occurs, allowing the issue to be addressed before it impacts production.
Though new technology may cause some to be apprehensive about its adoption, there’s really no downside to smart leak detection systems. As the global demand for water continues to rise commensurately with the rise in population, these smart technologies and others can expect to see widespread adoption.