Sound Sensors Can Detect Water Pipe Leaks

Water pipe leaks are bad for city finances and dwindling freshwater supplies.
Image: Pixabay

Sound sensors in hydrants and software can detect water pipe leaks before they become big problems, saving money and millions of gallons of freshwater.

Water pipe leaks are bad for our cities’ finances, and they waste dwindling freshwater supplies.

We know about how much freshwater we use in the United States because the U.S. Geological Survey tracks it. However, the most recent data is from 2010. A lot has changed in the last six years, and strains on freshwater resources from agriculture, industry and residential populations grows every year.

The reality is, we don’t know how much freshwater we have, or when it could run out at the rate we are using it. But we do know that aging underground infrastructure leaks. Valuable freshwater runs through leaky lines and pipes that serve our homes, farms and industries.

As we reported last year, Flandreau, S.D., was losing about 100,000 gallons of water per day, requiring an important search for the leak. And that’s just one case.

The costs of leaky pipes are high for customers, but also for a shared, finite water resource. Trillions of gallons per day are lost through leaky underground pipes, according to some sources. According to American Water, there is a significant water line rupture every two minutes in the U.S.

Conservation of freshwater resources is important in every region, and repairing small leaks saves cities and towns as well as ratepayers money, too.

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, American Water and Echologics tested acoustic monitoring last year to identify water distribution system cracks. The technology is saving cities and towns that have already adopted it significant investment in repairs, not to mention the costs of lost water, usually turned over to ratepayers.

The sensor-based technology monitors and uses software to analyze the sound signatures of water flow. Multiple small sensors can fit in fire hydrants.

The team tested how effective the technology is at discovering and locating leaks. In Des Plaines, Ill., a wireless network of 79 sensors identified a leak draining into a storm sewer in September 2014. The small leak was repaired within 12 days, with minimal damage to the surface above because the software located the leak within 20 feet of the actual location.

Had the small leak stayed undetected, it could have taken many months to grow into a noticeable breach, about one third of the size of the breach in Flandreau’s system. Estimates indicated that approximately 3.25 million gallons of Des Plaines’ water would have been lost over a 90-day period. Also, the cost for repair would have been approximately $12,000 higher.

Learn more about the technology and read about other case studies on the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center website.

Don't Underestimate the Value of Leak Detection Tech

About the author

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox

Andrea Fox is Editor of and Senior Editor at Praetorian Digital. She is based in Massachusetts.