District discovers there's more to the story of a decades-old "spring"

For years, utility companies around the world have relied on keen eyes and good fortune to find and fix leaks in the system, and for good reason. Seeing underneath the earth’s surface to find and detect leaks hasn’t always been possible. However, now, thanks to advanced mapping software and the use of “big data”, large quantities of highly complex information sets that are used to drive informed decision-making, White House Utility District (WHUD) is rewriting the game of water loss detection in Robertson and Sumner counties. And in doing so, they’re finding that some of nature’s wonders aren’t exactly as they seem.

“About five years ago, we were looking at a major expansion project, which would have cost about $20 million dollars, that would allow us to keep up with the tremendous growth happening in our service area,” said Pat Harrell, WHUD engineer. “As we began researching our options, we found another route, one that leaned more heavily on utilizing technology to improve our existing infrastructure. The results are just remarkable.”

WHUD’s water loss plan

In 2015, the district installed automated devices at key points throughout its 600-square mile infrastructure to create smaller zones, or DMAs (district metered areas), that allow daily monitoring of water flow rates. Each night, the devices record system usage during non-peak hours. The system flags areas that have higher than average usage, which signals a potential leak. Each day, crews are dispatched to investigate potential trouble spots. To date, leaks ranging from two or three gallons per minute all the way up to 250 gallons per minute have been detected, many of which Harrell says would have otherwise gone unnoticed for months or even years.

“The technology and software that we are now using allows us to see beneath the surface in almost real time, which means we can find and fix leaks, much more quickly.  Reducing leak run times is key for an aggressive water loss control program” said Harrell. “Before we installed this system, it might be weeks, months or even years before a leak was detected.”

The results

Since inception, WHUD’s water loss program has yielded the following results: 

  • Just four days after launching the system, WHUD discovered a local stream was a water main leak that was spilling approximately 147 million gallons a year, or enough for 2,239 homes. 
  • This fall, WHUD discovered that a 30+ year old spring on a customer’s property was a pipe leak that was leaking an estimated 15-30 gallons of water per minute. Over the course of 30 years, that adds up to a quarter of a billion to a half billion gallons of water.
  • In just under three years, WHUD has recovered more than $1,000,000 worth of water.
  • WHUD’s infrastructure leakage index (ILI) has dropped from a 2.86 in 2012, which meant it was losing approximately 32% of its water through water main leaks, to a 1.49 today, which is roughly 26%.
  • The time needed to prepare reports on potential problems dropped from six hours to ten minutes, just two percent (2%) of the time it previously took.
  • By making use of cutting edge, battery powered insertion magnetic flow meters, WHUD was able to install the required infrastructure for this project more quickly and at a cost of $200,000 less than if conventional meters had been used. The new infrastructure and systems have boosted efficiency, accuracy and speed for the process of analyzing data – translating to additional savings in employee time and productivity.
  • Perhaps most importantly, WHUD has been able to delay a $20 million capital expansion, likely for another 10 years, saving an estimated $600k per year in interest costs.  

“This was absolutely the right decision for our district and our customers,” said Harrell. “We are so proud of the successes we’re seeing and know that we will only get better as we go forward.”

Because of the success of the program, WHUD was recently featured in a white paper issued by manufacturers of the technologies being used in their water loss program. WHUD is a recognized leader in the field and often serves as an advisory to other utilities looking to replicate the district’s water loss program.