Hamilton wins OWWA efficiency award for proactive water leak detection progress

While providing a picturesque setting, the elevation changes and geology of the Niagara Escarpment pose a significant challenge for Hamilton Water. Photo credit: NelzTabcharani316, ShutterStock.com

In addition to the City of Hamilton saving more than $5 million and nearly 60 million cubic metres of water through proactive leak detection since 2019, local officials have now won an efficiency award for addressing that leaking infrastructure with magnetic listening technology.

As a winner of the 2022 Water Efficiency Award from the Ontario Water Works Association (OWWA), Hamilton identified and repaired 264 leaks on City infrastructure — and reported 68 private property leaks — by listening for leaks in fire hydrants and isolation valves.

After locating a potential leak with the listening device during quiet overnight hours, crews would later head into the field to pinpoint the exact leak location, ultimately protecting the pipe network from the erosion of the pipe bedding.

During the two-year pilot program for proactive leak detection, Hamilton officials said they reached a 95.6% accuracy rate. When the program launched officially in 2021, city council approved two permanent full-time employees to support it.

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Hamilton has one of the oldest and most complex water distribution systems in Canada. The majority of its watermains are older than 40 years and 35% of the pipes have been in the ground for over 68 years, meaning there is a high risk for breaks and leaks. Between 2012 and 2021, Hamilton reported more than 300 watermain breaks each year.

The water now saved through proactive leak detection was considered lost water, referred to as non-revenue water, meaning that it was unbilled water that had already been treated. Hamilton’s non-revenue water trends higher than most cities, averaging 27% over the last six years, said local officials. The industry average is closer to 15%.

“Due to Hamilton’s unique geography and often rocky and porous ground there are many watermain leaks and breaks that do not surface and have the potential to remain undetected for years,” the City of Hamilton stated in an announcement about the award. “These hidden leaks account for a large amount of non-revenue water and can be far more damaging to the pipe network, with erosion of pipe bedding leading to major pipe breaks.”

The proactive leak detection program has given Hamilton valuable data to plan for $180.6 million in watermain replacement and rehabilitation over the next decade.

Hamilton’s water system includes six water distribution systems, 2,031 km of watermains, 13,568 hydrants, 23,305 valves and 153,647 service connections.

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