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Medicine Hat deploys Canada’s first wide-scale wireless watermain leak detection system

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By Alain Lalonde

Famous for vast underground natural gas fields, Medicine Hat, Alberta also enjoys an ample aboveground water supply drawn from the South Saskatchewan River. However, water leaks and pipe failures compelled the city to seek an automated leak detection monitoring solution to cut water loss, avoid potential damage caused by pipe failures, and reduce unnecessary pipeline replacement costs.

Medicine Hat’s Environmental Utilities department maintains and operates the city’s 430 km water distribution system, serving more than 63,000 residents. It first tried to use portable leak detection equipment, relying on ground microphones and correlators to enable field crews to search for pipeline leaks. However, the utility soon discovered that searching for leaks using this portable equipment required a considerable number of dedicated field staff, and an element of luck.

As a result, the utility used the portable leak detection equipment only when reacting to a pipe rupture to confirm that repair crews were digging in the right spot. It then searched for a more advanced solution, delivering reliable and non-invasive monitoring of their trouble-prone older pipelines that also offered the least disruption to residents and businesses.

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The EchoShore®DX leak monitoring system is a permanent leak monitoring platform designed for water distribution mains. It features sophisticated acoustic sensors and proprietary processing algorithms to detect and pinpoint the source of faint noises emitted by pipeline leaks, long before they become detectable by conventional detection methods. Battery-powered monitoring “nodes” are built into fire hydrant pumper nozzle caps. They incorporate an ultra-sensitive acoustic sensor, enabling the system to identify and locate leaks by correlating, analyzing and comparing data from pairs of adjacent nodes.

The acoustic nodes in the EchoShore-DX system deployed in Medicine Hat are linked, using a Bell broadband wireless network. This is the first wide-scale wireless leak detection project of its kind in Canada. The secure wireless connectivity aids rapid deployment of the platform, enabling operators to perform a comprehensive system-wide leak detection correlation immediately upon initial system activation. Identifying and repairing existing leaks creates a highly accurate and reliable “acoustical baseline” for each monitoring zone that results in exceptionally high detection accuracy of any subsequent leaks that may develop in the future.

Medicine Hat opted for Echologics managed services from Mueller Water Products to support the system’s deployment and operation. The upgraded managed services include an Echologics Leak Operations Center (LOC). This is a specialized team of pipeline leak-detection professionals that actively monitor leak detection data and notify utility staff in the event of a probable leak on the network.

Supported by the LOC managed services, Medicine Hat’s water utility was alerted about potential pipeline leaks almost immediately after their new leak monitoring system became operational in early 2018. Monitoring 150 smart nodes installed within Medicine Hat’s pipeline system, Echologics technicians detected three separate locations identified with acoustic signatures consistent with pipeline leaks.

Two of the detected points of interest identified as potential leaks were confirmed with on-site inspections. The third acoustic point of interest turned out to be an anomaly that demonstrated the sensitivity and accuracy of the acoustic technology. Investigating field technicians discovered it was actually a pressure zone boundary valve that was partially open instead of firmly closed. This caused a pressure leak into a lower pressure zone that had been hidden within the water distribution system for months. Pinpointing the problem and closing the valve eliminated pressure zone leak, decreased pumping effort and energy waste, and increased hydraulic integrity of the overall system.

Medicine Hat’s experience with the EchoShore-DX technology has resulted in plans to expand the city’s current leak detection coverage to include their entire metallic and asbestos cement water distribution pipe assets over the next three years. The city’s plans to install hundreds of additional nodes over a three-year period, making it the first Canadian city to monitor all of their pipe assets with a permanent leak detection technology.

Alain Lalonde is Echologics Regional Manager for Mueller Water Products. This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s April 2019 issue.

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