“The challenges around managing water responsibly are not just about conservation. Conservation is a bottom line mission, but the challenge with conservation is that it impacts the utility’s bottom line,” said Nathan Allen, Executive Director of WaterStart and leader of the Global Cities Teams Challenge (GCTC) action cluster focused on advancing communications and analytics to prevent catastrophic failure in municipal water systems.
WaterStart is a nonprofit focused fostering partnerships between academic, public and private entities to further water innovation. One of its portfolio companies, Echologics, provides constant monitoring of water pipes on Las Vegas Boulevard through the use of sound waves. By pinpointing leaks or where sidewalls in a pipe may be thinning, Echologics alerts the utility well in advance of any costly problems.
“The water loss to leaks isn’t all that costly, but what is costly is when a leak develops quickly enough to create a sinkhole,” Allen said. “You can imagine the economic expense to that happening out front on the Las Vegas strip.”
Prior to Echologics, the plan to make sure that didn’t happen was to replace all of the water lines under Las Vegas Boulevard. Those pipes are some of the oldest in the city and are due to be replaced, but no one wants to replace it if it’s not actually broken. By installing constant monitoring, the utility can see when a new leak does develop, how big it is, and how fast it might grow; and the city can make a decision about how to respond in an intelligent way that provides better service to customers but defers the expense of responding to an emergency or replacing infrastructure.
Utilities are under significant pressure to reduce consumption but that consumption is their income stream. They have to optimize other parts of their operation to compensate. Most utilities, nationally, have 20% nonrevenue water, meaning that 20% of the water they treat and supply is not billed for; a significant portion of which is attributed to leaks. By focusing heavily on leak detection, Las Vegas has reduced that loss to below 5%.
The product by Echologics is called EchoShore. By sending sound waves down the pipe, they can pinpoint where leaks are and also get a condition assessment on the pipe. It is installed in a line, in this case, through fire hydrants along the street. The system sends a sonar ping and that ping sounds off down the line. When one ping doesn’t come back, the system sends an acoustic wave to see if something is wrong and sounds an alarm if there’s a problem.
“There is value in deploying leak detection equipment beyond the leaks, because in looking for the leak you inspect pipes and get a more accurate assessment of their condition,” Allen said.
Though currently only serving the Las Vegas area, Echologics hopes to serve other utilities across the country and may see opportunities to scale through their sensor communications partner AT&T.