Medicine Hat, Alberta Deploys Permanent Leak Detection System to Keep Aging Assets in Check
By Alain, Lalonde, Echologics Regional Manager for Mueller Water Products
Famous for vast underground natural gas fields, the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, Alberta also enjoys an ample aboveground water supply drawn from the South Saskatchewan River. However, water leaks and failures of aging asbestos- cement, cast iron and ductile iron pipes compelled the city to seek an automated leak detection monitoring solution that would help 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 water distribution system serving more than 63,000 residents that includes 430km of water main pipelines. An early technology adopter, Medicine Hat’s Environmental Utilities department first tried to use portable leak detection equipment relying on ground microphones and correlators to enable their 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. Medicine Hat searched for a more advanced solution delivering reliable and noninvasive monitoring of their trouble prone older pipelines that also offered the least disruption to residents and businesses, which is what led them to the EchoShore®-DX leak monitoring system.
This technology 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, 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): 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 POIs identified as potential leaks were confirmed with on-site inspections, but the third acoustic POI turned out to be an anomaly that demonstrated the sensitivity and accuracy of the acoustic technology. Investigating field technicians discovered the POI was actually a pressure zone boundary valve that was partially open instead of firmly closed, causing a pressure leak into a lower pressure zone that had
been hidden within Medicine Hat’s 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 future capital spending plan includes hundreds of additional nodes for deployment over a three-year period — making Medicine Hat the first Canadian city to monitor all of the aging pipe assets in their metropolitan area using permanent leak detection technology.