Solving The Infinite Problem of Small Leaks With Annual VPI Inspections

Solving The Infinite Problem of Small Leaks With Annual VPI Inspections

One of the reasons we at GPRS say “What’s underneath matters” is because throughout the U.S., over 2.5 trillion gallons of water are lost to pipe defects annually.

That’s a lot of water – and additional unsanitary sewer drainage & treated wastewater – leaching into the surrounding soil and causing damage, not to mention how deadly a seemingly small leak can become to your budget and safety if left unattended.

To give you some idea of the impact sewer leakage can have, in just one section of the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh, researchers discovered mineral sewage markers that suggest up to 12% of the sewage produced by the city has leaked into the river.

As Bloomberg reported the findings, they said, “The thought of trying to solve infinite small leaks – let alone the big storm overflows – is a little overwhelming. ‘Think of digging up every sewer line everywhere,’ says [geologist and research co-author] Marion Divers.”

In the year Divers and her co-authors issued their report, the ASCE – American Society of Civil Engineers – gave the U.S. a D- for wastewater management. In 2022, the society has issued an only slightly better C- in its annual report card evaluation of America’s infrastructure, thanks in no small part to “over 6 billion gallons of treated water lost every day.”  

You Can’t Fix What You Can’t See

Big underground pipe breaks are easy to spot because they cause a sudden drop in pressure, standing water, flooding, or even sinkholes, but most of the 3 million gallons of water lost every minute occur thanks to small breaks, corrosion, debris and root impacts, or other factors like utility line cross bores…

These defects often cause no dramatic effect, so if your water pressure falls off a bit, or your usage increases over time, it is easy to write it off as “just the way old pipes are.”

However, it’s not.

Everything from seemingly unrelated surface damage to corrosion, joint damage, and other obstructions can cause thousands of gallons to wash away, while you pay more and more for water and sewer until the inevitable occurs: a large-scale break that requires a shutdown, excavation, and a significant loss of time and money to repair.

There is an easy and proactive way to combat water loss before it becomes a disaster: Annual Video Pipe Inspection. Learn more about our VPI services for industry, municipalities, and residences, here.

There are many different varieties of pipe defects, and with VPI, GPRS can locate virtually all of them, including:

  • Cracks, Fractures, or Holes
  • Deformed Rigid or Flexible Pipes
  • Collapses
  • Lining Damage
  • Welding Failure/Damage
  • Deposits (Debris)
  • Root Damage
  • Obstacles & Obstructions
  • Cross Bores
  • Vermin

Here are a few of the common pipe defects we find in the field, and how they can impact flow and leakage:

Tree Root Impacts

Tree roots most often enter pipes at the joints. And contrary to popular belief, roots do not go “in search of” water, but rather react and elongate to take in water when they detect available moisture. So, all you need is one leaky pipe joint, a small crack, or a corroded area to invite a tree in to start drinking. As the root(s) continue to invade, they can expand the space in the pipe or joint further, allowing even more water to pour into the surrounding soil and creating an infinite problem loop you would never notice until the pipe became too clogged to flow properly anymore.

CCTV pipe camera imaging of a root ball clogging a pipe. Unseen obstructions like this are routinely located during a VPI inspection.

There is much discussion about which kinds of pipes are the most likely to keep roots away from your water, but the reality is that if you have a joint or a crack in any variety of underground pipe, it can lose enough water to attract a root clog. When you consider that a tree’s root system is two to three times the length of the tree itself, and count the trees and shrubs in the immediate area of your pipes, it’s very easy to see why tree roots have a huge impact on water loss, especially in municipalities and residential areas.

The easiest way to avoid this kind of joint damage and blockage is to employ a routine Video Pipe Inspection protocol to review every major pipe and lateral, so you can see pipe defects before they become expensive problems. Learn more about our Annual VPI services, here.

Deposit & Debris Impacts

In pressurized pipes, debris can be debilitating. From the moment a metal pipe is manufactured, it contains at least some metal dust, and stories from construction sites and industrial renovations include finding anything from tennis shoes and wildlife in as-yet-unlaid pipe, to a single metal nut that was reported to have caused $1 million in damage to a chemical plant when they restarted their system after a refit.

This screenshot of a debris-blocked and collapsing culvert demonstrates how we can find urgent problems before they become disasters.

Aside from what might be in a pipe before it’s fitted, once there is a crack or break, anything can worm its way into your system through the breach. And in underground pressurized pipes, that means debris can become an expensive projectile that could do exponentially more damage than it would in a regular pipe.

The problem is that you won’t notice the buildup of deposits or debris until they create a large blockage, stopping flow in its tracks, or worse, exploding beyond the limits of the pipe itself to damage the surrounding structures or ground.

VPI can see what’s on the inside before it causes catastrophic damage. Learn how, here.

Cross Bores

A cross bore is an accidental intersection of any existing underground line or pipe by a second line or pipe that has been installed using trenchless technology. Cross bores are most common in sewer lines, and because they occur without anyone realizing they’ve breached an existing pipe, not only do you almost certainly already have a leak, if you excavate that area, you could knock out additional utilities, cause a sewage spill, or worse, an explosion that endangers both your project and your crew.

GPRS deploys both robotic crawlers and push cameras to survey pipes, arteries, and laterals of various circumferences and can usually provide a completed VPI report in under 24 hours.

GPRS VPI specialists employ robotic crawlers and push cameras in main lines, and lateral launch cameras in arteries and laterals, to provide you with CCTV video and photos of every defect, block, and breach we find, all detailed in a cloud-based, interactive WinCan Web report, and tagged and cross-referenced by severity based on NASSCO guidelines. Your VPI report is stored on the web, so it is accessible 24/7, and most parts can be printed in PDF form as needed.  


You have to be able to visualize pipe defects to assess and repair them. Once you can see where your defects and blockages are, many can be repaired non-invasively – without excavation – by employing blades, chemicals, or installing new liners – thus saving time, effort, and a great deal of money.

Because the reality is that no matter what you do, liquid flows along the path of least resistance. It doesn’t care that your pipes are intended to guide it to a destination. If it finds a crack in a lining, a chink in the pipe’s armor, or can wear a hole through via rust, it will chart its own course, usually to places you do not want it to be.

Once your pipes are buried or encased in a structure, the only way you will find out that the water (or worse yet, wastewater) has made its escape is once it erupts through to an unexpected place, pouring into the surrounding soil or structure, and causing expensive damage.

In the case of sanitary sewers and pressurized gas line cross bores, this can be messy and dangerous work.

Instead of shutting down the flow to excavate, check, and replace each pipe section until you find the leak – wasting time and money to investigate – you can let GPRS remotely inspect every inch of pipe and every lateral for much less cost and zero guesswork.

VPI Is So Much More Than A Mere Locate

With GPRS’ complete Video Pipe Inspection Service, you can now have your entire piping structure inspected, photographed, videoed, and mapped – often in less than 24 hours – and receive your interactive VPI report that details each and every pipe defect, in every main and lateral, including the exact location of the defect,  photos, and video, all cross-referenced and tagged with a defect level, so you know which are the most pressing problems, and which you can afford to wait on for a while.

We provide that same level of detail whether we are mapping a single pipe field at a water treatment plant or the water lines of a large city, so that you can locate, access, repair, and/or replace your pipes with minimal shut-off time, project time, and cost.

Because VPI targets hot-spots in your flow with consistent accuracy, photographs them, and in many cases provides 360° video of defects, all accessible through the defect report and video gallery.

Regular Annual Video Pipe Inspections can help you monitor less dangerous defects as well as urgent ones, so you can prioritize, budget, and repair your system on your schedule. Click here to speak to a GPRS VPI specialist, ask questions, or schedule your inspection.