Navigating the Currents: Addressing the Critical Threats to Water Infrastructure

Navigating the Currents: Addressing the Critical Threats to Water Infrastructure

Water infrastructure is the backbone of modern society, ensuring the safe delivery of drinking water to our homes and businesses.

This vital system, however, is under siege from various threats that jeopardize its integrity and functionality.

A blue flag with the word ‘Water’ on it stuck in the ground.
The buried water lines that support our homes and businesses are constantly under siege.

Aging Infrastructure: A Ticking Time Bomb

One of the most pressing threats to water infrastructure is its age. In many parts of the world, water systems nearing the end of their designed lifespans. This aging infrastructure is more susceptible to leaks, breaks, and system failures.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has consistently given poor grades to the nation's water infrastructure, highlighting the urgent need for upgrades and repairs. In its most recent Infrastructure Report Card, the ASCE gave our drinking water infrastructure a C-.

“Our nation’s drinking water infrastructure system is made up of 2.2 million miles of underground pipes that deliver safe, reliable water to millions of people,” the ASCE wrote.

“Unfortunately, the system is aging and underfunded. There is a water main break every two minutes and an estimated 6 billion gallons of treated water lost each day in the U.S… Enough to fill over 9,000 swimming pools…”

The Silent Culprit

Leaks are a pervasive problem in water distribution systems. They not only waste valuable water resources, they also lead to significant financial losses for utilities. Advanced leak detection technologies, like acoustic sensors and smart water meters, are becoming increasingly important in identifying and locating leaks early, before they escalate into major breaks. By investing in these technologies, utilities can reduce non-revenue water (NRW) loss and extend the life of their infrastructure.

Non-Revenue Water Loss: An Economic Drain

Non-revenue water (NRW) loss, which includes water lost to leaks, theft, and metering inaccuracies, is a financial drain on water utilities. It represents water that is produced and treated but not billed to customers, leading to lost revenue. Reducing NRW is essential for the financial sustainability of water utilities and for ensuring the efficient use of water resources. Implementing comprehensive water audit programs and adopting smart water management solutions can help utilities minimize NRW and improve their bottom line.

Inflow and Infiltration: The Hidden Flood

Inflow and infiltration (I/I) are processes that allow extraneous water to enter sewer systems, often overwhelming wastewater treatment plants and leading to untreated sewage discharges into the environment. Inflow occurs when stormwater directly enters the sewer system through improper connections, while infiltration happens when groundwater seeps into the sewer pipes through cracks and leaks. `a multi-faceted approach, including repairing and replacing damaged pipes, disconnecting improper connections, and implementing green infrastructure to manage stormwater at its source.

Climate Change: A Rising Tide of Challenges

Climate change poses an increasingly significant threat to water infrastructure. Rising sea levels, more intense storms, and changing precipitation patterns can lead to coastal flooding, increased stormwater runoff, and more frequent and severe droughts. These challenges require water systems to be more resilient and adaptable. Investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, such as flood-resistant pump stations and drought-tolerant water sources, is crucial for ensuring the long-term sustainability of water systems.

Urbanization: The Pressure of Growth

Rapid urbanization is putting additional pressure on water infrastructure. As cities grow, so does the demand for water services, which can strain existing systems. Moreover, urban sprawl can lead to more impervious surfaces, exacerbating stormwater management challenges. Sustainable urban planning, including the integration of green infrastructure and smart water technologies, is essential for managing the impacts of urbanization on water systems.

A GPRS Project Manager conducts leak detection services on a fire hydrant.
GPRS offers underground water leak detection services designed to mitigate the risk of NRW loss and other threats to your water infrastructure.

GPRS Leak Detection Keeps Your Water Where it Belongs

The threats to water infrastructure are diverse and complex, but they are not insurmountable.

By prioritizing investments in modernization, embracing innovative technologies, and adopting sustainable practices, we can safeguard our water systems for future generations.

It starts by ensuring your water stays where it belongs.

Even a small leak in a water system can have big consequences. That’s why GPRS offers underground water leak detection services designed to mitigate the risk of NRW loss and other threats to your water infrastructure. We can quickly pinpoint a known leak when a problem has been identified, or proactively search for leaks along a domestic pressurized water or fire system for a municipality or facility.

GPRS uses two primary technologies for our leak detection services:

1. Acoustic Leak Detection

Acoustic leak detection involves using sophisticated ground microphones to listen for leaks coming from pressurized subsurface pipes. Our Project Managers (PMs) are acoustic leak detection specialists who are thoroughly trained to pinpoint leaking pipes’ specific sounds and frequencies.

Pipes made of metal, such as cast iron/ductile mains, smaller copper service lines, and steel pipes transmit water leak sounds over longer distances than pipes made of PVC or asbestos-cement. Accordingly, our PMs consider the pipe material and its size when determining how best to evaluate your water system. Small diameter pipes are more likely to transmit more sound than large diameter pipes, regardless of their material. Large diameter pipes transmit lower frequency sounds than small diameter pipes.

2. Leak Noise Correlators

Leak detection, or leak noise correlators are specialized electronic devices that professional leak detection service companies like GPRS use to quickly and accurately locate leaks in water lines. Sensors are placed on both sides of the pipe, and these sensors send information back and forth between each other via radio. An automated process identifies each suspected underground water leak location and displays it on the main control unit. The processing unit then compares this data with mathematical algorithms designed for the specific noise profiles of the pipe material being tested, determining where the leak is coming from between each sensor’s location.

Our Project Managers map out leaks using the data collected with leak detection correlators, then pinpoint the leaks using acoustic leak detection equipment.

From skyscrapers to sewer lines, GPRS Intelligently Visualizes The Built World® to keep your projects on time, on budget, and safe.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How many miles of pipe can GPRS test for leaks in one day?

The amount of pipe we can test often depends on the experience of the leak detection specialist. Team members with many years of experience can test up to 10 miles of pipe a day on a metallic system (cast iron/ductile). Experienced leak detectors can test a contact point (hydrant/valve) within a minute before moving on to the next one. Leak detectors can work efficiently because they are trained to hear the specific tone that a leak produces compared to any other number of noises a general environment makes.

Why do you have to work in the early hours of the morning?

Our acoustic listening equipment is highly sensitive and amplifies leaks and other noises which mask leak signals during the day. If we work in city environments, there is often a significant amount of ambient noise. This noise includes airplanes, traffic, mowers, machinery, and most importantly, people using water. It is up to the leak detection specialist to determine if night work should be utilized to minimize all other noise to focus on the leak signal.

Why don’t I see any water at the location where you’ve pinpointed a leak?

Water finds the path of least resistance. Water can run through cracks in subsurface rock or make its way into storm, sanitary, and conduit piping. If the subsurface contains a high volume of sand, it will naturally flow farther down. There is no water visible on the surface in over 99% of the leaks we locate.