Listening For Leaks To Reduce Water Loss

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BRANSON, Mo. – Branson it taking a proactive approach to a problem currently costing the city tens of thousands of dollars each year.

Since 2010, Branson has made significant strides in its efforts to reduce water loss, cutting it from 33-percent to 21-percent — a savings of more than $150,000 a year.

But leaks are still taking a toll on Branson taxpayers; losses throughout the water system are nearly twice high as the national average.

“Our goal is to take our current 21-percent loss down to 15- or 16-percent which would take us to the higher end of the national average,” says city utilities director, Mike Ray.

Ray knows the water leaks are there, the challenge is finding them.

One option is to wait until water bubbles up to the surface, but that normally indicates a major failure and is often accompanied by a significant cost.

So the city is trying something new called acoustic leak detection.

“You just walk up to [the meter] and make contact [with this metal probe] and just listen to it,” says Matchpoint project manager, Austin Deaver.

Deaver’s team, based out of North Carolina, will spend the next three weeks surveying more than 100-miles worth of water lines within city limits.

No sound is a good sign, but if a sound it detected, Matchpoint crews will come back in with more refined sensors capable of pinpointing the exact location of the problem.

“Different leaks have different sounds,” Deaver says.

“If it’s a fitting or something small like that… it’s going to have more of a hiss,” he says. “Where if it’s on the mainline or service line, it’s going to sound more like a blowtorch or hairdryer blowing.”

Deaver’s team sets the small sensors along the water lines allowing them to calculate the distance the sound is traveling down the pipe. The sophisticated technology also factors in how the speed of the sound changes as it passes through different mediums like metal and plastic.

“By using that information you can then determine the location of it and pinpoint it,” says Deaver, “so it can be scheduled for rehabilitation before you have a critical failure.”

The cost to the city is $22,000 but if the process reduces leakage by the estimated five-percent, it should save Branson around $80,000 a year.

“It’s just hunt and search [for leaks] otherwise,” says Rays, “this is much more effective.” 

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