By Cassie McClure
Water leaks are devious when they’re underground.
The leak can be small and seep into the dry ground around the pipe. It can be particularly frustrating for a customer when the water bill seems to climb month-by-month for no reason. That’s where the Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) water leak detection crew comes in. They make sure that not only customers know about leaks that dent their bills, but also find leaks that could cause a larger problem for infrastructure serving the whole neighborhood.
“We can reduce the risk of a major leak event by locating the leaks at earlier stages and limit damage to surrounding service lines,” said Adrienne L. Widmer, P.E., LCU deputy director of Water. “We have the technology to try and detect leaks before they become a larger, more critical problem for the system and for our customers.”
There are a few ways that a suspected hidden leak comes to light – either from the customer noticing a change in their bill or if the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) that picks up increased vibrations and submits it to LCU headquarters. AMI was implemented by the City of Las Cruces (City) where crews upgraded and/or retrofitted nearly 29,000 water meters throughout the city.
Leak sensors were placed on every other house in Las Cruces, with the light grey box called an Encoder Receiver Transmitter (ERT) that communicates with a server located high on a nearby utility pole and sends back data to LCU. The sensor analyzes sound patterns from recordings every 22 minutes, detects new and evolving leaks, and pre-existing leaks. The ERT stores eight quietest vibrations daily and keeps 20 days’ worth of data.
For any possible leak situation, LCU leak technicians Elexis Davalos and Luis Gonzalez get the call. They use high-tech listening devices that pick up the sound to hear whether there is a leak. Water flowing through an opening in the pipeline makes either an audible noise or a mechanical vibration. The equipment, however, still needs a human touch because other things, like air conditioners and construction, can cause similar sounds. Davalos explained that he had to train his ears to listen to the faint hiss of water leaks.
Every day, they have anywhere from seven to nine leaks to check on. Using the ground microphone, a correlator - which can detect flow between two points, and a data logger, which can detect between a few different points, the crew locates the leak.
A slow leak of two gallons a minute - that could be undetected because seeping into the dry ground - could lose almost 20,000 gallons of clean drinking in just one week. In a year, that could be a cost of nearly $3,000.
If a leak is confirmed on the customer side of the meter, the customer will contact their plumber to make the repair. With proof that the repair has been completed, LCU will review the account for a possible water leak payment adjustment.
Widmer said, “Our goal is to catch any leak early, not only to make sure it doesn’t become a bigger problem, but to make sure clean, safe water doesn’t go to waste.”
You can reach Las Cruces Utilities at 575/528-3500 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Las Cruces Utilities provides GAS – WATER – WASTEWATER – SOLID WASTE services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
Las Cruces Utilties Water Metering Infrastructure and Leak Detection Crew Elexis Davalos and Luis Gonzalez are listening to the sound of water possibly flowing through an opening in the piping under the street. Using these ground mics, they can pick up leaks before they grow, cause damage, and waste water.
Note: This story was recently published in the Las Cruces Sun-News.