By: Keri Greeson, Intern for the Water Conservation Office
When you think of leaks, you probably imagine a drippy faucet in the kitchen or a bad flapper in the toilet. But those are the easy ones to find. What would you do if you had a tricky leak, like one beneath the hard pavement of our roads? These are the types of leaks that can literally keep a water professional up at night.
Nighttime is the best time to find dripping water. Generally, things are quieter at 10:00 pm than they would be midday. As an intern for the Water Conservation Office, I joined KJ and Justin, leak detectives with WachsWater, on a late-night leak-seeking run. These experts use the power of sound to help detect otherwise hard-to-find leaks throughout Athens. This particular night featured a hunt around the West side of Athens, an area roughly stretching from the Chick-Fil-A on Atlanta Highway to Bogart.
Water loss consultant Justin dons a pair of headphones attached to hand-held sensory equipment. It is similar to someone scanning the beach with a metal detector, minus the socks and sandals. KJ broke down how using acoustics for leak detection works: “Imagine a doctor with a stethoscope; everything is amplified. It’s loud. Depending on how big the leak is, it would sound like opening the faucet in a bathtub.”
Experts begin their assessments with this most basic method of utilizing acoustics to check assets, such as a fire hydrant, connected to the water lines. If you find – or hear – a clue that suggests a leak, you then perform additional tests. Sensors attach to pipes and apply an algorithm to determine roughly the location of the underground leak.
Now, let’s say you need to check under a hard surface like pavement. For this job, the professionals will use different attachments that can be set directly on the hard surface as a ground mic. On the back of the truck, Justin introduced me to the equipment used (figure 1).
Water lines typically run with the layout of roads. An expert will check down one side of the road and then across to the other. This process is relatively simple. No water shut-offs or other invasive procedures are required to do the checks. Justin explains that if you determine that you hear a leak sound, you will trace over the top of your line listening as the noise gets louder and louder until it peaks. At that point, you can ask, “Are you on a leak?”
KJ goes the extra mile by running water quality tests on water collected from leaks to check for the presence of chlorine. If chlorine is in the water, that’s a confirmation that they have found treated water from the water provider. If there is no chlorine, then the water found is most likely from another source, possibly groundwater or stormwater.
I watched as KJ and Justin worked as a team. While Justin walked outfitted in the acoustic equipment (figure 2) listening for signs of leaks, KJ tracked their progress on a map to ensure all the locations are covered.
WachsWater pays Athens-Clarke County an annual visit, covering about ⅕ of the county per year in a search for leaks in our infrastructure. The process can be time-consuming, but it’s essential to ensure our infrastructure is optimized to conserve water. Once we are confident our water delivery system runs efficiently without leaks, we can all get a good night’s sleep.
Like we say here at the Water Conservation Office, Every Drop Counts!