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AI-powered leak detection: Safeguarding water infrastructure with technology

By Linda Schwefel
October 3, 2023

As of September 2023, a staggering 30 percent of the United States finds itself grappling with moderate to severe drought conditions, signaling a distressing trend in climate patterns. This alarming development is not merely a temporary phase. In fact, experts from the UN Environmental Program have shifted away from using the term “droughts” to describe the current water scarcity issues plaguing the American West. They now refer to this persistent state of aridity as “the new, very dry normal,” a phrase that encapsulates the gravity of the situation and hints at a long-term transformation in the region’s climate. This change in terminology underscores the urgency of digital transformation in water utilities to adapt and prepare for a future where water resources might be scarcer and more precious than ever before.

Moreover, this environmental crisis is intricately linked with a burgeoning infrastructure problem, where the nation is witnessing an alarming rate of water wastage due to frequent water main breaks, exacerbating the already critical water scarcity issues. Astonishingly, every two minutes witnesses a water main break somewhere in the country, culminating in a daily loss of approximately 6 billion gallons of treated water.

This crisis is further intensified by environmental factors such as extreme heat and infrequent rainfall. In Texas, the record-breaking hot summer has accelerated soil desiccation, causing shifts in water lines and increasing the likelihood of pipe joint fractures. This has had a domino effect on cities like Houston, where water leaks surged by over 50 percent, necessitating an infusion of an additional $33 million to the already substantial annual budget of $20 million earmarked for water leak repairs. This scenario paints a grim picture of the escalating challenges in water management, highlighting the need for innovative solutions and infrastructure overhauls.

AI predictive analyses for leak detection

In the face of escalating water management challenges and the push for digital transformation in water utilities, Artificial Intelligence (AI) emerges as a potent tool capable of revolutionizing the approach to detecting and preventing water leaks.

AI systems with advanced analytical capabilities transform water utilities’ efforts to detect water infrastructure leaks. These powerful systems adeptly process extensive data, actively discern patterns, and swiftly identify trends that signal potential problems.

Furthermore, AI can forecast potential leak sites based on historical data and environmental factors, allowing for a proactive approach to maintenance. By predicting where leaks are most likely to occur, utility companies can undertake preventive measures, thereby avoiding costly breakdowns and conserving precious water resources.

To do these exhaustive analytics, however, AI needs data. And lots of it. Let’s explore the various data sources that fuel the AI systems powering smart leak detection strategies.

Leaking pipe showing AI-Powered Leak Detection Safeguarding Water Infrastructure with Technology

Automated Monitoring

Automated monitoring offers a proactive approach to leak detection, with AI providing the technological backbone that supports continuous surveillance of water networks. Through the utilization of AI, monitoring systems can operate around the clock, offering real-time alerts to minimize leak impact. At the heart of this digital transformation in water utilities are AI algorithms capable of interpreting data from various sensors, including:

  • Acoustic sensors. Utilizing hydrophones mounted on fire hydrants or elsewhere in water networks, AI systems analyze acoustic data to detect leak sounds.
  • Pressure sensors. Strategically placed water flow sensors can monitor and report irregularities in the water distribution center flow rate, indicating possible leaks.
  • Fiber optics. Fiber optic monitoring lines can be placed inside or outside concrete pipes to detect breaks within the pipe structure.

Algorithms analyze data from monitoring devices, quickly detecting irregularities. They send alerts to authorities, speeding up response and repair. This improves leak detection and saves time and money.

AI also plays a role in optimizing water distribution. It monitors water pressure and flow rates, making adjustments to prevent leaks. Machine learning algorithms use historical data to predict leak-prone areas, allowing for targeted maintenance.

Physical inspections

In this category, we focus on inspections specifically for leaks. These are separate from the constant monitoring of water infrastructure. Inspections can be human-led or part of regular audits. They can also address troubleshooting concerns or anomalies detected by sensors. Water utilities have additional tools at their disposal for this purpose, including:

  • Thermal imaging. Thermal imagers, used on foot, by car, or aircraft, detect temperature shifts. These shifts show liquid flow in pipes and leaks, either within structures or underground.
  • Drone inspections. Drones conduct aerial inspections of water infrastructure, especially in hard-to-reach or risky areas for humans.
  • Satellite inspections. A specialized satellite makes passes over a given location and sees ten feet below ground to discover leaks. In Midland, Texas, a satellite provider located leaks within a two-block radius. Crews were then sent to identify the exact locations.
  • Canine inspections. Perhaps our favorite non-human method of leak detection involves four-legged friends. In the UK, specially trained dogs do more than find drugs or lost hikers; they also detect water leaks.

Springer Spaniel from United Utilities in Cumbria used to detect water leaks showing digital transformation in water utilities

AI in conjunction with field data collection platforms

Advanced data collection platforms such as Fulcrum play a pivotal role in the success of AI-driven leak detection. Fulcrum plays a key role in water utilities’ digital transformation. It ensures a steady flow of vital data to AI systems. The centralized platform gathers and analyzes data from different sources. As a result, the efficiency and accuracy of AI’s predictive analytics improve.

By acting as a bridge between the physical world and AI’s analytical engines, data collection technology plays a crucial role in the early detection of leaks, promoting a sustainable approach to water management. This integration not only supports real-time monitoring but also equips utilities with actionable insights for swift and cost-effective interventions.


The current water crisis demands immediate solutions, and AI is becoming crucial for predicting and preventing water leaks. Digital transformation in water utilities relies heavily on AI systems, which analyze data patterns to offer actionable waste-reducing insights. Data collection platforms like Fulcrum are indispensable in this context, providing the essential infrastructure for AI analysis.

This collaborative approach promises to revolutionize leak detection and usher in a future of efficient water management. Through ongoing innovation , we’re on the brink of a new era where technology more effectively safeguards our most precious resource.

To witness firsthand how Fulcrum can revolutionize your water management strategies, schedule a free, no-obligation demo today!