Logo preload
close Logo

Using inspection tech to find leaks and inefficiencies in drinking water delivery

March 13, 2022

Drinking water comes to you from the 1+ million miles of water pipes that make up America’s water infrastructure system, many of which were put in place in the early-to-mid 1900s. But with a lifespan of 75 to 100 years, this system is starting to show its age.

While quality remains relatively high, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates that there are over 240,000 water main breaks per year, wasting over two trillion gallons of treated drinking water – or nearly six billion gallons per day. The wasted water could support the everyday water use of 15 million households, and results in $2.6 billion annually in lost revenues.

Despite the occasional news headline, at present the water wastage problem mostly remains invisible. That will likely soon change. Water scarcity is on track to be one of the century’s most important environmental and health issues as nearly half the global population already live in potential water scarce areas, and that population is expected to increase to up to 5.7 billion people in 2050.

At both local and global levels, no one can afford to waste water, which means governments and water utilities companies alike need to arm themselves with tools to prevent such loss. After exploring a recent case of water wastage, we’ll explore why field inspection tech is ideally suited to track leaks throughout drinking water systems.

Mississippi blues: The cost of water leaks

To illustrate this issue, let’s go to Mississippi and look at the case of Jackson’s continuing water leakage woes. A recent report based on citywide November 2021 inspections found that more than 40 percent of treated water never makes it to the customers. The aging pipe system in the city causes water loss through main breaks, meter leaks, and disruptions.

Jackson’s challenge worsens because the water department pays to treat the lost water, but cannot recoup its layout. Because the water never passes through a meter, customers don’t receive it, and no one bills for it. This produces a troubling deficit, and one that keeps getting worse: in 2017, the city brought in $61 million in water and sewer revenues but had $65 million in expenses. By 2019, revenues were $49 million, while expenses were $77 million.

Without fixing the city’s aging pipe system, this discrepancy will only get worse. But without the massive budget required for a complete overhaul, the city resorted to what it felt was the only solution: raising water and sewer rates by 20 percent across the board.

Complex problems require digital solutions 

Despite the heavy tax levied on Jackson’s population, this was not an isolated incident. Without the ability to enhance field inspections and tactically root out leaks and disruptions, costs will continue to rise even as water becomes scarcer.

To help stop leaks, water utilities can leverage advanced improvements in mobile technology and integrate inspection tech platforms into their daily operations. These can help field inspection teams to more efficiently collect and circulate better-quality data about leaks in several important ways, including:

Systemizing field inspections

Cloud-connected in real-time, mobile inspection platforms bring field inspections – dispersed by geography or process, data, or goal – into a unified and coherent system. Field inspection teams use the same platform, ensuring data consolidation into one database. Field inspectors and office supervisors work with shared data stored centrally. This accessibility benefits the entire project team, streamlining efforts for quicker repairs and remediation.

Overcoming access and paper limitations

Whether installed away from residential areas or buried beneath the ground, utilities infrastructure is often in remote or hard-to-access areas. Carting around paper inspections checklists or even bulky laptops for spreadsheets in remote areas increases the potential for data error, forcing teams to spend more time doing data management than data collection. Even in remote areas without mobile connectivity, however, leading digital platforms have offline data collection capabilities that store data in-app for upload and syncing until return to a network. No paper forms mean no data transcription, so there are fewer possibilities for errors.

Producing better data for better work

Digital platforms surpass paper or spreadsheets in versatility, seamlessly integrating various formats for enhanced data quality. They allow the inclusion of maps, pictures, video, and audio files, facilitating comprehensive documentation. Field inspection teams can attach these files for all team members to access, ensuring well-informed decision-making. Additionally, features like built-in GIS precisely geo-locate pipe weaknesses, cracks, and leaks. This capability enables quick problem identification and effective remediation. Consequently, repair crews can perform their tasks with greater efficiency and accuracy.

Keep your head above water

While the problems faced by our water infrastructure have been directly addressed by the federal government’s sweeping Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, full-scale transformation is years, if not decades, away. Meanwhile, utilities must bridge the gap between treated and billed water.

Those adopting digital inspection tech solutions can detect water delivery system leaks and inefficiencies, enabling prompt repair and remediation. Fulcrum, a leading digital field inspection provider, can play a crucial role. It helps identify water-wasting leaks in utility drinking water delivery operations and streamlines field inspections. This approach saves both water and costs.

Learn more about the use of digital field inspection management platform for water utilities by checking out a utilities customer success story.