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In a remote section in northern California’s Contra Costa Water District (CCWD), a mystery was unfurling.

While water main breaks had been experienced at the rate of a few per year, in the summer of 2019, staff started observing many pressure spikes on the network in a (6 x 2 mile) area.

This recognition, some old-fashioned detective work, and a technology-based solution led CCWD to discover the real issue.

CCWD covers approx 214 square miles in the San Francisco Bay and is one of the largest urban water districts in California, serving a half-million customers

 

 


Syrinix PIPEMINDER-S

While most of the CCWD service area is urban/suburban, some of the outer reaches of the territory are remote.

At the edge of the service area, some of the properties are CCWD customers, and some are lots permitted with well water only. These wells have often run dry in drought conditions, leaving property owners with no access to water. '

Therein lies the possible source of the issue CCWD encountered – unauthorised water removal from hydrants.

CCWD realised it needed to improve network monitoring in these remote areas. At an AWWA conference, CCWD found Syrinix’s PIPEMINDER-S and two units were installed as a pilot test on in an 8” pipe in a location where theft was suspected of happening.

 

PIPEMINDER-S collected and recorded, high-resolution data, and monitored pressure activity.

The data sent showed signature pressure spikes, as happens when a hydrant is opened and closed rapidly.

After further investigation, video monitoring revealed a rather shocking scene – truck after tanker truck was lined up, accessing the hydrant, to fill their tanks with water.

RADAR screen - transient

“Now, some of this was not suspect. We do have a handful of customers out in that area who are within CCWD’s service area but are out of the pressure zone – they have a legal right to use a hydrant, but their elevation is too high for us to serve them.”
Pete Schoemann, Director of Operations and Maintenance, Contra Costa Water District

The pressure issues and water main breaks suggested usage of water at a much higher level than usual.

Additionally, most of the pipe in the network is asbestos-cement (AC) pipe, which is an older, rigid material and is sensitive to movement and pressure fluctuation.

Repeatedly opening and closing the hydrants every day to fill the tanker trucks was causing exactly that.

Contra Costa Water District turned back to Syrinix to help them pinpoint the problem.

“PIPEMINDER-S showed us that indeed, there were pressure transients on that pipe. So we began locking some hydrants. However, transients kept happening – it appeared that illegal users had just moved on to another nearby hydrant to take the water.”
Pete Schoemann, Director of Operations and Maintenance, Contra Costa Water District

CCWD consulted with Syrinix again and asked if there was a way to pinpoint more precisely where the spikes were located.

Syrinix had then developed PIPEMINDER-H, a fully integrated and importantly hydrant mounted, 4G, smart pressure monitoring tool, and CCWD installed five units. Data collected by these units, in combination with the PIPEMINDER-S data, was triangulated, and the exact locations of pressure transients were shown by the RADAR software platform.

Triangulation happens when a large event is detected by more than two sensors, each offering a precise time data point. With an integrated GPS receiver recording the unit’s fixed position, an algorithm is applied to the data, the exact location is pinpointed, and customers are immediately alerted.

With much more valuable and precise data in their possession, CCWD was able to address an ongoing problem of unauthorized water usage, they could regulate the pressure where it needed it most, to avoid undue stress on the network and costly water main breaks.

The issue has improved with additional adjustments by CCWD, but the real test will come when the next dry season occurs, and water availability becomes a more pressing matter to those in remote areas.

With Syrinix technology in their toolbox, they will now know when and where events are happening in their network.

PIPEMINDER-H on water hydrant
PIPEMINDER-H installed on the hydrant