Leak Detection in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District

As evidenced in a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and the BCWWA’s Water Conservation Committee, leak detection is on the minds of many utility managers. Results show that 31 percent of utilities have a leak detection program in place, while 43 percent are considering one.

As noted in Water Use and Loss in Distribution Systems: A Best Practice by the National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure, “Water loss carries a significant price tag, both economic and environmental…It is therefore important to understand the ultimate fate of the water supplied to the system and how to best account for it.” To that end, utility managers must fully understand all elements of their water distribution systems and properly account for the water supplied to their systems. “Proper accounting will allow utilities to make informed decisions on operations, maintenance, capital investment, and customer service programs.”

Scott Mason, P.Eng., Manager of Utility Services for the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, has experienced reduced water service and higher production costs at several of their eight systems as a result of water losses. Conversely, he says that leak detection is critical in his system for a variety of reasons: public health protection, water conservation, infrastructure requirements, level of service, and water production costs.

The major components of the regional district’s leak detection program include collection and evaluation of usage data, specialized leak detection consultants, a ”gray-hair” knowledge and history of the individual systems, and acquisition of leak detection equipment for staff members to use during regular maintenance visits.

“As for cost,” says Scott, “we have not budgeted explicitly for a leak detection program, but we have integrated the costs into the regular maintenance duties. We invested about $1,500 in leak detection equipment, which we consider paid for itself immediately after putting it to use.”

Scott suggests that all water utilities accept that their systems are leaking, and be proactive in identifying and addressing the issue.

“Document everything, including utility locations, materials used, who engineered and constructed the work, etc. This information may be a nuisance to collect, but may be invaluable someday.

“Also, get the community involved, residents may have information they assume you were aware of.

“Maintain control of workmanship and materials. Many leaks occur due to poor workmanship and inappropriate material selection.

“And finally, invest in leak detection services or purchase equipment. If the cost of equipment is an issue for small communities, then look at sharing equipment among several communities.

For more information contact Scott Mason at 1-877-377-8673.

Fernie controls costly water leaks

Dave Cockwell, Director of Operations for the City of Fernie, agrees that leak detection and mitigation are important aspects of a complete water management program, as they promote environmental stewardship, defer the construction of expensive infrastructure upgrades, and delay the timeline for developing new water sources.

What drove the City of Fernie to embark on a leak-detection program?

“A water distribution system analysis exposed the fact that the City is a large  consumer of water,” says Dave. “The audit process pointed out that a lot of our system losses are due to distribution system leaks. Recommendations from that report suggested that the City embark on a water conservation study. One of the programs recommended was a leak detection program.

“When we started down that path, we soon discovered that the work that comes from detection can be considerable. Not all leaks are large leaks, but most leaks require large excavations. These are costly and we are a small community.”

In response, the City hired a contractor with leak detection equipment to provide costs for a leak detection audit. About 75 percent of the $25,000 budget was spent in 2002 and 2003, as they implemented two phases of a four-phase work program. A list was provided to crews outlining the locations of known leaks within the water system. “As time goes by,” says Dave, “we are actively excavating and making those repairs.

Dave’s advice to communities considering leak detection programs, “First conduct a water system audit to determine about what amount of your system losses are from leaks. From that point, take a good look at your water system. Factor in age of pipes and historical records of past repairs to determine known areas that are suspect. Give clear terms of reference to your leak consultant so he is clear on what you’re asking for. A leak audit can be as accurate or as general as you want. For small communities that information and subsequent workload can be overwhelming, so don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

Neither the Thompson-Nicola Regional District nor the City of Fernie have determined just how much water they’re saving. Scott says “the regional district has not been able to accurately quantify the reduction of produced water specifically as a result of leakage identification and repair due to the many variables that affect demand, including the lack of historical data. But we have observed changes in demand after completing leakage repairs and in some cases have had to revise our operating procedures because the systems behaved differently.”

Dave “can’t put a figure to the amount of water that has been saved in his community to date,” but he supports the leak detection program wholeheartedly nonetheless.

For more information contact Dave Cockwell at 250-423-2230 or