News Feature | February 3, 2016

Utility Employs Magnetic Leak-Detection Tech

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Utilities are trying to give consumers more leak-detection options. Leaks can lead to exorbitant water bills, and some customers don’t catch them until they get charged.

Natick, MA, is putting its detection hopes in new technology.

“The town is working with a company developing technology that can detect water leaks and send alerts to residents' electronic devices. [In January, local officials] agreed to a memorandum of understanding with Water Hero,” Wicked Local Natick reported.

Water Hero calls itself a “smart” leak-detection company. The firm is building tools that measure water flow by tapping into the magnetic field in municipal water meters, according to Alex Cheimets, the company’s chief product officer, per the news report.

“When water flows through a water meter, the meter creates a magnetic field whose oscillations correspond to the flow rate,” the company said, per the report. “Water Hero’s electronics monitor those fluctuations over a hundred times per second, processing it through an algorithm embedded in our microcontroller to convert the data into a digital readout of water flow.”

The agreement between Natick and Water Hero does not force the townspeople to spend money. Department of Public Works Director Jeremy Marsette said he does not foresee residents needing to purchase an additional device.

Non-revenue water, including water lost to leaks, can be a major loss to the water system.

“The total cost to water utilities caused by [non-revenue water] worldwide can be conservatively estimated at $141 billion per year, with a third of it occurring in the developing world. In developing countries, about 45 million cubic meters are lost daily through water leakage in the distribution networks — enough to serve nearly 200 million people,” according to a report by the World Bank.

Leaks on customer properties can drive up water bills, meaning utilities get angry phone calls.

A leak caused Chris Lang, a 28-year-old alarm security worker, to appear at the very top of a list of excess-water users in the East Bay Municipal Utility District (MUD) in California.

“Lang says he's no guzzler but rather a victim of not being warned about his skyrocketing water use before he received a $10,000 bill for consuming more than 13,000 gallons a day,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.

District spokeswoman Andrea Pook weighed in, per the Contra Costa Times. "It's unfortunate," Pook said. "But this is a lesson about the importance of checking for leaks. One in four households in East Bay MUD have leaks."