Leak detection can be a very tricky business. The old saying goes “use the right tool for the right job”. This absolutely applies when it comes to locating leaks especially if there is a lot of ground to cover. Let me explain what I mean. Take for instance a 50 and over retirement community we recently performed a leak detection for. Their water bills were through the roof… almost 3 times higher than they should have been and they knew they had a problem for a good year before they decided to call a professional for help (?). They first requested the water company come and change out the main water meter just in case it was faulty. That did not do the trick. Then, they had their in-house plumbing contractor come and check all of the valves, hydrants and toilets for leaks, and that did not do the trick. Then they called a low-end leak detection guy to come in and walk around the property aimlessly with a ground mic all day and guess what…. that did not do the trick. Then, after they finally exhausted all other options they called in the big guns. Atlantic Testing Services and Utility Locating to the rescue!!
When we arrived at the site and walked around with the president of the association it became very clear to us that there was a problem. We decided to take a different approach since some of the basic troubleshooting work was already done by others. We decided to set up our Digital Correlating Loggers (DCL) on some of the hydrants and valves and programed them to start a series of correlations during the middle of the night and early morning hours. We did this because it is much quieter at night plus there is more water pressure at night due to low water usage. If there was a leak occurring, our correlator would have a much better chance hearing it during off-peak hours. That is the beauty of this technology. So we set up our loggers and left for the day.
The next morning we came back to check our loggers and see the results. BAMM!! We saw a HUGE spike in one of the graphs which indicates our correlator picked up a leak sound that is definitely worth investigating. So we gathered all of the necessary data and plugged it into our computer to see where the target area was located. We took our ground mic and went to an area where the water main was running next to a nice open grassy field. As we went along with our ground mic over the main we were a bit disappointed in the noise we were hearing. Although we did hear a low hissing noise, we expected it to be much louder considering the amount of water they were using. So as I was scratching my head not fully convinced we found “the leak”. I then saw my partner start to walk into the grassy field. I told him “now is not the time for a nature walk… we need to figure this out!!” Then I saw him start to dig his heals into the grass making divots like he just hit a golf ball. I walked over to see what he was doing and then he said “look”. I looked down and noticed that the grass was extra green and lush in this one area and the ground was a bit mushy. Then he said “look at this”. It was a partially exposed piece of a buried irrigation box cover that appeared to have been covered with a layer of sod. We chopped out the grass around the box and when we opened the cover there it was. Inside was a broken irrigation solenoid gushing water. This water was running 24/7 totally unnoticed. The water appeared to have found a nice path underground which happens in certain areas, which made this a tricky situation. Although we were not on the right line, our correlating logger picked up the sound very clearly (about 6 feet away) when all other background noise was minimal.
When we met with the president to show him the situation he explained that traditionally their water bills were higher in the summer months (most are) but they did not put it together that the spike was so drastic. After he thanked us a million times for solving their problem we went and collected all of our loggers and headed out.
I turned to my partner when we got in the truck and said, “You know if we didn’t set up those loggers at night there is a very good chance we would not have found that leak considering it wasn’t on the water main” He said, “I was just thinking the same thing, but you know… you need to use the right tool for the right job.” AMEN!