GLWA hopes new water main technology will detect potential problems before they arise

Great Lakes Water Authority spends millions on new technology

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®, Derick Hutchinson

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. - Around this time last year, officials with the Great Lakes Water Authority scrambled as an expensive water main burst in Oakland County, leaving 10 communities under a boil water advisory for more than a week.

Officials don't want a similar incident to happen again, so they're spending money on new technology.

The pipeline break cost $1 million to fix, but GLWA Chief Sue McCormick said the real disruption was more human.

"People had to be relocated from hospitals, senior care facilities, surgeries and doctor appointments rescheduled, businesses interrupted," McCormick said. "That's the real cost."

Officials started looking around the country for technology that can head trouble off at the pass, taking it from preventative maintenance to predictive maintenance.

To do that, they will now send what they call the "smart ball," an audio sensor encased in a Nerf ball to go into high-pressure water lines and listen for trouble.

"You turn on a garden hose, the sound of the hose turning on, that's pressurized water," said Mike Higgins, from Pure Technologies. "It's the same in a pipe. It makes a hissing sound."

Officials are going to use an electrode called a "pipe diver," as well.

"It's put into an operating pipeline and it's allowed to flow with the pipeline," Higgins said. "It's collecting magnetic data on the pipeline, a signature of every 20-foot section of pipe and compared to each other."

There are 800 miles of GLWA pipeline, and it will spend millions of dollars on the technology that they believe should make pipes last longer.

The expectation is to get the technology up and running in the pipes by the end of the year.

The first test will happen were the big water main break happened last year. When they find trouble, officials can simply re-route the water around the pipe to avoid disrupting service while making the repair.

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