Beyond If Beyond If

How Smart Meters are the Real Winners in Reducing Water Loss

What if we showed you how Jacobs, as part of a pilot study team with Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources, is deploying cellular technologies to better manage water loss and track water usage?

Stock image of downtown city in Gwinnett County

Whether you root for the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers or the New England Patriots – if your Sunday (or Thursday or Monday night) routine revolves around America's National Football League (NFL) games, your household is one of the 15 million that tune in each week during the NFL season.

Every day in the United States, non-revenue water – including water “lost” through theft or inaccurate metering – represents enough clean, treated drinking water to serve those 15 million households, a whopping 6 billion gallons per day according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

This lost water is called non-revenue water because water utilities are making no revenue from it – and it’s a problem facing utilities around the globe. Worldwide, utilities lose approximately $14 billion every year due to non-revenue water.

But what if we showed you how advanced Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and real-time analytics – deployed on one utility’s Jacobs-supported pilot – might help others reduce water loss and deliver savings in energy and cost?

  • 450

    ultrasonic, smart meters providing real-time water usage and system performance data

  • 100 %

    cellular service reliability with zero downtime

“Using cellular technologies is an innovative approach to managing non-revenue water, which has traditionally been managed through pipeline leak detection programs. Demonstrating new technologies to get real-time data in Gwinnett County’s water distribution system is providing a model approach for utilities worldwide to significantly reduce water loss and achieve economic and environmental benefits.”

Ken Thompson

Jacobs Global IoT/Smart Sensors Technology Leader

Proactive thinking for the future

Approximately 30 miles northeast of Atlanta, sits Gwinnett County, Georgia. One of America’s fastest growing counties, this thriving population of more than 900,000 people receives drinking water from more than 3,700 miles of distribution pipe and 250,000 service connections.

Compared to global averages of 30 percent water loss annually and some utilities reporting losses of up to 70 percent, Gwinnett County’s current water loss rate doesn’t appear to be much of a problem, at about 10% annually. The amount of water that customers often unknowingly waste is unknown, but an important factor for the County to understand about its community.

Ahead of the uncertain water future facing us all, Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources (DWR) decided to get proactive by partnering with Jacobs and telecommunication firms, AT&T and QualComm, on a pilot study to improve management of its water resources using smart meters, pressure sensors and advanced data analytics.

With a goal to reduce water loss by up to 50%, while also facilitating earlier detection of issues in the public system, the pilot program also focused on identifying causes behind DWR’s non-revenue water loss – whether they be pipeline breaks or leaks, bad meters or theft.

Navigating the cellular technology field

As part of the pilot, DWR replaced water meters at 504 homes with a state-of-the-art water meter that collects and relays real-time data about water consumption.

These smart meters sent information automatically and wirelessly to DWR through a secure network on a regular basis, allowing the utility to track water as it moved through the system, detect leaks or other problems and respond quickly to issues.

The largest pilot of its type using new ultrasonic meters connected to AT&T’s LTE network, the pilot included 450 Neptune meters and 50 traditional positive displacement meters (Badger and Neptune). The ultrasonic meter utilized is so sensitive it can measure tampering or if someone tries to move a meter and can even detect leaks and reverse flows on the customer side.

Real-time data provides real benefits

The smart meter technology implemented in the pilot study is already helping DWR become more efficient and proactive in protecting their water distribution system.

In fact, the pilot helped identify plumbing issues at 30 residences that would have caused a loss of 4.8 million gallons of water annually – enough to serve 44 households – if not fixed. Boasting 100 percent reliability with zero cellular chip failures over 12 months of the study, the meters also provided real-time identification of an improper valve opening incident and three minor reverse flow incidents associated with hot water heater expansion.

Using pressure reduction, the pilot team continued optimizing the system and has shared its successes with other utilities looking to address non-revenue water challenges. Additionally, Jacobs worked with DWR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Water Security Division to develop national protocols for utility response to meter tampering and reverse flow events, helping improve security and resiliency across the industry.

Image credit: Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources 

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