Jan Chwiedosiuk, PE Director of Distribution, Middlesex Water Company
Providing a safe and reliable supply of drinking water to half a million residents in central New Jersey requires a sophisticated asset management plan, strategic investments in aging infrastructure and a commitment to water quality testing and monitoring. It also requires a prudent management strategy and a commitment to investing in technology initiatives that can enhance system efficiencies and decision making criteria. Middlesex Water Company (MWC) is no stranger to technology, having implemented several Oracle platforms to both drive efficiency throughout its organization and maximize its fleet and personnel to best serve its customers. But when management realized the benefits and transformative value of embracing and leveraging new technologies in the workplace, it created a Technology Committee, comprised of the senior leadership of the company, to specifically discuss, vet, prioritize and oversee the execution of the myriad projects that can further drive value for the organization.
The Company’s investment in an Enterprise Resource Planning platform more than a decade ago soundly demonstrated that integrating the right technology into operations delivers more transparency into fieldwork and provides value to our customers by reducing response times. However, different departments have different technology needs which stresses internal resources and overall capital planning. The Technology Committee reviews each request in great detail and green lights only those projects that can deliver real value in terms of customer satisfaction, system resiliency and operational efficiency. Several examples of this follow:
Maintaining Integrity of Drinking Water Infrastructure
Water main replacements are a fact of life for any utility, but they can cause road shutdowns, impact service and be frustrating for nearby residents. As part of the Company’s Asset Management Program, the Company conducted a comprehensive assessment of all its water mains to identify those most critical mains needing immediate replacement. This was undertaken using multiple factors for Probability of Failure and Consequence of Failure of the individual pipe segments. Over 40 factors for each pipe segment were rated and the findings aggregated into a computer data model based on the Company’s Geographic Information System (GIS). This Pipe Prioritization Model is used in the development of projects to be constructed as part of the Company’s annual capital program. Additionally, coordination with local municipalities for adjacent projects, enables us to more proactively replace mains that are reaching the end of their service lives, in turn, minimizing disruptions for residents and the public.
“MWC implemented active hydrant based acoustic leak detection technology to help the utility remotely listen, continuously detect and more quickly respond to leaks throughout its water distribution system.”
In another example, rather than disrupting and rerouting traffic on a major and very busy highway in central New Jersey, MWC utilized electromagnetic inspection equipment to robotically inspect a critical 30-inch diameter pipeline underground. The inspection located a severely deteriorated segment of pipe which was replaced by MWC crews well before failure. This technology was also utilized to assist the Company in making repair decisions after the failure of another aging large 48-inchdiameter transmission main in its vast distribution system. The inspection methodology induces an electromagnetic field in the pre stressing wire of pre stressed concrete cylinder pipe(PCCP) to detect broken wire wraps. Each broken wire wrap affects the structural integrity of the pipe making it important to quickly and efficiently identify the specific portion of the pipe needing repair. This process informs asset management planning, helps prioritize specific pipeline projects and, once addressed, increases overall system resilience and reliability.
Preventing Loss of Valuable Water Resources
MWC is also leveraging technology to drive sustainability and reduce non-revenue water in its distribution system. MWC implemented active hydrant based acoustic leak detection technology to help the utility remotely listen, continuously detect and more quickly respond to leaks throughout its water distribution system, reducing property damage from catastrophic main breaks and minimizing service interruptions to customers. Battery powered ultra sensitive node sensors are fitted into specially designed pumper nozzle caps of fire hydrants forming a network of field assets which actively listen for even the faintest acoustical noise produced by leaks. These nodes communicate with a central data collection hub via cellular signal, which correlates, analyzes and compares data collected from adjacent nodes. This intel helps crews identify leaks with pinpoint accuracy within the distribution network. Detecting leaks early and identifying system failure points while they are still forming or small, helps inform and prioritize utility repair schedules and significantly reduces pipe repair costs. Should crews not be able to immediately address the leak, an acoustical baseline of the area is created which helps crews monitor leak progression and growth.
A Sound Approach to Condition Assessment
Buried small diameter distribution mains may be out of sight but they are not out of mind for utility operators. Due to their location, it is often difficult to determine condition of these aging mains and prioritize them for replacement. MWC utilizes a specialized condition assessment contractor to provide acoustic condition assessment of these buried distribution water mains. This technology uses non-invasive measures to collect data from the velocity of pressure waves(sound) through water mains to provide information on the minimum wall thickness of the segment of pipe. This information is then used to update the Pipeline Prioritization Model that determines pipeline integrity. With over 740 miles of underground pipe in a system that is 125 years old, having accurate insight into the conditions of pipelines is critical to managing rehabilitation or replacement approaches and prevents the need for large scale excavations and service disruptions.
All of these approaches help us to understand our systems and assets better, enable us to use our resources more effectively, plan for the future more strategically and ultimately help us to ensure the ongoing delivery of a safe, reliable and dependable water supply.