This article originally appeared in WWD May 2020 issue as "Monitoring Reach Extension"
In our ever-evolving technology landscape, the ability to adapt quickly can be a major asset. This is one reason why water utilities consider making the transition to a smart utility network. The infrastructure enhances water distribution systems with real-time data and allows for expansion as demand grows.
Utilities can also adapt to change at their own speed and add new applications such as leak detection or pressure monitoring with a smart utility network.
Setting the Stage
Park City, Utah, is one of the most popular tourist areas in the U.S. Beyond being a popular ski destination, every January thousands of movie fans flock to the city to check out the best works independent cinema has to offer at the Sundance Film Festival. For the city’s water utility, providing effective water service for both residents and tourists can be a major production.
“We have about 8,000 residents in Park City, but it’s more like 30,000 with tourism factored in, and it can be much higher when big events come to town,” said Park City Water Resources Manager Jason Christensen. “We’re constantly punching above our weight in terms of water services.”
Staying on the forefront of technology helps Park City’s water services team manage the challenging dynamics of bringing water to its ever-fluctuating population. When there is a challenge, the city is not afraid to tap into new resources to solve it.
Up to the Task
With an eye for innovation, Park City has remained committed to driving quality water services to the community. A long-time customer of Sensus, a Xylem brand, the city was an early adopter of smart utility infrastructure, combining smart water meters with real-time remote monitoring capabilities provided by the Sensus FlexNet communication network.
“The smart utility network has been a great investment by the community,” Christensen said. “In addition to helping improve efficiency and service for our water customers, it’s allowed us to expand the system with new applications.”
Park City decided it was time to look deeper into its water distribution data. Christensen and his team sought an affordable solution that could extend the system to combat water loss and help the city proactively respond to issues with water pressure and flow.
“We’ve experienced scenarios where a pipe bursts or a business develops problems with water pressure,” Christensen said. “We want to be able to monitor this type of activity, so we can address issues before they reach crisis mode.”
Park City needed a solution that could connect to its pressure reducing valve (PRV) sites, located on water distribution mains where no power or land-based communications were available. The city decided to conduct a pilot program with the battery-powered Sensus Smart Gateway Sensor Interface to help staff make critical and prompt decisions for customers by remotely monitoring water pressure and flow. The Smart Gateway is a FlexNet-enabled device that is capable of powering and reading up to two analog sensors and two switch-type inputs.
As an extension of its smart utility network, Park City installed the Smart Gateway interface at two PRV sites. Soon after deployment, Christensen’s customer service team noticed an issue when the distribution pressure downstream of one of the PRVs began to spike.
“The alarm went off and you could see the failure happening in real-time,” Christensen said. “The issue was resolved without incident, but it was a lesson for us in just how impactful the system could be.”
In addition to helping staff respond quickly to issues, the Smart Gateway solution increases the city’s level of service.
“At these sites, in order to detect a pressure event, we had to rely on either a customer calling in or a field technician visiting the site,” Christensen said. “Now we can detect an issue in close to real time and reduce unnecessary wear and tear on the water system.”
The Journey Continues
Based on the successful pilot, Park City extended PRV monitoring to a total of 26 sites. The city looks forward to using new insights from the data gained in the expansion, such as identifying non-revenue water.
“While the added connectivity enhances operational performance, it will also help us get smarter as a utility,” Christensen said. “As we monitor more sites, we’ll be able to store the data and use it as a resource for ongoing asset management and water loss reduction.”
Christensen and his team see the Smart Gateway solution as a perfect example of their network’s key differentiator.
“With the system, we can implement incremental projects quickly that require less capital and help maximize our return on investment,” Christensen said. “These incremental projects allow us to continue progressing as a smart utility and extend those benefits to the community.”
Many utilities can benefit by considering Park City’s efforts in advancing its water distribution system on a step-by-step basis. Meter modernization efforts can kick-start the process for better operational efficiency and cost savings. Then, utilities can add new solutions like pressure monitoring to further improve leak detection and gain better control over their networks.
It is important for any utility to consider aging infrastructure and future growth as well. New technologies create the opportunity for utilities to optimize water management processes, improve customer service and advance increasingly important initiatives like sustainability. It is a win-win for utilities that can stay ahead of the innovation curve as today’s visions become tomorrow’s reality.