Portugal water operator deploys SmartBall™ tool for leak detection

Lisboa Map

SIMAS Oeiras e Amadora distributes drinking water to 350,000 customers in the Lisbon region of Portugal.

Drinking water systems degrade over time, with the useful life of the pipe and component parts often lasting for decades. Of course, age is only part of the equation. The deterioration of any particular pipeline depends on a multitude of factors, including pipe material and class. To complicate matters, factors such as soil environment, chemical properties of the water, climate changes, and operational particulars can all contribute to weakened pipes.

All that said, when a suspected leak develops in a pressured main after only five years in operation, it’s important to locate and repair the leak and determine what operational, environmental or installation factors led to the failure.

That was the situation faced by Intermunicipal Service Oeiras and Amadora, a water management company responsible for the distribution of drinking water for the municipalities of Amadora and Oeiras in the Lisbon region of Portugal. SIMAS Oeiras e Amadora distributes water to more than 350,000 customers who have come to rely on the public company for their water services.

The F. Passarinhos-Atalaia duct is a pressurized pipeline that supplies water to one of eight reservoirs operated by SIMAS Oeiras e Amadora in the municipality of Amadora. Installed in 2007, the large 600 mm (24-inch) transmission main, made from ductile iron material, delivers drinking water to approximately 31 percent of Amadora’s residents, making it a critical part of the municipality’s buried infrastructure.

Pressure drop indicated possibility of critical leak

In 2012, SIMAS Oeiras e Amadora detected a noticeable pressure drop in the system, indicating the possibility of a critical leak, the predecessor of a potential rupture that could negatively impact the environment and significantly disrupt day-to-day life in the community.

When traditional leak detection methods—geophones and acoustic correlators­ were unable to detect the location and size of the leak, SIMAS Oeiras e Amadora called on its contractor to perform a leak detection survey using the innovative SmartBall tool from Pure Technologies (Pure).  Because of the criticality of the line, the survey was conducted while the pipeline remained in operation.

Since 2007 utilities all over the world have been using Pure’s SmartBall pipeline inspection technology to save millions of dollars in water loss and prevented water main breaks.

SmartBall inside a pipe

Pure’s SmartBall tool can be launched while the main remains in operation.

SmartBall tool launched without disrupting service

Pure’s patented SmartBall tool is an aluminum-core, foam-shell ball packed with several different sensors that can be launched into a water main without any disruption to client service.

Unlike traditional external listening tools that have limited success on large diameter pipes, SmartBall is the industry’s only free-flowing multi-sensor technology that provides the highest degree of accuracy, since as the ball rolls, it can inspect every inch of a water main to detect potential problems such as leaks and gas pockets. Its highly sensitive acoustic sensors can locate ‘pinhole’ leaks and gas pockets within a location accuracy of 1.8 meters.

The SmartBall was inserted into the pipeline through a 6” gate valve and the journey took two hours and 49 minutes. One small leak was detected, 863 meters from the insertion site. This leak was repaired and allowed SIMAS Oeiras e Amadora to recover costs associated the loss of non-revenue water, had it remained undetected.

Assess assets from inside the pipe rather than from external clues

Leak detection is a necessary step to reduce water loss and prevent major water main breaks. The benefits of leak detection are obvious in increased revenues, lower risk of contamination, lower liability due to a reduction of main breaks, and increased public trust.

Although the SmartBall tool detected just one leak, the inspection gave SIMAS Oeiras e Amadora the capacity to assess assets from inside the pipe rather than drawing conclusions from indirect, external clues. If leaks are discovered early, operators can take necessary action to makes repairs before they become a major problem.

This process allows progressive operators like SIMAS Oeiras e Amadora to develop a sustainable long-term strategy for managing their critical buried assets.