Case Study

In order to reduce replacement costs and failures, a mid-size Mid-Atlantic utility engaged Xylem for help developing a machine learning approach to building a focused and cost-effective pipeline renewal strategy.

A mid-sized Mid-Atlantic utility with a reputation for taking a proactive and focused approach to continuously improving service reliability to their 270,000 customers was facing all too common situation. More than 1,000 miles of water mains across their system, with an average age of about 50 years. This had led to an increase in water main breaks, and so they started seeking innovative strategies that would improve service reliability while minimizing repair and replacement costs.


With water main breaks increasing, the customers served by the utility were challenged with unpredictable service outages and costly repairs as well as highly disruptive road closures. They desired to take a more proactive approach to prevent main breaks and improve their customer level of service (LoS) by focusing on the pipes that needed the greatest attention.

Previous experience in working with Xylem to manage their PCCP (prestressed concrete cylinder pipe) inventory led the utility to seek out a better replacement prioritization strategy than traditional techniques such as age and break history.

What solutions did Xylem and the utility come up with to solve this challenge? Find out and explore the results we achieved together by downloading the full case study below.

Project Highlights

Will help the utility lower their annual costs related to pipeline replacement from $90 million to just $20 million while achieving a dramatic four-fold reduction in failures.

Developed a plan to reduce customer outages and improve service reliability, while cutting replacement spending by over 70% compared to other prioritization methods.

Developed a real-time, field mobile tracking application to improve break record accuracy that reduces labor time required to update their Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and their geographic information system (GIS), as well as improve the output of the AI model

Services Provided

• Pipeline failure and risk analysis
• Mobile field data collection application
• Data integration with the utility’s existing systems

Case Study

In order to maximize their existing capital assets, reducing overflows and optimizing overall operation efficiency, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) engaged Xylem in utilizing BLU-X, a drainage network optimization solution that uses a real-time decision support system consisting of smart sensors and actuators that track conveyance capacity.

Cincinnati’s sewers discharge an average of 11.5 billion gallons of combined sewage every year into the Ohio River and its tributary streams within Cincinnati’s urban watershed.

In 2002, the EPA entered into a federal consent decree with MSD, mandating the elimination of sanitary sewer overflows and significant mitigation of combined sewer overflows into receiving waterways. Engineers estimated the cost to mitigate the sewer overflows at $3.1 billion, an unacceptable capital expense to pass along to MSD’s customers.


Recognizing the generally inadequate stormwater management capabilities of their existing combined sewer system, MSD prepared a comprehensive wet weather improvement plan. MSD recognized that full sewer separation and deep tunnel construction are massive capital investments that have a very low return on investment because they create only episodic benefits during peak flow events and are single-use assets with little additional community wealth creation.

Instead, MSD’s objective was to maximize existing capital assets — such as sewer interceptors, storage and treatment facilities, and pump-stations — to reduce overflows and gain system-wide benefits through advanced control logic that will optimally operate MSD’s urban watershed.

What solutions did Xylem and MSD come up with to solve this challenge? Find out and explore the results we achieved together by downloading the full case study below.

Project Highlights

Overflow volumes reduced by 247 million gallons annually

More than a 90% reduction in cost compared to initial capital work estimated at $38 million

CSO mitigation achieved at a price of less than$0.01/gallon

Services Provided

• BLU-X real-time decision support system (RT-DSS) to manage storage and conveyance
• RT-DSS integrated into MSD’s existing SCADA and IT networks
• All sensor data presented on one unified platform

Case Study

In order to get a better understanding of the infiltration and inflow into their newly separated sanitary sewers, Grand Rapids engaged Xylem in utilizing BLU-X, a real-time decision support system consisting of smart sensors and actuators that track conveyance capacity.

Grand Rapids, MI is a community that has garnered accolades in the clean water industry for taking significant proactive steps to improve its sewer system. In the early 1990s, “River City” took the initiative to invest in transforming its collection system from a combined sewer system to separate storm and sanitary sewers. By moving from a single pipe for both stormwater and wastewater conveyance to separate pipes, the City avoided the introduction of sewage into its waterways, reducing overflows and subsequent pollution into the landmark Grand River that flows to Lake Michigan 40 miles downstream.


After nearly 25 years, Grand Rapids finished retrofitting its combined sewer overflow system to a separate sanitary and stormwater system, completing its long-term control plan (LTCP) in 2015. But now, the City needed to get a better understanding of the infiltration and inflow into these newly separated sanitary sewers to ensure compliance with a mandate from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). This mandate allowed them zero overflow events of any kind, except as part of a wet weather event of a magnitude in excess of a 24-hour, 25-year storm.

For compliance purposes, the City needed analytic data to certify performance and understand how the system behaved during a wide variety of wet and dry weather conditions. While gathering this information, the City was also presented with a hydraulic report stating that areas of the community were experiencing excessive surcharging and flooding. They suspected otherwise, but needed proof to answer regulators, as mitigation to eliminate the surcharging and flooding was estimated to cost much as $1 billion; a capital expense the city could ill afford.

What solutions did Xylem and Grand Rapids come up with to solve this challenge? Find out and explore the results we achieved together by downloading the full case study below.

Project Highlights

Data demonstrated that the infiltration and inflow problem could be solved for $30-50 million as opposed to the original $1 billion estimate

Real-time decision support system brought in to help the Environmental Services Department for the sanitary system separation

City has expanded the sensor network to more parts of the system

Services Provided

• BLU-X real-time decision support system (RT-DSS) deployed to help characterize infiltration and inflow performance on sanitary lines
• All sensor data presented on one unified platform
• Integration into Grand Rapids’s existing IT networks

Utilities can save their communities substantial amounts of money, reduce the need for unaffordable rate increases or financing arrangements, and improve the environmental sustainability of their operations – all while maintaining and enhancing system control.

Around the world, critical valves are in poor repair, or even inoperable. When critical valves fail, managers have effectively lost control of their system, increasing vulnerability to water main breaks or any other system hazard. Once valves have failed, utilities have traditionally sought to replace them, often at great cost, both in terms of time and expense.

But what if there were another way? It turns out there is a far more economical, less risky, and more sustainable option: preventative maintenance, repair, and rehabilitation. High performing utilities are turning away from the wasteful practice of replacing valves that can be restored to full function, instead engaging experts in asset renewal to extend the life of those assets at a substantially lower cost.

This white paper will highlight:

  • identifying the true cost of large valve replacements
  • understanding the cost savings of a repair vs replace strategy
  • the benefits of performing routine critical valve assessments
  • what to look for in a valve assessment partner

With advancements in technology and a willingness to develop proactive pipeline integrity programs, utilities can successfully reduce failures, mitigate risk, reduce capital expenditures, and increase confidence in the overall operation of their force mains.

New standards of best practice for force main management involve a variety of methods and technologies to provide data and information with which to make decisions. Utilities can now often perform a detailed condition assessment while the force main remains in service.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” way of assessing force mains. Any approach should be tailored to risk tolerance, material, diameter and past failure history. Savvy utility managers are turning to programs that reduce damage to assets, prioritize investment to minimize community impact of asset failure, and reduce the consequence of failure by enabling system control.

This white paper will highlight:

  • how to develop a risk-based program
  • the most common modes of failure for force mains
  • how to define which of the three approaches to proactively assessing force mains best fits your goals and risk-tolerance
  • how utilities are finding success using these approaches to: prevent failures, reduce capital expenditures, mitigate risk, optimize budget allocation, and increase confidence and level of service.

Case Study

In order to avoid the cost associated with large valve replacement, the city of Grand Rapids engaged Xylem to assess the true condition of 20 large valves and determine if they could be rehabilitated or repaired instead.

The City of Grand Rapids is the second largest water system in Michigan and delivers clean drinking water to the Grand Rapids area using Lake Michigan as its water source. The Grand Rapids Water System operates about 1,250 miles of pipelines, 31,000 system valves, and over 1,300 large system valves (16 inches and larger). Over the last few years, the operation and maintenance of the large valves had declined due to focus being placed on other critical priorities. Without a consistent exercise routine for critical valves, the utility found that many of these valves were inoperable and, as a result, began to seek funding for valve replacements.


Grand Rapids was aware of a long segment of transmission line that could not be isolated due to inoperable valves. To regain control of the line, the City replaced five large valves at an average cost of $125,000 per valve, each taking an average of one week to replace. This amount of work and cost was a wake-up call that compelled Grand Rapids to find alternate methods of rehabilitating their valve assets.

Xylem’s experience has shown that on average, 60 percent of valves in a water system are operable, meaning that 40 percent are either inoperable, not locatable, or in the wrong position. Statistically, this meant that with 1,300 valves in Grand Rapids’ system, around 500 of them could have some sort of issue. With limited information on which ones required attention and a limited capital budget for asset replacement, the City would need a more focused approach help them make repair or remediation decisions.

What solutions did Xylem and Grand Rapids come up with to solve this challenge? Find out and explore the results we achieved together by downloading the full case study below.

Project Highlights

The City saved more than $800k by assessing and repairing infrastructure rather than replacing – a cost savings of over 90%

8 critical valves restored to full operability for less than the cost of replacing just one valve

60% of the assessed valves were working properly, allowing operational expenditures to be allocated elsewhere

Services Provided

• Valve assessment – assessed 20 large valves in the transmission system
• Valve repair – repaired and restored eight critical valves to full operability
• Valve rehabilitation – rehabilited one inoperable 36″ gate valve


On Thursday May 17, thought-leaders, leading utilities, and other industry experts, came together for Xylem’s Modernizing Water Infrastructure Workshop in Laurel, MD. Like Infrastructure Week, the event served as a platform for innovators to connect, discuss, and inspire water industry professionals to solve the problems associated with managing water infrastructure. If you were unable to attend, here are some of the highlights of the day.

From Manure To Modern

The morning session focused on utilities, and began with a keynote presentation from industry visionary, George Hawkins, who provided an energetic analogy on how the manure crisis of the 1800s compares to our current water crisis. While the common person only saw the problem of horse manure, the engineers of the 1800s saw the potential for change and created the car, which eliminated the problem while increasing productivity and reducing costs. That’s what we, as an industry, need to focus on as we modernize water infrastructure — seeing the potential for greatness and improvement through innovation.

Hawkins went on to discuss how we report efficiency. If everything is measured in a productivity approach, seeking additional funding becomes easier. Money has gone farther than ever before in the water infrastructure industry because of the advancements in technology that allow us to work more efficiently and accurately. People are prepared to invest in something that matters to them, especially when they understand that the current monies are going further, and you can prove it. Listen to part of Hawkins’ presentation:

100 Years of Continuous Improvement

Following Hawkins’ passionate keynote address, we heard from Glen Diaz, Division Manager of Water/Wastewater Systems Assessment at WSSC. As WSSC (Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission) celebrates their 100-year anniversary, Diaz reflected on the advancements in technology through the years.

Even in the past 10 years, things have greatly improved in the water industry. Diaz cited the 66” water main break in Bethesda, MD in 2008 and how current technology can aid in preventing future incidents. Diaz went on to discuss how most PCCP failures are due to broken wires and how noisy pipes are typically problem pipes.

However, now, WSSC workers receive mobile alerts, through the implementation of Pure Technologies AFO system, as soon as wire breaks occur so they can address any cause for concern. This system has already helped WSSC avert 20 failure events to date, a $21 million dollar savings on the conservative side! See Diaz’s presentation here:

With Challenge, Comes Major Opportunity

After hearing from WSSC, we heard from Jody Caldwell, Asset Management Director for Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA), on building an asset management program from the (under) ground up.

Caldwell began with an overview of some of the organizational challenges GLWA is experiencing being a relatively new utility. He talked about the process GLWA went through putting together a 10-year strategic roadmap focused on continuous improvement to overcome the challenges and build a utility for the future. Caldwell went on to discuss GLWA’s pipeline risk management strategy, which uses a quantitative, risk-based analysis to drive decisions. This tiered approach allows them to easily calculate their risk return on investment and ultimately, become a best-in-class pipeline management system. Catch the end of Caldwell’s presentation, as well as the Q&A session.

Extreme Preparation for Extreme Weather

After a brief networking break, there was a roundtable discussion that focused on how leading utilities dealt with the extreme weather conditions this past January. The roundtable featured (from left to right) Joseph Mantua, Deputy General Manager Operations at WSSC; Carlos A. Espinosa, Chief of the Office Of Asset Management at Baltimore City Department of Public Works; and Buddy Morgan, General Manager at Montgomery Water Works (Alabama). Who said the South doesn’t experience cold weather.

The discussion began with the question, “Were there particular pipe materials you found to be problematic during the extreme winter, and if so, what were they?” For the City of Montgomery, AL, cast iron mains had the most problems. Baltimore City was no different, reporting that 98% of the water main breaks were in cast iron pipes, the majority of which were 12” or smaller. WSSC confirmed the cast iron trend, with the majority of breaks occurring in 6 or 8 inch diameter pipes.

In order to prepare for next winter, the utilities agreed for the need to ensure that all their equipment is in working order ahead of time, and have conversations with their crews and contractors to make sure they’re prepared to respond, and recognize the need for additional support services and how to best utilize them. Additionally, the panel agreed that social media played a crucial role in real-time communications with customers, aiding them in being proactive with the media, and helping to communicate status updates. Watch the beginning portion of the roundtable discussion:

The discussion moved on to how to keep employees engaged during extreme weather conditions. Aside from the generous overtime benefits, WSSC brought hot meals to workers, while Alabama Water Works limited hours per week to 65 with 24 hours off before coming back. They also held celebratory cookouts once the weather warmed up.

Be Best-In-Class

After lunch, the afternoon sessions focused on technologies and management best practices. Pure’s very own Mike Higgins, Senior Vice President, Americas, talked about buried infrastructure philosophies utilities can use to manage their most valuable assets. Mike kicked-off his presentation by sharing statistics from the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Following these eye-opening numbers, Higgins shared his insights on success for professionals in the water industry.
Key questions utilities need to answer include:

  • Why do you want to assess your pipeline?
  • What are the goals for your project or program?


Typically, the answers should focus on one or more of the following areas:

1) Averting pipeline failure
2) Reducing pipeline risk
3) Extending the life of an asset
4) Increasing sustainability
5) Optimizing CAPEX/TOTEX (capital/total expenditure)

Higgins then shared his secret recipe for the 10 key ingredients to be a best-in-class utility:
1) Focus on operations excellence
2) Coordinate with all key stakeholders
3) Perform necessary Public Relations
4) Create a clearly defined team across departments and disciplines
5) Always aspire towards total pipeline management
6) Prepare for emergencies, they will occur
7) Be opportunistic
8) Continue to innovate
9) Understand limitations of innovative approaches
10) Keep your boots on the ground (maximize the amount of inspected pipe)
He concluded his presentation talking about the importance of monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) and keeping senior leadership engaged. Watch Higgins’ presentation:

The 4th Industrial Revolution

Richard Loeffler IV, Client Solutions Architect at Emnet, then reminded us that the number one criteria for where cities locate is the access to water. Loeffler also stated that we are in the midst of a 4th industrial revolution—IoT (Internet of Things) is changing the way we live, work, and play, and is transforming the fundamental economic cost structure of water and related civic works.

He used the example of South Bend, IN, to illustrate just how effective IoT and RTDSS (real-time decision support systems) can be. Ultimately, it’s all about environmental stewardship — it’s not just about saving money, but about doing the right thing for the world that we live in. View Loeffler’s presentation:

Smart Water

Following Loeffler’s informative presentation, Bridget Berardinelli, VP Product Management And Continuous Improvement for Xylem, stated how smart meters and applying analytics can help utilities generate real results. Berardinelli began by explaining how Sensus develops advanced technology solutions that enable the intelligent use of critical resources.

She covered Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and explained how to leverage it in order to increase operational efficiencies and improve scalability and flexibility. By delivering machine learning and analytics using a programmatic approach, Sensus is able to inform operational interventions that transform how water utilities operate. View her presentation:

Our Newest Solution

Concluding Berardinelli’s presentation, we heard from Pure Technologies Area Regional Manager, Susan Donnally, on how to manage large diameter water transmission mains. She began her presentation with a discussion on pipeline risk prioritization, stating that using data to drive decisions is a quintessential part of moving towards a proactive asset management approach. She then dove into why pipes fail; noting that age alone is a poor indicator of pipe condition. While there is no singular technology that can identify all of the indicators of pipe deterioration, a holistic, risk-based approach can help.

Donnally then moved on to highlight some of Pure’s latest technology innovations:

  • SmartBall® – in addition to leak and gas pocket detection, the tool now provides mapping, which combines data collected during an inspection with known, aboveground locations and pipeline drawings to create a field-generated GIS map of a pipeline.
  • PipeDiver® – Pure’s free-swimming condition assessment tool is now available with video and can easily correlate the data you’re getting from electromagnetics with actual footage.


Additionally, Donnally had a huge reveal! She introduced Pure’s newest PipeDiver solution, the PipeDiver UltraTM (currently in the beta testing phase with a couple of clients), which features high-resolution wall condition information for metallic pipes, such as cast iron, ductile iron, and steel, and is as easy to deploy as the existing PipeDiver. Watch her presentation:

You’re Not Going to Start with Perfection

Vice President of PureAnalytics, Travis Wagner, gave the final presentation of the day on managing distribution systems.

He truly engaged the audience by asking attendees to raise their hands if:

  • They saw a need or value in a pipeline renewal program
  • They agreed that a 10-20% efficiency in renewal programs is OK
  • They thought customer affordability was an issue
  • They had trouble with retirements and recruiting

Not surprisingly, most hands were raised! From there, Wagner went on to urge everyone to update their approach.

Utilities need to start asking themselves the following questions:

  • What is the current state of my assets?
  • What is my required level of service?
  • Which assets are critical to sustained performance?
  • What are my best O&M and CIP investment strategies?
  • What is my best long-term funding strategy?

Wagner concluded this portion of the presentation with a quote that all utilities should follow: “You’re not going to start with perfection, the goal is to build toward becoming better.”

Next, Wagner moved on to discuss risk management, consequence probability analysis, data collection, and risk mitigation. It was truly an eye-opening presentation:

The day concluded with demonstrations of all the latest technology available to utilities, including a 108” PipeDiver, SoundPrint® AFO system, Sensus meters, Visenti software demos, not to mention some great networking.

Want to learn more about our Modernizing Water Infrastructure Workshop? Check out #H2018Workshop on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.


While metallic force mains have been historically difficult to manage, a risk-based approach increases confidence in the condition of the pipeline.

After the Clean Water Act of the 70s required control of wastewater discharge, an increase in force main construction and management across the country was observed. As these assets are now approaching 50 years in age, reducing the risk of failure has become a major regulatory priority. Nothing grabs headline news like the failure of a force main, which can be extremely damaging to the environment and harmful to a utility’s reputation.

Historically, wastewater force mains have been difficult to manage, especially those made with ferrous materials, where the failure method is slow when compared to concrete pressure pipe.

As well, pressurized sewer mains have special operational challenges that don’t apply to gravity sewer mains as they typically cannot be taken out of service for inspection, and due to the presence of solids in the fluid, force mains represent a far more abrasive environment than potable systems such that assessment methods for water mains may not be applicable.

The presence of gas pockets increases the potential of corrosion in metallic pipes.

Gas pockets are of significant concern in force mains.

The primary failure mechanism of ferrous force mains is due to internal corrosion. Gas pockets are of significant concern in force mains, as concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas within wastewater can be subsequently converted to sulfuric acid by bacteria in the slime layer on the pipe wall. This may cause corrosion and eventual breakdown of the pipe’s wall.

Therefore, a first step in assessing force main condition should be the identification of gas pocket locations within the pipeline.

Pure Technologies has performed an analysis of force mains inspected using acoustic based technologies in order to better characterize the frequency and location of gas pockets. Based on the analysis, it was found that 72% of gas pockets were not at known high points or air release valves, therefore, the most precise way to identify gas pockets within a force main is through the implementation of inline acoustic inspection technologies.

The collection of gas pocket locations alone will not indicate the condition of the pipeline, but instead identifies locations where an increase in corrosion potential is observed. To ascertain the true condition of a pressure pipe, higher resolution electromagnetic technologies are required. These technologies measure pipe wall thickness in ferrous materials and broken wire or bar wraps in concrete pressure pipe.

Once the condition data is collected, advanced analytics can be applied to estimate the pipeline’s remaining useful life.

“Previous analyses involved straight-line assumptions – comparing the pipe wall thickness at installation against what it is today. However this doesn’t give an accurate picture of how pipes degrade…by using statistical modeling we can develop a more predictable degradation rate based off of over 14,000 miles of inspection data Pure has collected over the past 30+ years.”

Jennifer Steffens, Market Sector Leader, Water and Wastewater, Pure Technologies

Desktop studies are not always reliable.

While often the first thought is to replace the aging wastewater assets based on factors such as age and failure history, this option makes neither logical nor financial sense. With so many miles of buried pipelines and such limited capital budgets, utilities don’t have hundreds of millions to spend on replacing pipelines which still have remaining useful life.

At Pure Technologies, we believe there is a better way. A more feasible approach to ensuring the safe operation of force mains is to undertake a risk-based approach to manage their operation. A risk-based approach will provide decision intelligence on which assets require rehabilitation or replacement to extend their useful life. Or which assets can be left alone.

Our approach is to help utilities evaluate the current state of their buried infrastructure and provide them with high confidence condition and operating data.   We then couple this with our years of extensive experience and project history (more than 12,000 kilometers of pressure pipe assessment) to provide utilities with actionable information, which allows them to make informed decisions as to the management of these critical assets.

The value of a risk-based approach to manage force mains.

Utilities that embrace a risk-based approach to manage their force main inventory have found that on average they can safely manage their force mains for roughly 5 to 15 percent of the replacement cost. This pragmatic approach focuses on providing real condition data through assessment, which can be used to selectively renew isolated areas of damaged pipe in lieu of capital replacement.

At Pure, we recommend a risk-based approach to manage wastewater force mains by focusing on four main areas:

  • Preliminary Risk Analysis
  • Internal Corrosion Potential Surveys using Inline Acoustics
  • Pipe Wall Assessment using Advanced Technologies
  • Condition Data Analysis and Advanced Risk Assessment

Some of the common reasons leading to failure on ferrous pipes.

Preliminary Risk Analysis

Preliminary analysis includes collecting the right data to develop a prioritized plan for assessment, including the selection of appropriate technologies. To help make preliminary decisions, Pure collects all available information to understand the history of the pipeline and the likely failure modes.

The data analysis will provide an understanding of the construction and context of the pipeline. Data of interest typically includes pipe characteristics, installation factors, environmental and performance-related data, operational data, and failure data.

Acoutic-based SmartBall® tool locates leaks and gas pockets

Acoustic-based SmartBall® tool locates leaks and gas pockets.

Sahara is an inline tethered tool used to locate leaks and gas pockets in pressurized lines.

Internal Corrosion Potential Survey.

An internal corrosion potential survey uses inline tools to locate gas pockets that can increase the potential for corrosion and eventual breakdown of the pipe wall. Pure Technologies typically deploys its acoustic-based SmartBall® leak and gas detection tool, as well as its tethered Sahara® leak and gas pocket detection platform to locate gas pockets in pressurized lines of all materials.

Pipe Wall Assessment.

While the presence of gas pockets may indicate areas of potential concern, it will not give a quantifiable answer as to the structural life of the pipe.

Pipe wall assessment is completed using a variety of technology solutions to identify defects and deterioration of the pipe wall in a variety of pipe materials. For pipe wall assessment of metallic force mains, common internal electromagnetic technologies include the PipeWalker® and PureRobotics® platforms, as well as the free-swimming 24-detector PipeDiver® assessment tool, developed to identify electromagnetic anomalies indicating pipe wall loss.

PipeDiver® assessment tool identifies electromagnetic anomalies indicating pipe wall loss.

Condition Assessment Analysis.

Condition data analysis and risk assessment evaluates how to safely renew or extend the life of force mains. The risk evaluation considers not only the probability of failure (condition) of the force main based on inspection data, but also the consequence of failure in order to make sound engineering decisions.

Understanding the risk of the pipeline is an important step in selecting and justifying the appropriate condition assessment methods. As the risk of the asset increases, the value of using high-resolution comprehensive assessment techniques increases. Higher resolution data results in more confident decision making, and would justify and prioritize the application of assessment techniques.

Diagnostic analytics helps utilities move risk assessment forward.

In the past, inspections were done, the data analysed, and the results passed on to the utility. Pure Technologies now offers a more holistic program of diagnostic analytics. This includes analysis of what caused the corrosion problem within the pipe wall, what the impact the corrosion has on the life of the pipeline, and a prescriptive analysis of how it needs to be repaired or rehabilitated.

The next step gathering momentum? Predictive analysis to elongate service life.


In North America, the material and size of pipes that make up water and sewer networks range widely. Because these pipeline systems are so complex, it requires a strategic approach based on risk and real data for effective long-term management.

Worker inspecting pipe

Historically, however, it has been challenging to gather real data that can shape defensive capital decisions for an entire system. The assessment of metallic pipelines — which make up most water and pressurized sewer networks — differs from prestressed concrete cylinder pipes (PCCP), both in terms of failure modes and in the fact that metallic pipe materials are featured in both transmission and distribution networks.

While PCCP assessment and management have been successfully used by utilities for years, effective assessment solutions for ferrous pipe have only recently been commercialized.

In 2011, Pure Technologies began an initiative to help close the gap in metallic pipe assessment technologies, and focus attention on gathering honest feedback from proactive utilities on what solutions are needed to effectively manage metallic pipe.

Seven years later, Pure Technologies reports that notable progress has been made with the development and advancement of assessment technologies for metallic pipeline networks.

Team of workers with a metallic pipe

Many proactive utilities involved in guiding Pure’s research efforts

Proactive utilities have been involved in the metallic pipe initiative, and instrumental in the development of new inspection tools for metallic pipe, both by providing feedback that helps guide research and development, and by providing opportunities that allow solution testing in live operating conditions. As a result of these efforts, there has been significant improvements to the technologies available to utilities for assessing the condition of metallic pipelines in both transmission and distribution networks.

For large-diameter transmission mains, there is a well-developed business case for assessing these mains as they approach the end of their useful life. These pipelines typically carry a high replacement cost and are higher risk — due primarily to their size and criticality — making it important for utilities to fully understand the condition of the asset.

Armed with real condition data, utilities can make a defensible renewal or replacement decision about the pipeline. Based on well over 14,000 miles of data, Pure Technologies has found that only a small percentage of pipes are in need of immediate renewal.

Small diameter metallic pipe leak

Case for using inline tools for small diameter pipelines

In distribution networks, however, the case for condition assessment is more challenging as smaller pipelines can sometimes be replaced cost-effectively. Despite this, the process for making a replacement decision should be based, whenever possible, on risk and real data.

With the EPA suggesting that between 70 and 90 percent of pipes being replaced have remaining useful life, the case is even stronger for collecting condition data to drive the decision making to help utilities spend their replacement dollars more efficiently and avoid replacing pipe with remaining useful life.

In some instances with smaller diameter pipes, it is often cost-efficient to use inline tools to gather detailed screening data on a pipe-by-pipe basis to determine if replacement is necessary.

A new approach to metallic pipeline management

While there is no silver bullet technology for assessing metallic pipelines, Pure has developed a flexible, risk-based approach to help utilities better understand their infrastructure, gather actionable data and prioritize both short and long-term management efforts.

Over the past few years, Pure has worked along proactive utilities to develop its data-driven Assess and Address® approach, which focuses on four main areas:

  • Understand
  • Assess
  • Address
  • Manage

Through the implementation of programs across North America, Pure has found that the majority of pipelines 16 inches and above can be cost-effectively managed for between 5 and 15 percent of the replacement cost.

Starting an effective pipeline management program

The first step of any pipeline management program is understanding the system-wide risk along with the benefits and limitations of assessment solutions. This allows for the development of a defensible management strategy that can be implemented to maintain and extend the life of the assets.

Many technologies now exist to provide a snapshot of a pipeline condition at various levels of confidence. It is therefore prudent for utilities to approach technology selection and subsequent analysis based on the risk of each pipeline.

A more thorough risk assessment involves estimating the Consequence of Failure (CoF) and the Likelihood of Failure (Lof) of each pipeline based on internal knowledge, operational history and pipeline characteristics. This initial risk assessment determines which areas of the system require further assessment to acquire real condition data and provides the utility with the necessary information to make an informed technology selection.

By using risk to guide management strategies, owners can ensure they are implementing the right approach, at the right time, with the lowest financial impact. The goal of a management program should always be o focus resources on managing the asset while safely getting the most service life out of the pipeline.

Sinkhole in a street

Reducing the Consequence of Failure

Reducing CoF comes down to improving emergency events through field operations efficiency. Studies have shown that the time to shut down a pipeline had more impact on the consequence of failure than the diameter of the pipeline.

Utilities can reduce CoF — and in turn risk — by gaining a better control on their system, which can be achieved two ways:

  • 1. Adding valves and redundancy in the system
  • 2. Knowing the location, condition and operability of control points

For example, if a pipe fails and utility operations staff are unable to locate valves — or the valves are inoperable when they are located — it will take longer to isolate a pipe failure. This will result in greater damage, more water loss and longer outages and repair times as a result of the failure. Implementing a proactive program for control assets that focus on providing better data for field staff reduces CoF by decreasing emergency response time.

Reducing the Likelihood of Failure through condition assessment

Many factors influence the likelihood that a pipeline will fail. Metallic pipelines, specifically, have a variety of failure modes and require a wide array of technologies to accurately assess their condition. Until recently, technologies for metallic pipe assessment have been unavailable or limited in their viability.

As a result, lower risk metallic mains have historically been prioritized for replacement using age, material and break history, while higher risk mains have sometimes been assessed with test pits along the length of the pipeline. After test pitting, statistical methods are used to extrapolate the condition of the test pit locations along the entire pipe length.

Through the development of metallic assessment solutions, condition data shows that pipe distress is often random and localized, meaning that an area of distress identified during the test pit method may inaccurately identify the entire pipeline as distressed, conversely, identify the entire length of pipeline as in good condition.

The development of reliable inline condition assessment tools provides owners with pipe-by-pipe data that gives a more complete picture of the actual condition of the pipeline. This allows for a more targeted management of small sections of pipe instead of generalizing the condition of an entire pipe length. It also allows for the collection of real data to drive pipeline renewal, which allows for more defensible capital decision making.

Since 2007, utilities all over the world have been using the SmartBall® pipeline inspection platform to save millions of dollars in water loss and to fix leaks before they turn into larger problems.

Developed by Pure Technologies (Pure), the tool is trusted by utilities for two main reasons. One is for condition assessment purposes, and the other is for reducing non-revenue water. From a condition assessment perspective, SmartBall® is a proactive tool that can be used as part of a larger holistic approach to help identify problem areas that require repairs before they turn into bigger issues, and also to help utilities prioritize capital spending.

SmartBall inside a pipe.

Detect and locate acoustic sounds related to leaks and gas pockets

The primary purpose of the SmartBall tool is to detect and locate the acoustic sounds related to leaks and gas pockets.

“Unlike traditional correlators, the SmartBall sensors travel inline along the pipe, inspecting every inch of the water main to detect potential problems such as leaks and gas pockets. Based on thousands of miles of experience, the SmartBall tool has found three to four times more leaks than trunk main correlators, which are traditionally used in smaller diameter pipes, and are less effective for transmission mains and larger diameter pipes.”

Cam White

Business Line Manager, SmartBall

Deployed for long runs in one inspection for water and wastewater pipelines

What makes the SmartBall tool so remarkable is its ability to get into and out of pipelines very easily, and to be deployed for long runs in one inspection for both water and wastewater pipelines. The tool requires only two access points – one for insertion and one for extraction.

For insertion, the foam-shelled SmartBall tool is placed into a claw, compressed, and then lowered into the line through a 4-inch (100mm) or larger tap, all while the line is pressurized. Throughout the survey, Pure’s inspection team constantly monitors the SmartBall’s position as it traverses the pipeline collecting data.

  • An acoustic sensor listens for leaks and gas pockets.
  • An accelerometer and gyroscope measure the SmartBall’s movement, which can later be used for pipeline mapping.
  • A magnetometer measures the magnetic field coming off the pipe wall, data that can be used to find joints and other pipeline features.
SmartBall extraction process

Multiple insertion and extraction options available

There are many alternative options available to get the SmartBall in and out of a pipeline. Having multiple options reduces the money and effort required by utilities to support the inspection.

Once the inspection is complete, the data is extracted from the ball and sent to Pure’s data analysts where they will identify leaks and gas pockets.

As utility owners know, it can be expensive to excavate, and what SmartBall tool does is provide information that’s accurate, so clients can dig up the pipeline and find the leak the first time.

Rideau Canal, Ottawa

For the City of Ottawa, the SmartBall tool is used to locate “leak-where-predicted”

The “leak-where-predicted” scenario recently happened with the City of Ottawa when Pure deployed its SmartBall inspection platform to locate leaks and pockets of trapped gas along a critical transmission main, as part of a long-term condition assessment program for the municipality.

The Baseline Road Water Transmission Main is a high priority 1220mm (48-inch) diameter pipeline comprised of lined cylinder pipe (LCP).

For the City of Ottawa project, five (5) surface-mounted acoustic sensors were placed along the pipeline to track the SmartBall tool during the inspection. The SmartBall device was inserted into the pipeline through a 100mm drain near a hospital. Acoustic and sensor data was collected and recorded as the SmartBall tool traversed the pipeline for more than three kilometers.

From the survey results, Pure detected one (1) acoustic anomaly characteristic of a leak and zero (0) anomalies consistent with pockets of trapped gas.

The “leak-where-predicted” scenario recently happened with the City of Ottawa when Pure deployed its SmartBall inspection platform to locate leaks and pockets of trapped gas along a critical transmission main, as part of a long-term condition assessment program for the municipality.

The Baseline Road Water Transmission Main is a high priority 1220mm (48-inch) diameter pipeline comprised of lined cylinder pipe (LCP).

For the City of Ottawa project, five (5) surface-mounted acoustic sensors were placed along the pipeline to track the SmartBall tool during the inspection. The SmartBall device was inserted into the pipeline through a 100mm drain near a hospital. Acoustic and sensor data was collected and recorded as the SmartBall tool traversed the pipeline for more than three kilometers.

From the survey results, Pure detected one (1) acoustic anomaly characteristic of a leak and zero (0) anomalies consistent with pockets of trapped gas.

SmartBall inside a pipe and working zone map

Ground microphones fail, SmartBall tool succeeds

Although Pure was confident in the SmartBall leak detection data, sometimes it’s worth a try to verify an anomaly with a complimentary technology. In this instance, ground microphones, regarded as a conventional a leak detection tool, were deployed to try and detect leak sounds. Although the suspect area was marked, neither Pure nor the client could pick up leak-related sounds from the ground microphone.

Even though the leak was not picked up by the ground microphone, Pure was confident that the acoustic signature from the SmartBall was caused by a leak, based on more than 15 years of experience identifying leaks. That confidence and experience proved right, and when the suspected area was excavated, the leak was located within a meter of where the data analyst calculated the leak to be.

The results gave the City of Ottawa actionable data regarding the condition of their pipeline, and the City was able to fix the leak reducing non-revenue water loss and any potentially costly damage caused by the leak. It’s a great example of a proactive utility taking efforts to improve the reliability of its services.

Massive pressured water leak

According to AWWA’s 2016 Benchmarking Survey, the average water and wastewater utility has seven breaks per 100 miles of piping every year. Tip-top systems experience just four breaks in that distance, while those at the bottom have 18.

While it’s interesting to note the difference in break rates, it’s unfair to compare one utility to another, as a multitude of factors come into play as to why pipelines can deteriorate to state of failure. Countless sources of stress both inside and outside a pipe related to geographical location, soil-pipe type interactions, age, and construction are among factors that can take their toll on the pipe’s condition.

Worker inspecting pipe

For utilities, the one constant across the spectrum is the acknowledgment that simply replacing pipeline assets is cost prohibitive, and that advanced condition assessment services like those provided by Pure Technologies (Pure) can help utilities confidently make informed decisions that significantly reduce capital and operating costs.

Single-episode blowouts garner all the attention

While single-episode blowouts are quite rare, these tend to garner most media attention, and cause the most obvious blowbacks to the pipeline operator. What the public doesn’t usually notice are the pinhole leaks, hairline cracks, corrosion and leaking gaskets that tend to occur first.

Most catastrophic failures are caused by a sudden unexpected stress such as a water hammer acting on an existing weak point in the pipe. There is a widely held belief that the failure process is a simple one, where a pipe corrodes to the point at which it can no longer withstand the applied internal and external forces, resulting in a main break. However, research has shown that the failure process is more complex than expected.

Corrosion plays a significant role in water main failures, but soil-pipe interactions, manufacturing techniques and human error are also important factors. Failures also take place in multiple stages rather than in a single episode. Early damage not only weakens portions of the pipe, it also allows water to escape, causing corrosion and washing out of the supporting soil.

Broken water pipe on a street

Age alone does not indicate high-risk pipes

Pipes at highest risk are typically constructed using dated materials or methods, running through an area with heavy vehicle traffic. Urban centers typically represent significant loss potential from damage caused by water main breaks as a result of high-density buildings, underground infrastructure, important traffic thoroughfares, and economic loss potential of power, gas, water utilities and legal cases.

The net result is that age alone cannot be relied on as an indicator of a high-risk pipe.

Broken pipe

Types of pipe material and typical cause of failure

Prestressed concrete cylinder pipe (PCCP) has a unique failure mechanism: high strength steel pre-stressing wires that provide strength to the pipe can become distressed and reduce the structural integrity of the pipe. Broken wires can be caused by physical damage to the pipe, corrosion, or hydrogen embrittlement.

Areas of broken wires may be accompanied by leaks, especially in pipelines smaller than 48 inches in diameter, where the internal steel cylinder corrodes at the same rate as the wires or where water escaping through the joint encourages corrosion. Leakage has been proven to be a key indicator of structural condition in lined cylinder pipe, a type of PCCP in which the prestressing wires are placed directly on the steel cylinder. These types of leaks can create voids around the pipe and introduce added stress at an existing weak point.

Cast iron pipes corrode, become brittle and are prone to cracking. Many older North American cities have cast iron pipes that were installed in the 1800s, prior to the existence of pipeline standards, when methods of construction were non-uniform and advanced quality control programs did not exist. Consequently, many pipelines were installed using what are considered poor construction practices by today’s standards.

Ductile iron pipes have failure mechanisms similar to those of cast iron pipes; however they become less brittle and consequently degrade at a slower rate. These pipes may be capable of supporting large leaks for longer periods of time without failing immediately.

Plastic and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes are less prone to corrosion and less brittle than iron pipes. Failures in these pipes are often traced to leaking joints where the escaping water creates voids around the pipeline, causing unplanned stresses on the pipe.

Steel pipes primarily fail due to loss of integrity at welds, and external corrosion causing severe pitting and weakening the pipe wall. Both losses of joint integrity and through-wall corrosion pits lead to leakage long before failure. Older steel pipes in aggressive environments are capable of sustaining massive levels of leakage for decades before failing.

Workers digging with mechanical shovel

Making ongoing condition assessment part of proactive asset management

While pipe material and typical pipe stresses are factors that can contribute to a state of pipe failure, it remains impossible to compare one pipeline to another, and to make generalized statements about remaining service life, especially based on age and depreciation. Instead, it pays to conduct ongoing condition assessment, and then to use that risk-driven asset data collection to reduce the likelihood of replacing pipe that can safely and effectively serve communities for several more years.

With stories of broken mains and aging infrastructure attracting more public attention, pipeline owners face difficult questions about long-term planning for their water and wastewater linear assets. In particular, when and where to focus renewal funding to service these aging networks.

However, as pipeline owners know, precise answers aren’t easy, especially without good data to back up an assumption. Lack of accurate and precise data can lead to an expensive guessing game when trying to identify high risk assets for renewal.

It has been suggested that over 70 percent1 of replaced pipe still has remaining service life. Therefore focusing on collecting the right condition data to make the right decisions at the right time is critical in making the most out of budgets.

Pipeline owners leverage data to make better decisions

We live in an era of big data, and with the help of Pure Technologies, many pipeline owners are beginning to understand how to leverage this data to make better decisions.

Data-based decision making can be used throughout the lifecycle of a pipeline asset to get a clear understanding of the current pipeline condition and its remaining useful life.

Targeted testing results chart

Small amount of sampling data leads to large sampling error and uncertainty

Clear understanding starts with data collection that specifically targets samples along the pipeline. However, not all sampling data is created equal. For example, while a small amount of sampling data gives you some information, it also leads to large sampling error and uncertainty on the true overall condition of your pipeline. This is why so much pipe with remaining service life is replaced, as decisions are made from data with large sampling error and uncertainty.

On the other hand, a large number of samples leads to smaller sampling error, and when you combine less error with more data, higher confidence decisions can be made.

Small amount of sampling data leads to large sampling error and uncertainty

Clear understanding starts with data collection that specifically targets samples along the pipeline. However, not all sampling data is created equal. For example, while a small amount of sampling data gives you some information, it also leads to large sampling error and uncertainty on the true overall condition of your pipeline. This is why so much pipe with remaining service life is replaced, as decisions are made from data with large sampling error and uncertainty.

On the other hand, a large number of samples leads to smaller sampling error, and when you combine less error with more data, higher confidence decisions can be made.

Colored candies and broken pipe

Using coloured candies to understand distribution principle

One way to demonstrate this principle is to examine a bag of colored candies. If you randomly sample a few pieces of candy from the bag, you would be uncertain about the proportion of blues to reds to greens because you don’t know the actual colour distribution.

However, if you were to increase the number of samples, and group this data into color bins, you would begin to have more clarity and understand the distribution of colored candies.

Coloured candies distribution chart

The more samples, the more certainty in the distribution data

In a way, this same principle of sampling applies to collecting pipe condition data. Sample size is important, and the more targeted samples you take, the more certain you are in the distribution of data. This provides owners with more confidence to make good decisions relating to renewal strategies.

That’s where Pure Technologies can help, with innovative technology and expert analysis that delivers precise data. This actionable information helps owners make confident decisions on the management of their pipelines.

Overall, it pays to invest in better data to better understand the true condition of your pipeline. True power lies in balancing the cost of data collection against the cost associated with uncertainty, and the more confident you are in your data, the more certain you are in your decision making, especially when making high-cost pipeline management decisions.

1: Patterson, J. and Phinney, T. (2008). “Assessing aging cast and ductile iron force mains.” Proc., Underground Construction Technology (UCT) Conference, Atlanta, GA, Jan.

Roughly US$14 billion in clean, non-revenue water is lost every year due to leaks and water main failures that could have been prevented.

If the loss of non-revenue water could be cut by half, an estimated US$2.9 billion could be generated and an additional 90 million people could have access to water.

Locating leaks on transmission mains represents the best opportunity for improvement.

Non-revenue water is defined as water that is produced for consumption but is lost before it reaches the customer. These losses are divided into three categories:

  • Physical (or real) losses due to poor operation and maintenance, lack of an active leak control system or the poor quality of underground assets.
  • Commercial (or apparent losses) include customer meter under-registration, data handling error or the theft of water in various forms such as illegal connections.
  • Unbilled authorized consumption includes water used for operational purposes, for fighting fires and water that is provided for free to certain consumer groups.

The best opportunity for improving this situation is by taking the first step in a NRW-reduction strategy and start focusing on leak and theft detection within transmission mains.

That’s where Pure comes in.

With over 2,000 miles of large-diameter pipelines inspected, Pure Technologies has located more than 4,000 leaks for an average of 2.2 leaks per mile using our advanced inline leak detection technologies significantly reducing NRW while saving millions of gallons of water and helping prevent failures for utilities around the world.

After prestressed wire break activity on the Cutzamala Pipeline, The Mexican National Water Commission (CONAGUA) intervened on two pipe sections that were near failure.

The wire breaks were identified by an Acoustic Fiber Optic (AFO) monitoring system that detects wire breaks on pipelines that utilize prestressing wires for structural stability; however, CONAGUA took quick and decisive action to prevent a failure.

After shutting down the pipeline, it took only 24 hours to assemble a crew that included almost 100 people to verify and replace the damaged sections and return the critical pipeline to operation. One of the distressed sections had visible corrosion while the section directly next to it had wire break activity but no visible damage.

The prevention of a major failure was crucial, as the Cutzamala system supplies water to about 5 million people living in Mexico City. The system features two parallel pipelines that stretch about 75 kilometers and are made 99-inch Prestressed Concrete Pipe (PCP) and Prestressed Concrete Cylinder Pipe (PCCP). Both pipe designs utilize high strength steel prestressing wire as the primary strength member. PCP differs from PCCP slightly in that it does not have the steel cylinder core, but instead is made of stronger concrete.

CONAGUA currently has AFO technology installed on about 70 kilometers (43 miles) of the two pipelines combined. The technology monitors the condition of prestressed pipe by recording the amount of wire breaks in each pipe section. The system allows CONAGUA to track pipeline deterioration and identify at-risk pipes before they fail.

Pipe Excavation
Pipe Scanner

Pipeline monitoring was initially adopted for the Cutzamala system due to a number of failures that disrupted service. After realizing that complete replacement was too expensive and unrealistic, CONAGUA decided to install AFO. The results have been positive so far, with the system identifying wire breaks along the monitored sections, allowing for the successful preventative repair of pipe sections.

In July 2012, CONAGUA also completed an electromagnetic (EM) condition assessment of the Cutzamala pipelines using PipeDiver® technology, a free-swimming tool that allows for non-destructive condition assessment of pipelines while they remain in service. The tool travels through the pipeline with the flow of water, collecting electromagnetic (EM) data that is analyzed to understand the baseline condition of the pipe.

The EM assessment provided CONAGUA with a baseline condition for each pipe section, while the monitoring system alerts operators about wire breaks on specific sections as they happen.


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Pipeline Monitoring

Pipeline Monitoring

Providing real-time critical data of a prestressed pipeline allows the asset owner to effectively monitor changes in structural integrity and address necessary improvements.

Pure Technologies is currently installing Acoustic Fiber Optic (AFO) monitoring on the Cutzamala pipeline in Mexico in an ongoing four phase project that started in 2010.

The initial phase of the project began in 2010 with the installation of about 25 kilometers of AFO, as well as a data acquisition and management system (DAQ) in the Pericos Tank. The second phase, which is currently being completed by the Pure Technologies team, will complete the remainder of the middle portion of the line with 47 kilometers of fiber and a DAQ in the St. Isabel Tank.

AFO technology monitors the condition of prestressed pipe by tracking the amount of wire breaks in each pipe section. The system allows a utility to monitor pipeline deterioration and see at-risk pipes before they fail. The four phase project was organized by priority, with the highest-risk areas of the system receiving AFO first.

Because of a number of failures before the AFO system was installed, the utility became more conscious of their pipeline condition, but realized it was unrealistic and too costly to replace the entire line, leading to the decision to adopt AFO. Since the completion of phase one, the results have been very successful; there has been a lot of acoustic activity on the pipelines, which has allowed the utility to detect and identify distressed pipes and prevent failures.

AFO Installation
AFO Up Close

Phases three and four will be completed in 2013 and 2014. Phase three will install about 30 kilometers fiber from the Torre TO-5 to the St. Isabel Tank with a DAQ in each tank. The final phase will install about 48 kilometers of fiber from the Pericos Tank to the Analco Tunnel, with an additional two DAQ’s.

The Cutzamala pipeline runs from the State of Mexico to the border of Mexico City and is one of the most important transmission mains in the country, supplying water to about 5 million people living in Mexico City. There are two parallel pipelines in the Cutzamala system each about 75 kilometers long.


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Pipeline Monitoring

Pipeline Monitoring

Providing real-time critical data of a prestressed pipeline allows the asset owner to effectively moniture changes in structural integrity and address necessary improvements.

Pipeline Inspection Services

Pipeline Inspection Services

Our suite of pipeline services give operators information which enables them to implement cost-effective and proactive risk management systems and timely and targeted rehabilitation or replacement programs.