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SFPUC Pilots Innovative New Program to Detect Leaks in Pipes
Posted Date: 9/17/2018 11:30 AM
Technician installs a hydrant sensor

A worker installs one of the SFPUC's new acoustic nodes that detects potential leaks in pipes. 
San Francisco, CA— The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) has embarked on an innovative new pilot project to proactively detect and repair leaks in underground water mains.

“By locating and repairing leaks before they turn into costly breaks, we are making our system safer, more reliable and more cost-efficient for our residents, customer and businesses,” said SFPUC General Manager Harlan L. Kelly Jr. “This pilot project has opened up exciting new possibilities for maintaining our critical infrastructure in a proactive and timely fashion, while also helping us conserve water.”

To date, 159 acoustic nodes have been installed in the Diamond Heights neighborhood, where past water pipe breaks have caused property damage and service interruptions. The 90-day pilot project, which began in August, has already located four underground leaks that would have otherwise gone unnoticed and all four leaks have been confirmed and repaired. Of these leaks, one was a larger leak on a six-inch main, and three were on service lines.

The project uses acoustic “listening” devices attached to fire hydrants that listen for and locate minute water flows during off-hours in the SFPUC’s mains. When a potential leak is detected, crews are alerted and dispatched to the problem area, offering opportunities to repair the pipe prior to the leak rising to the surface, or resulting in a sudden break.

The proactive approach helps the SFPUC avoid costly repair projects, reduces claims and damages, reduces system water losses, and ensures service reliability for local customers. The new technology, which does not interfere with any San Francisco Fire Department operations, also allows the SFPUC to more effectively allocate assignments for its leak detection crews.
The City’s potable water distribution system consists of more than1,200 miles of water mains and approximately 180,000 service line connections to customers. Approximately 150 miles of mains are more than 100 years old and pipe networks naturally leak over time due to age, ground settlement and other factors. In addition to the SFPUC’s main replacement program to replace 12 to 15 miles pipeline per year, this proactive leak detection and repair program helps the SFPUC to rehabilitate the aging system, reducing system water losses and preventing destructive and costly main breaks.

The pilot project is set to conclude in October. The results from this project will determine how the SFPUC may repeat or expand this pro-active leak detection program into other neighborhoods. The State is developing performance standards for water losses that California water suppliers may be required to meet in the future. Implementing a proactive leak detection program will prepare the SFPUC to meet State requirements while reducing overall water losses.

About the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is a department of the City and County of San Francisco. It delivers drinking water to 2.7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area, collects and treats wastewater for the City and County of San Francisco, and generates clean power for municipal buildings, residents, and businesses. Our mission is to provide our customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that values environmental and community interests and sustains the resources entrusted to our care. Learn more at