Cheryl Porter, chief operating officer of water operations at the Great Lakes Water Authority, speaks at an Oct. 17 press conference at Pioneer Park.

Cheryl Porter, chief operating officer of water operations at the Great Lakes Water Authority, speaks at an Oct. 17 press conference at Pioneer Park.

Photo by Deb Jacques


New tech to prevent massive water main breaks like last year’s

By: Sherri Kolade | C&G Newspapers | Published October 19, 2018

 Susan Donnally, director of Pure Technologies, holds up and talks about a Pure Technologies device during the press conference.

Susan Donnally, director of Pure Technologies, holds up and talks about a Pure Technologies device during the press conference.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Jeff McKeen, Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority and Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority general manager, center, and Bob Jackovich, SOCRRA/SOCWA operations manager, right, listen to Marco Gomez, of Pure Technologies, left, during the press conference.

Jeff McKeen, Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority and Southeastern Oakland County Water Authority general manager, center, and Bob Jackovich, SOCRRA/SOCWA operations manager, right, listen to Marco Gomez, of Pure Technologies, left, during the press conference.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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FARMINGTON HILLS/WEST BLOOMFIELD — When a water main near 14 Mile Road, between Farmington and Drake roads, in West Bloomfield broke on Oct. 23, 2017, it left 11 neighboring communities without water security for days.

Since then, the Great Lakes Water Authority has taken action to fix the problem — and prevent the roughly $5 million situation from happening again, GLWA officials said.

More than 300,000 customers in West Bloomfield, Farmington Hills, Orchard Lake, Novi, Commerce Township, Walled Lake, Rochester Hills, Keego Harbor and Wixom are serviced by the line.

Water pressure was reduced significantly to those customers, resulting in a boil water alert that lasted as long as seven days for some communities while the GLWA worked to repair the 48-inch concrete cylinder pipe.

Earlier this year, the GLWA finished an in-depth investigation on what led to the break: corrosion of the pipe from the intrusion of water, oxygen and chlorides into the pipe’s cement.

The pipe was installed in the 1960s, according to the report, and standards during that time allowed for thinner, high-strength wire to be embedded into the concrete of the pipe. However, the wire was prone to failure, and the report states that similar pipes show a high rate of failure.

At an Oct. 17 press conference at Pioneer Park in Farmington Hills, not too far from the site of the water main break a year ago, authorities and officials explained new technologies that are coming down the pike.

“This is a fitting location to hold our event,” GLWA Chief Executive Officer Sue McCormick said. “(We are) standing only a mile from where on Oct. 23 a year ago, GLWA experienced its largest main break.”

The GLWA launched a program to evaluate the condition of water transmission mains using technology that will hone in on an 8-mile stretch of pipe that was impacted during the water main break, according to a press release.

The GLWA, in partnership with Pure Technologies, announced the launch of a program designed to use two technologies for assessment: the SmartBall and the PipeDiver.

The launch of the pilot program will initially examine 8 miles of water transmission pipe along 14 Mile Road in Oakland County, the release states.

“The sustainability of the regional system is one of GLWA’s top priorities,” McCormick said in the release. “Our commitment to the use of best practices and innovative technologies is central to our ability to ensure that our system functions at its optimal level — now and into the future. The use of this groundbreaking technology will allow us to do just that.”

The SmartBall technology, which will be used first, uses acoustics to detect leaks and gas pockets. The foam ball SmartBall was on display during the press conference.

The deteriorated and rusted pipe from last October was also on display, along with a new pipe — an example of what replaced the old pipe.

The PipeDiver technology examines the pipes to detect structural weaknesses. Both pieces of technology will be in operation while the pipes remain pressurized and in operation, the release states.

The data collected from tests using the new technology will allow the GLWA to predict where an area of main pipe might be weak so officials can intercede before a break occurs. The early detection of leaks and structural problems should result in a cost savings through cost-effective repairs and avoidance of emergency situations, described as a benefit to GLWA communities.

“Since being launched in 2016, GLWA has been working to assess the condition of its assets throughout the regional system,” Cheryl Porter, the authority’s chief operating officer of water and field services, said in the press release. “Earlier this year, and in just 24 months, we completed the assessment of more than 190 miles of the sewer collection system, a task that was expected to take seven years. The partnership and technology we’ve announced today supports our mission to continually innovate solutions that will minimize disruptions and assist us in taking another step forward in our shift to a predictive maintenance and asset management strategy.”

Mike Higgins, the senior vice president of Pure Technologies, said during the event that the technology developed by his company is being used by several other utilities throughout the country.

The GLWA is the first utility in Michigan to use the PipeDiver technology.

Weather permitting, the GLWA expects to begin the pilot assessment program before the end of the year.

“These two technologies have helped other utilities nearly eliminate large-diameter main breaks like the one that happened here last year along 14 Mile Road,” Higgins said.

“Improving the integrity of these pipelines allows water suppliers like GLWA to maintain reliability in providing water to all of its member partners.”

Karen Mondora, Farmington Hills’ director of public services, said during the event that the GLWA took the initiative to move forward and use a predictive and more sustainable approach to water management. She said the water main break illustrated the “vulnerability” of the water main.

McCormick said an advantage of the technology is that it allows for continued service.

“The unique advantage of this technology is it can be used while pipes remain pressurized and in service,” she said during the event. “We are confident this pilot transition main that we are undertaking will provide insight … (and) will benefit our entire region.”

For more information, go to www.glwater.org.

Staff Writers Tiffany Esshaki and Maddie Forshee contributed to this report.

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