Challenge: Detecting and Responding to Water-Main Breaks
For years, Ames Public Works managed multiple water-main emergencies by relying on individual team members’ expertise and availability to detect and repair the leaks. But a lack of state-of-the-art technologies made the job much more difficult.
For example, without technologies to support water pressure monitoring, the water distribution staff often had difficulty identifying the right course of action when problems arose. Locating water main breaks was time consuming and imprecise because the process depended on individual crew members to painstakingly test for leaks. In addition, because the leak locations were difficult to pinpoint, water distribution teams were not able to accurately identify the geographic boundaries for public safety advisories, such as boil water notices. This led to potential increases in public health risks (if the public advisories were too narrow) or added inconvenience for the public (if the advisories were too broad).
To proactively mitigate public risks and prepare for future emergencies, teams at the Water and Pollution Control Department and the Public Works Department jointly evaluated their options. They agreed they needed to establish a more comprehensive and reliable water distribution monitoring system that would provide both departments with situational awareness and remote access to water-pressure and pressure transient data.
To reduce cybersecurity risks to both departments, the new system also needed to be separate from the local Water Treatment Plant’s proprietary SCADA system, which is not connected to the internet. To address this concern, the departments required the new system to be available through an online platform and meet robust cybersecurity standards.
Solution: Sensors and Connected Software Improve Accuracy, Visibility
The Ames authorities selected a Trimble solution that integrates the required hardware and software to meet the city’s current and future needs for remote monitoring and decision support. The solution includes the installation of Trimble® Telog Ru-32imA, Telog Ru-32mA, Telog PR-32iA, and Telog HPR 32-iA units along with the necessary sensors and antennas to capture real-time data using IoT technology. These wireless multi-channel recording telemetry units perform underground and above-ground water-system pressure, pressure transients, and water-level monitoring as well as pressure-reducing valve monitoring.
The Trimble Unity Remote Monitoring (RM) GIS-centric cloud and mobile software platform manages the IoT data with a suite of applications and tools that enable data visualizations, analysis, and reporting. In addition, as an online platform, Trimble Unity RM provides a range of robust cybersecurity protections—including Single Sign on user authentication, digital firewalls, virus shields, and more—to meet Ames’ requirements for a secure system.
The City of Ames took delivery of the Trimble hardware in 2022, working with a Trimble services team and the Trimble Telog local partner Electric Pump for part of the installation and relying on the city’s own distribution crews for the rest.
“It was a simple process and the training was straightforward,” said Dustin Albrecht, Environmental Specialist at the Ames Water and Pollution Control Department. “No other improvements to our existing infrastructure were required.”
For comprehensive coverage of the distribution system, sensors were placed on water mains that pass under the Skunk River and Ioway Creek and on various water towers, pump stations, and pressure-reducing valves. Pressure recorders were placed on hydrants throughout the city. Units connected to external power sources transmit data hourly, while battery-powered units send updates once per day or when anomalies are detected, which greatly reduces the need for manual onsite inspections by staff.
Data from the sensors flows into Trimble Unity RM software, and the information is accessible in an easy-to-use dashboard. The Trimble Unity Remote Monitoring ArcGIS Connector combines GIS data managed using Esri ArcGIS® software with performance data collected by Trimble Telog IoT recorders and sensors. The integrated information provides city officials and water department staff with real-time visibility into the condition of the water distribution system so that they can more accurately identify what to do to keep the community safe in an emergency.
“Our Esri dashboards can be tracked by our operators and others in the organization,” said Albrecht. “The IoT data is not just critical in a crisis situation; it also provides value day-to-day by helping us make better-informed decisions about asset management of our water distribution system throughout the city.”
With just a few units left to install, the distribution system monitoring network is nearly complete, and the data is being used daily by both departments. Water Treatment Plant operators continuously monitor pressure trends, and Public Works staff periodically access the data dashboard when they hear of potential impacts on the distribution system.
Results: Real-Time Data Drives Better Decisions
Using the Trimble remote monitoring solution, the City of Ames is now able to respond quickly to drops or increases in water pressure and make data-driven decisions about areas that need boil water advisories.
“Shortly after installation of the new monitoring system began, a water-main break caused pressure to drop below 20 PSI in areas of the distribution system,” said Albrecht. “Using the information provided by the Trimble Telog units that were already installed and operational, we were able to better define the area that needed to have a boil water advisory and limit that area to three specific businesses,” sparing the rest of the community from having to comply with the advisory. “Without the information provided by this project,” he added, “we would have had to expand that advisory to a much larger portion of the distribution system.”
Looking Ahead: More Sensors, More Peace of Mind
The City of Ames has identified several more locations that need monitors in the near future, and discussions have begun on how the distribution system monitoring network can be expanded and improved in the years to come. Planning ahead, the city has already earmarked funds for new sensors in the wastewater collection system.
“We have a commitment to our customers to be proactive and explore new technology that helps us operate the system to the best of our abilities,” said Albrecht. “We’d like to increase our number of sensors by 50% over the next four to five years to fill the remaining blind spots in our monitoring capability.”
For City of Ames leaders and the teams at the Public Works and Water and Pollution Control Departments, remote monitoring technology provides data visibility that brings peace of mind: Those responsible for maintaining critical infrastructure for local safety, sustainability, and public health now have the up-to-date data they need to make informed decisions day in and day out as well as in emergencies