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Mountain Water uses new techniques to find leaks

Mountain Water Co. is using innovative techniques to locate leaks in Missoula’s water system, said the company’s chief engineer.

According to Chief Engineer Logan McInnis, Mountain Water’s use of temporary district metered areas, or DMA, helps pinpoint leaking water mains.

To use a DMA, McInnis said, you must divert all the water in an area through a single main, and then measure the subsequent water flow with a meter that has been temporarily installed. When you compare this with area usage, he said, you can tell if the main is leaking.

Next acoustic sensors are hooked up to each end of the water main, McInnis said. Their signals are fed into a computer, where the exact locations of leaks can be triangulated.

Mountain Water recently used these techniques in the University area, which resulted in the repair of a 300 gallon-per-minute leak on Wednesday.

But the decision to patch a pipe or replace a water main is not as cut and dry as locating leaks.

“There is no loss of water,” McInnis said. “It goes back into the Missoula aquifer. But there is a loss of energy.” They have to balance the financial cost and environmental impact of a leak repair or main replacement against the energy wasted in pumping the excess water, he said.

Once they determine a water main needs to be replaced, McInnis said, they bid the work out to local contractors. The process, he said, is not too complicated.

“It’s not rocket science,” McInnis said. “You dig a hole and put a pipe in there.” Still, he said, the work does require a specialized contractor.

Missoula’s water system has plenty of leaks, McInnis said, but that is not unusual.

“It is like any other water district system in the country,” he said.

But despite this, Mountain Water has made great strides in the fight against leaky water mains.

“Since 2007, we’ve had a steady decline of leakage by 18 percent using these new systems,” McInnis said.

Stephen Youmans is a journalism student at the University of Montana and an intern in the Missoulian newsroom.

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