| Canadian water system tackling water loss systematically
AWWA Articles

Canadian water system tackling water loss systematically

When you’re the home of the world’s largest fishing lure, your water supply is a big deal.

Lacombe water crew repairing linkSo, when the City of Lacombe in Alberta, Canada, decided to get a handle on its water loss situation in 2021, the project became a priority. The first step the city took was to conduct an American Water Works Association-certified water audit to establish a baseline. (Pictured right, Lacombe crew fixing a water leak.)

“It was certainly a big project,” said Jordan Thompson, director of operations and planning for the City of Lacombe. “The audit itself is not complicated, but it required our staff to come together and ask questions about the system that haven’t been asked before. That really allowed us to peel back the layers and challenge longstanding assumptions.”

The city purchases treated water from the City of Red Deer (via the North Red Deer River Water Services Commission transmission system), which is about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) south of Lacombe. After the water goes through Lacombe’s distribution system, the wastewater is pumped to a treatment facility in Red Deer through the same transmission system.

“The losses could be anywhere in the system,” Thompson said. “They could be downstream of the reservoir. They could be related to just data and billing errors. It could be a meter error. These are all the questions that once you start to dive into where these losses come from, the strategies that you have to develop are different. They're not necessarily always field losses, meaning leaks in the pipes.”

One of the places Lacombe identified excessive water use was in a chlorine analyzer in one of the pump houses. The mechanism pulls water from the reservoir and analyzes it, then discards it. The city plans to switch to a more water efficient device.

Consistent efforts add up

The desire to reduce water loss has also been adopted by Lacombe’s operators.

Jordan Thompson“When we have operators inspecting or flushing a sewer main, if they see infiltration into the sewer system that doesn't look right, they'll look into it,” Thompson said. “Maybe they'll run the camera the other way up the system just to see if the infiltration is from a nearby water leak that has yet to surface. That's a priority repair. That's something that they do now because they know it's worth looking into.”

Because of the cold climate, Lacombe’s water pipes are primarily PVC and are about eight feet deep, so many water detection technologies, like acoustic listening devices, are not easily implemented.

So far, Lacombe has shown incremental improvement. After establishing a baseline in 2021, the city conducted water audits in 2022 and will again in 2023. So far, it has reduced its water loss by half a percent.

“We're not done,” Thompson said. “This is about creating a system of incremental improvement year over year rather than looking for the smoking gun. It's much better in our view, to have a repeatable system that shows moderate or even minor improvements year over year than to chase quick results that miss the mark on the spin-off benefits to the utility system as a whole.”

Thompson said the next steps are to assimilate the data collected through the water audit software into the city’s capital plans for the next 20 years of projects, which could include asset management planning and updating the system’s infrastructure.

AWWA is presenting the North American Water Loss Conference & Exposition Dec. 5-7 in Denver, Colorado. The conference will offer approaches to reduce non-revenue water, updates on regulatory developments, and an Exhibit Hall with leading technology and companies to share processes, methods and techniques with peers.

In addition, AWWA offers a certificate program on controlling non-revenue water in water utilities. More information is available on AWWA’s water loss control page.