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New sensors will help Naperville detect water leaks in real-time, helping reduce the $4M in water lost annually

Naperville’s water utility will soon be equipped with new technology poised to save the city resources and, in turn, customers money.

The Naperville City Council has OK’d the procurement of hundreds of sensors that, once installed, will help the water utility detect system leaks faster and with more accuracy than current infrastructure allows, staff say.

The city plans to start piloting the technology this summer.

According to Darrell Blenniss, director of Naperville’s water utility, the sensors will “save the city in the long run.”

In 2023, 114 distribution leaks were reported to the city with an estimated loss of 804,362 gallons of water valued at more than $4.1 million. Blenniss said this is consistent with system leaks seen over the past five to six years.

Currently, the city contracts water leak detection services out to a private company. Twice a year, a contractor conducts a sweep of the city for leaks, sequentially moving equipment from location to location in search of problem spots.

Blenniss said the program has been “very effective” in terms of finding leaks.

But there’s a drawback. By operating on a rotational basis, the contractor runs the risk of missing leaks that arise shortly after the inspection is done, delaying city staff’s ability to fix them until they’re detected on the next sweep, Blenniss said.

New technology aims to fill those gaps by detecting leaks in real-time, all the time.

Sensors procured this month will constantly survey for leaks, Blenniss said. The devices rely on acoustic monitoring, using sound waves to detect flow. Conditions are then reported back to a database that water utility staff can analyze for leaks.

While the city plans to continue with its contract program, Blenniss said the sensors will help staff to be more responsive and efficient.

“I think the goal is to identify leaks earlier, which allows us to lose less water,” he said. But the benefits aren’t just on the backend of water service. By clamping down on leaks before they get too big, the city can curb the amount it spends on purchased water and limit service interruptions — both a boon to customers, Blenniss said.

The city will be receiving sensors from vendor Core & Main for deployment later this summer, he said.

Per the terms approved by the council earlier this month, 800 leak detection devices will be purchased. Alongside sensors, the council also approved the procurement of 11,900 water meters to replace outdated infrastructure over the next two years.

Since 2016, the city has been systematically working to trade out all meters in use that are 16 years or older. This latest purchase, also from Core & Main, is the last set of new meters the city needs to complete the replacement effort.

In all, the meters and leak detection devices will cost $3.5 million.

Both, Blenniss said, are integral to ensuring Naperville’s water utility continues to perform at a high level.

tkenny@chicagotribune.com