Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Leak Detection and Wireless Telemetry for Water Distribution and Sewerage Systems

EPA Contract Number: EPD09017
Title: Leak Detection and Wireless Telemetry for Water Distribution and Sewerage Systems
Investigators: Chang, Daniel P.Y.
Small Business: DC Instruments
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: February 1, 2009 through July 31, 2009
Project Amount: $69,987
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2009) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


According to the study EPA 2000 Community Water System Survey Data on Pipe Assets, the infrastructure for water distribution and sewerage systems is aging and requires replacement.  In addition, in EPA’s September 2002 report Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis, the funding gap for replacing aging pipes was estimated to be $27 billion a year for the next 20 years.

A strategy to bridge this funding gap is to implement a preventative monitoring and maintenance program for the water infrastructure.  Kirmeyer’s 1994 publication, An Assessment of Water Distribution Systems and Associated Research Needs, indicated that the most critical criterion for pipe replacement was the “number of leaks or breaks.”  Consequently, prompt and accurate water leak detection will provide a solution to the aforementioned problems.

The object of this proposed innovation is to use audible dataloggers and wireless telemetry to record and transmit sound data to a surface and underground wireless network and then relay the consolidated information to the Internet.  Once the acoustic data is available over the Internet, leaks can be located by using leak-pinpointing software, and preventative maintenance can follow.

This proposed innovation is made practical due to the recent advent of low-power and low-cost ZIGBEE wireless protocol, and environmentally friendly extended-life batteries (10+ years).  Multiple units can be installed permanently within the water infrastructure for ongoing leak monitoring.

The main effort and innovation, however, is in developing the underground wireless communication network.  Standard transmission frequencies in surface networks do not function as well in the subterranean environment where there is more interference form thick layers of soil.  It is necessary to conduct research using low frequencies in order to propagate through different types and thicknesses of soil, and determine the RF ranges at which a leak detector network would function.

In Phase I, the network will be established between two sensors.  After completing Phase I, the innovation of Phase II will be to establish the network among multiple sensors.

The success of the Phase I/II proposals will have many economic benefits, such as elimination of unnecessary human labor and high-cost transportation in water leak surveys (up to $1.3 billion), as well as many environmental benefits, such as reduction in the wasteful consumption of water (up to 17%) and electricity (up to 0.66 trillion kWh a year).

The potential commercial applications are water leak detection, gas leak detection, structure failure detection, and geological surveys.  The estimated market size is $1 billion.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, EPA, water distribution system, sewer system, water infrastructure, water leak detection, underground wireless communication network, leak detector, sensor, reduce water consumption, reduce electricity consumption, gas leak detection, structure failure detection, geological survey, measurement and monitoring,

Progress and Final Reports:
Final Report