Reducing potable water waste is one of the biggest challenges water utilities and municipalities face. Every day, they lose huge amounts of water through leaks in their aging pipe networks – resulting in lost revenue, wasted water resources and higher operational costs.
Utilities have long struggled to find a solution. But that’s changing thanks to high-tech water monitoring devices like hydrant.AI, which was developed by a technology company with strong CIMA+ connections.
Innovation comes calling
In 2009, electrical engineer and CIMA+ partner Tim Sutherns was CEO at Eramosa Engineering, the firm he co-founded just over a decade earlier.
One of Eramosa’s utility clients came to Tim with an idea for an innovative water monitoring device and wanted help developing and testing the technology.
“They came up with a 24/7 way of monitoring the water distribution system,” he explains. “The idea was to actually monitor the network through existing fire hydrant infrastructure.”
Tim and his team realized the idea could revolutionize water distribution network monitoring, so they jumped at the chance to be part of its development. Now, they are all part of CIMA+.
A smarter way to monitor water
The idea was to create smart hydrants by installing a water monitoring device directly into the water column through a standard fire hydrant. This meant monitoring wouldn’t interfere with the functioning of the hydrants, and it could continue around the clock without interruptions.
“It was pretty novel at the time,” recalls Tim, adding no one had previously considered placing sensors below the hydrant’s lower valve. This meant the hydrants could remain in service all year round and data could be collected directly from the water column."
Tim and his team spent nine years putting the new technology to the test – patenting the device, refining its capabilities and eventually turning the promising idea into a tangible product – hydrant.AI.
“Once we figured out the technology in 2018, we actually commercialized it and formed Digital Water Solutions.”
Integrated solution offers enhanced visibility
Digital Water Solutions is a water tech company based in Ontario, and its hydrant.AI technology is an integrated monitoring device and data platform powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
The device itself is a collection of instruments enclosed in stainless-steel attached below the lower valve of a fire hydrant located underground. Sensors use sound signal processing to listen for anything out of the ordinary happening in the system.
The sensors send data to a communications and processing enclosure, which acts as an edge device. It’s located on the outside of the hydrant and is linked to an Internet of Things (IoT) platform. The platform does all of the data management, processing and visualization.
A custom user interface makes it easy for operators to see what’s happening in the network, and alerts and alarms tell them when a problem is detected.
Enhanced leak detection saves money
Tim says research indicates that most water utilities lose between 14% and 18% of their treated and pumped water. This is known as non-revenue water – water the utility has paid money to treat, pump and distribute. But before it can be sold to customers, it disappears into the ground.
“A lot of times, they have no idea where the leaks are in their system,” he explains. These non-surfacing leaks can run for months or even years underground without anyone knowing about them.
Tim says hydrant.AI has unique leak detection capabilities that allow clients to identify and fix leaks.
“It can even detect leaks in plastic or PVC pipe, which other technologies don’t do.” He says the technology is also highly sensitive, so it can detect leaks in a wide area. As well, it uses AI to pinpoint where those leaks are located without requiring GIS information or other data input from the client. “It truly is a plug-and-play solution.”
Real-time data provides valuable insight
Since many water utilities have no way to continuously monitor their distribution systems, they sometimes find out too late that something has gone wrong. The result can be significant, such as a large water main break that can cause serious damage to roads and property.
Using hydrant.AI, operators can be confident they know exactly what’s happening inside the system all the time. Along with detecting leaks, the device’s sensors also monitor water temperature and pressure as water flows through the network, sending real-time data to the platform.
Using AI and machine learning, the application constantly scans the data to identify anomalies and sends alerts if it detects any transient events – sudden increases or decreases in water pressure – that could trigger a water main break.
“This is a full-time detection program. You’re basically watching your network all the time – 24/7,” explains Tim.
That insight is something utilities don’t have right now, so he sees a huge market for the hydrant.AI technology. He says clients are already seeing good results.
“We have several clients that have purchased multiple times and continue to grow the number of devices within their water distribution network because they’re realizing the worth of having full-time monitoring.”
Many roads lead to innovation
At CIMA+, when we talk about innovation, we usually focus on technologies and processes developed in-house by our teams. But innovation comes in many ways, and the hydrant.AI technology took a different path to get to us.
In May 2023, Eramosa Engineering became part of the CIMA+ family when our firm acquired Eramosa, along with its stake in Digital Water Solutions. Now, we can offer the hydrant.AI technology to our water utility clients to help them monitor their networks.
“For CIMA+, it’s another opportunity to be seen as a leader, taking new innovation that works to water utilities, to mining companies, to anybody who is actually concerned about the water systems that they run and operate,” explains Tim.
Pushing new ideas forward at CIMA+
Tim says the CIMA+ growth strategy shows the firm is interested in bringing in innovation from external sources. As examples, he points to the acquisition of Eramosa and C3 Water, an engineering consulting firm specializing in water that was another early partner in the development of the hydrant.AI technology.
“CIMA+ is actually adding to its innovation capabilities by bringing these firms in,” he says.
In his role as advisor on digital solutions, Tim is looking forward to helping our firm continue to build a culture that nurtures innovative thinking and is open to new ideas, whether they come from inside or outside the organization. “I’m really excited. It’s one of the reasons that I joined CIMA+.”