Water conservation tools developed in Haifa research labs will soon be arriving at Northern California’s wine country, in order to reduce water loss for the more than 600,000 people who live in the Valley of the Moon Water District.

Building upon a cooperation agreement signed in June 2010 between IBM and the Sonoma County Water Agency, the technological giant has installed analytic devices and sensors that reduce water loss by making pressure adjustments based on usage, weather and environmental conditions, the company announced on Wednesday morning.

The system itself was developed by scientists at IBM Research in Haifa. In addition to reducing water loss, a better pressure management system can also save energy and decrease wear on existing infrastructure, the researchers said.

“We are proud to partner with IBM and SCWA on this First of a Kind Program to field test a non-invasive analytical tool to better manage water pressure and potentially locate leaks, said Krishna Kumar, general-manager of Valley of the Moon Water District, which purchases water wholesale from the Sonoma County Water Agency.

The system, now in its pilot stage, has been running since October and will operate for another three to six months before presumably proceeding to a commercial stage – although the parties have not yet signed a commitment for this step, Pnina Vortman, research relationship manager for IBM’s smarter water solutions, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“We saw a reduction in the number of pressure spikes,” she said of the system’s progress thus far. “It really reduced the numbers.”

In any water system, system operators must strive to maintain a balance of all the different parameters involved. Pressure levels in all valves are one of these key parameters Vortman explained.

On a normal basis, managing the pressure of a water system presents many challenges, and the Valley of the Moon staff have always had to adjust the pressure of each valve manually – which proves inefficient and time-consuming, according to IBM. Meanwhile, because water systems are made up of pipes, valves, pumps, tanks and other equipment, they can be challenging to pinpoint which valve exactly to adjust where, as well as the ramifications of such a decision.

For example, if a worker reduces the pressure to one pipe to prevent leaks, this could also mean a loss of pressure in consumer taps, the company explained.

Likewise, if the worker increases the pressure in one water tank to ensure that it is filled, other tanks may not empty as quickly. The new technology, however, aims to give water suppliers quick and detailed access as to which valves in particular need adjustments.

“With this system, the computer has the ability to really put multiple parameters, [set] most of the values and run the hydrologic simulator thousands of times, every time changing something else,” Vortman said, noting that this type of simulation is something that no individual person could ever do.

While this is the first pilot system of its type for IBM, the company is currently in the process of setting up two other pilot programs elsewhere, and this type of technology could be beneficial essentially anywhere – including in Israel, according to Vortman.

“It is required anywhere,” she said.

“We are lucky that we have a good water system in Israel, but certainly it could be beneficial in Israel. I must say that in Israel one of the advantages is that the leakage and water loss, at least based on what Mekorot and the Water Authority say [about 11 percent], is relatively low.”

In the United States, by comparison, the average leakage percentage is about 20-25%, while in certain very old cities like Philadelphia, the percentage can be as high as 40-50%, she added.

There are currently 880,000 miles worth of water pipes in the United States, many of which have been in service for decades and have significant water loss, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, in February of 2010, the governor of California set a statewide goal of reducing water consumption by 20 percent by 2020.

Preventing pipe leaks is not only about reducing water loss, but is also about reducing pipe bursts that cause hours of labor and traffic as a result, Vortman argued. Thus far, most technologies dealing with leaky pipes serve to detect leaks after they occur, while this technology is aiming to be more preemptive, she said.

The results in the Valley of the Moon have proven successful so far, and the region has been able to fill their water tanks to higher levels by monitoring pressure more closely.

“They are able to change things kind of virtually in the system and see what happens before they do it for real,” Vortman said. “It’s really a type of game where you can learn a lot about the system you manage without going into the pits.”

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