By Cassie McClure and Suzanne Michaels
Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 1/12/20
You might have seen them on your street, two Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) leak detection technicians wearing large headphones, likely close together and moving slowly while examining handheld readers. It’s the LCU water leak detection crew, Elexis Davalos and Luis Gonzalez, listening for water leaks throughout the LCU water system.
“This is a hand-held ground microphone,” explains Davalos, “and when listening in, you can hear a very faint hiss. We’ve had to train our ears in the last few months to listen for leaks.”
It’s only possible to listen for tiny leaks since nearly 29,000 LCU water meters have been upgraded or retrofitted with Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) across the city. And now, the full capabilities of the system are starting to be realized.
A tiny leak doesn’t sound like much…but consider this: A slow leak of 1-gallon a minute might remain undetected as water slowly seeps into dry ground. If the water doesn’t create a wet spot on the ground surface, how would you know? This type of leak could lose almost 10,000 gallons of clean drinking water in just one week. Over a year, that could cost a customer nearly $1,700.
And, water leaks are not just on the “customer side” of a water meter. Over time, shifting ground, new construction, and even the vibration of ongoing heavy traffic can cause
leaks throughout the entire water system. That’s why LCU has brought in the water leak detection crew, to locate leaks and then have them repaired. To save water.
Since June 2019, 250 leaks have been discovered on the “utility side” of the meter – which is owned and maintained by the City of Las Cruces; 120 of those leaks have been repaired and the others are scheduled for repair.
Customers: If your water meter is registering water flow, even though all water-using appliances are turned off, call Customer Central at (575) 541-2111. LCU works with customers – over the phone and in person – concerned that their water bill is higher since the new sensitive AMI meters were installed.
If a leak is confirmed on the customer side of the meter, the customer contacts their own plumber to make the repair. With documentation that the repair has been completed, LCU will review the account for a possible water leak payment adjustment.
“We’re seeing some real benefits from this system,” said Adrienne L. Widmer, P.E., LCU deputy director water. “We can reduce the risk of a major leak event by locating the leaks at earlier stages and limiting damage to surrounding service lines. Plus, we are collecting data for common failures and learning to adapt the entire system to limit future leak events.”
You can reach Las Cruces Utilities at 528-3500 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Las Cruces Utilities provides GAS – WATER – WASTEWATER – SOLID WASTE services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: LCU Leak Detection Technicians, Elexis Davalos and Luis Gonzalez, listen for the sound of water possibly leaking out of water pipes under the street. Using ground microphones, they can identify leaks before they grow, cause damage, and waste water.