Reversing Water Loss in a Rural Municipality

Three chapters on how Oneida's water department went from dealing with water loss, partnering up and solving the challenge, and getting unexpected results.

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Chapter 1:

A Municipality on Alert for Water Leak Detection

In June of 2019, the town of Oneida, Tennessee was experiencing an impossible situation. With increasing state regulations and massive water loss, the water department was taken over by the local government.

Oneida produces 400 million gallons of water a year and saw a 51% water loss, meaning that over 200 million gallons a year were being lost to leaks. The loss cost the city $186,000 annually and caused the water treatment plant to operate on 12- to 14-hour days to keep up with demand.

Oneida was put on notice by the EPA, like many rural municipalities with limited resources and aging infrastructure, Oneida was overwhelmed by increasing expectations and was out of ideas.

“We were in trouble. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know what to buy.”

– Jack Lay, Mayor of Oneida, Tennessee

Topography Challenges in
Oneida, Tennessee

Many municipalities will relate to the complex set of conditions that Oneida must embrace to provide quality water on tap. It's remote, rural, and breathtakingly beautiful all at once. The diverse topography contains a mixture of mountains and valleys with elevations ranging from 800 to 2,000 feet. The same rugged topography that makes Oneida a recreational paradise makes it an obstacle course for water distribution and maintenance.

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Oneida faces a complex set of conditions to provide quality water on tap. The diverse and rugged topography creates an obstacle course for water distribution and maintenance.

The town of Oneida sits along the northern middle border of Tennessee with the closest metropolis 60 miles away in Knoxville. Oneida’s economy is also in transition, the area is a mix of working farms, manufacturing, and low- to mid-income housing with a tax base of 5,000 customers who are concerned with the cost and accessibility of water.

Oneida’s water system includes two water supply reservoirs, one water and wastewater treatment plant, and an aging water distribution system. Routine droughts are also impacting the water supply.

The water department is run by locals from the town of Oneida. From the field technician to the plant manager to the mayor Jack Lay, the Oneida water department reflects the community. It's a mix of generations, some of whom are related - all of them public servants and water customers alike.

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Oneida's Challenges

“To me, the scariest thing about this project was the topography.”

– Christian McGarrigle, Regional Market Sales Manager, Kamstrup U.S.

Leak Detection Diary 1:

Acoustic Leak Detection 
Paying Water Bills

During the initial three-month period after the Kamstrup meters were installed, Oneida uncovered and repaired a single leak that had been running for five months at an estimated cost of $21,000 per year.

Chapter 2:

Partnering Up to Reduce Water Leaks

 

4,600 Meters
12 Collectors

The relationship between Kamstrup and Oneida was established with the arrival of a new General Manager, Stephen Owens to the Oneida water department. As a veteran water steward, Owens came out of retirement to help the town and set the precedence that before the city could overhaul its infrastructure, it needed to fix the leaks.

Owens sought an AMI partner (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) with ALD experience (Acoustic Leak Detection) to help detect leaks for the city. Owens started with Kamstrup, an impressive company he encountered years earlier at a tradeshow.

The city of Oneida became Kamstrup’s first fully ALD system in the U.S.

“The system is performing better than expected. We think it’s even surpassed what Kamstrup expected.” 

– Stephen Owens, General Manager, Oneida Water Department

Turning the Lights On

Oneida installed 4,600 Kamstrup meters and erected 12 collectors in the EPA’s designated five week timeframe. A huge success with no more than four, or .08% meters non-operational upon arrival.

Once the meters were installed, Oneida shifted its focus to activating the ALD system. “It lit up like a Christmas tree,” which was a relief for the water department as it gave them information, and direction and pinpointed exact locations to start fixing leaks.

In the first three months after the Kamstrup meters were installed, Oneida’s non-revenue water was reduced by 23%. The city’s 51% water loss was reduced to 38% loss, and the water treatment plant operation was reduced by three hours per day. With leak detection on its side, Oneida has transitioned to recovery and are steadily upgrading their infrastructure, utilizing a two-man crew to fix an average of five to six leaks per day.

The Results

“We’ve been able to cut back our water treatment plant operations by three hours a day, which means our guys can do other things like fixing leaks.”

– Ronnie Duncan, Plant Manager, Oneida Water Treatment Plant

Leak Detection Diary 2:

Fixing One Leak Saved
Approximately $165,000

One of the advantages of the Kamstrup ALD system is the easy ability to spot abnormalities. One particular leak that was detected in Oneida was on the residential side. A spike in the system indicated a leak with water loss at a rate of 228 gallons per hour. The city notified the homeowner, fixed the problem and identified the source as a busted spigot behind a house. The city estimates this leak detection and solution saved the homeowner approximately $165,000.

Chapter 3:
From Fixing Leaks to Managing Assets

The water department has become adept at using the Kamstrup ALD system. They are doing the hard work of methodically addressing leaks and repairing their infrastructure. The city aims to repair two miles of pipe per year and reduce their water loss to under 15%. With leaks and loss under control, the Oneida water treatment plant continues to improve its operating time.

Oneida is now a showcase for municipal water management in Tennessee. In the spring of 2022, the city was awarded additional grant money for infrastructure improvement due to their proactive efforts and transformation.

As partners in leak detection and water management, Kamstrup and Oneida actively share intelligence and insights. The project has exceeded every expectation. In the words of Oneida’s Stephen Owens, “We think the system performs even better than Kamstrup thought it would.”

“We went from being on probation to being a source of pride for the state of Tennessee.”

– Jack Lay, Mayor of Oneida, Tennessee

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