15 Jun 2017

California's shameful lack of conservation innovation

A few weeks ago, Dr. Rocket (my pseudonym) emailed:
I enjoyed reading your PDF of Living With Water Scarcity. Especially here in California, these are real issues.

Normally, I work in aerospace flow metrology, e.g.
  • Providing 100% of the flow measurement systems used for jet engine testing, notable since engines for entire fleets of aircraft are based on specific fuel consumption advantages as small as 0.1%
  • Providing calibration support for military flow measurement systems, etc.
(Years ago, as a young man, I calibrated the flow systems that performed the Apollo missions' lunar mid-course correction and the balanced flow-thrust systems that landed the Apollo LEMs upright on the moon!)

With this sort of flow metrology background, I frequently get enquiries regarding measurement systems for pipeline leak detection systems based on mass or volume balance. In the course of such analyses, I discovered that there is a really serious problem with water pipeline leaks. It seems that typical municipal water systems have a loss of something around 16% in the USA. But when we looking at natural gas pipeline leak detection systems in New Mexico, the state's Secretary of Energy even commented "You should talk with the Albuquerque Water District. They apparently have a loss of 30%." That's a lot of water in arid regions...

According to the AWWA (American Water Works Association) 2011 water audit of 21 utilities, the range of losses is 645.42 - 3,496.21 gallons/mile of main/day, with an average of 1,821.15 gallons/mile of main/day. NRW losses are 6.8% - 45.5% by volume, with an average of 22.6%.

As I see it, water is taken for granted, and its leakage does not pose direct health or environmental damage. It's also relatively cheap. So traditionally measurement and leakage have been pretty much ignored. This is not going to improve until measurement is improved in the large water mains in the municipal distribution systems. And measurement is not going to improve until there is some way to accurately calibrate large municipal water meters, e.g. in sizes up to 24".

Guess what, there are no large water flow calibration facilities that are capable of performing calibrations with +/-0.1% uncertainty... (I've arbitrarily chosen +/-0.1% so that one could realistically do 0.25% leak detection, i.e. to detect, find and patch small leaks before the pipeline erodes to catastrophic proportions, such as happened on Sunset Blvd., and flooded UCLA.)

And actually, such calibration systems are relatively easy to build. So there's something fishy going on -- or water managers are just to lazy to take steps that would lead to more efficient supply of water. Something has to change is this era of ever diminishing water supplies.
In reply, I wrote:
There are two main "drivers" (or lack thereof) for monitoring/blocking water losses:
  1. The cost of reducing losses is high relative to the value of the water.
  2. Water managers face no penalties for "following industry standards"
You've read my book, so you know that I think managers need to face discipline on these issues.

This article may also be useful: Why loss calculations must include opportunity costs
He replied:
Actually, David, the cost of maintaining water pipeline, finding leaks, and avoiding catastrophic failures (such as UCLA and/or other road closures) is very low if properly planned. If one is to believe the American Water Works Association (AWWA) survey of water audits, between 6.8% and 45.5% percent of the potable water is lost to leakage. Assuming that their average of 22.6% annual loss is representative, then said annual losses would easily cover the costs of the required monitoring systems.
  • Good measurement means equitable/honest distribution of costs
  • Good measurement allows early detection of leakage at low levels
  • Since most pipeline failures begin as pinhole corrosion pits, such small leaks (when detected) are easily repaired via saddle patches -- or pipeline section replacement can be scheduled before catastrophes occur.
  • Repairs under emergency conditions are usually considerably more difficult, less reliable, and much more costly than planned repairs -- and almost always require service shutdowns.
Since I am very concerned about California's water situation, I have already passed on the designs for a primary standard flow calibration facility to LA County Department of Public Works -- for free! -- so that they can take the first necessary steps to improving measurement. Unfortunately there is a high degree of apathy among water managers.
I replied:
  1. You're right.
  2. It's hard to get water bureaucrats (called "water buffaloes" for their indifference to reality) to act.
I'd love to stay in touch.
He replied:
Yes, let's stay in touch. Getting some sort of reaction to our looming water problems is going to require a massive effort to shake water burro-crats awake. It's always better to take a multi-pronged approach.

Certainly you may use my emails as support for your effort. However, I would appreciate it if you somehow insure that my email address is not exposed to those who are simply collecting email addresses for marketing purposes. Maybe something like "A concerned scientist. Name, affiliation, and contact information upon request"...

By the way, I sent an email to the Governor via the state's website, specifically noting his recent (April 16) executive order B-37-16 regarding stopping water leakage. I got a reply from some low level screener to contact the state's business opportunities office -- even though I stated that I was willing to provide guidance on a no-cost basis. I'll forward the email to you.*
Bottom Line: California is full of thoughtful people who are eager to help solve its water problems, but these people are ignored for the same reason that the State finds itself in continual "crisis": bureaucrats prefer inaction or their own biases to working for the public good -- a troublesome topic I've researched and blogged upon many times.

* Here's that email (note the last line)
Thank you for taking the time to write to Governor Brown regarding water flow calibration and leak detection technologies. The Governor always appreciates hearing from people who have innovative ideas to improve California.

The Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) was created by Governor Jerry Brown to serve as California's single point of contact for economic development and job creation efforts. GO-Biz offers a range of services to business owners including: attraction, retention and expansion services, site selection, permit streamlining, clearing of regulatory hurdles, small business assistance, international trade development, assistance with state government, and much more.

For further information visit Go-Biz's website, business.ca.gov. We hope you find this information useful. On behalf of the Governor, we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.


Constituent Affairs
Office of Governor Jerry Brown
The Governor is asking all Californians to do their part in conserving water. Please visit SaveOurWater.Com to see how you can help.

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