Water District Takes Plunge into Pressure Analytics

The Sonoma County Water Agency in California and IBM work together to analyze water pressure data.

by / March 7, 2012
Photo: Paul Gradolph, Valley of the Moon Water District operations and maintenance supervisor, downloads readings from pressure data loggers. IBM

Too little water pressure from the shower or a burst water pipe can be a hassle. Sonoma County, Calif., is counting on analytics to prevent those inconveniences.

The Valley of the Moon Water District in Sonoma County began the early stages of deploying water pressure analytics technology last November through a partnership with IBM and the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) developed more than a year ago. The water district — a government entity — purchases water from the water agency and is the water supplier to 23,000 customers in the Sonoma Valley.

Krishna Kumar, the water district’s general manager, said the analytics technology was deployed to better manage pressure in the water distribution system.  California requires that minimum water pressure for customers must be 20 pounds per square inch (psi). In the area the district serves, water pressure ranges from 20 to 70 psi.

Factors such as elevation and time of year will affect water pressure. If a customer lives on a hill, more pressure is needed to pump water to that customer’s home. For summer months, customers use less water pressure than they do during the winter, Kumar said.

“So from a customer perspective, you need to have an ideal pressure,’” he said. “… If you have high pressure within the system, there is a tendency to have leaks and bursts a little more than usual.”

The district is trying to prevent leaks and bursts by using the analytics technology, Kumar said. Leaks and pipe breaks can be costly. IBM cited a World Bank estimate that worldwide costs from leaks total $14 billion annually.

The Valley of the Moon has 10 entry points where it receives water from the water agency. Each entry point has a different water pressure. The pressures are being adjusted with pressure-reducing valves at each of the 10 entry points. IBM’s analytics recommend the valve settings.

IBM Smarter Water Program Director Michael Sullivan said in a statement that the company’s technology will help the SWCA and the Valley of the Moon Water District more efficiently analyze data and predict problems. The ability to track water at such a granular level helps SCWA and Valley of the Moon make informed decisions about how to manage — and conserve — water along its entire life cycle,” Sullivan said.

Since beginning the project in November, Kumar said water leaks in the water district have decreased by 30 percent. Kumar said it’s still too early to determine conclusively if IBM’s system is responsible for helping reduce the number of leaks.

In the past, the water district typically would monitor water pressure by using expensive hardware and sensors placed throughout the system. Workers would manually adjust the valves manually as needed. Now IBM monitors and tracks the water pressure, and uses optimization techniques to determine the correct valve settings. Eventually the water district will take over the monitoring.

The Sonoma County Water Agency contributed $100,000 for the project. The Valley of the Moon Water District didn’t pay up-front costs to deploy the technology.  The new system could help the water district could save $100,000 annually, Kumar said.

Paul Gradolph, the Water District’s operations and maintenance supervisor, said even though the water system is intricate, the deployment hasn’t encountered major hurdles.  But because demand for water changes depending on the time of year, the district will monitor the change carefully.

“Our biggest challenge really is the transition from winter months to summer months,” Gradolph said.


Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.