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July 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

Every day Canadian municipalities lose more than 150 million litres of precious water, as their distribution pipes leak and break under the strain of age and extreme weather. This is not only an environmental issue, but also a water quality concern. That is why sustainable infrastructure cluster partners in Regina, Saskatchewan, are engineering solutions for more efficient ways to supply safe water to Canadian homes and communities.

Regina and Ottawa researchers, municipalities and firms are developing new ways to detect and manage leaks by building on existing NRC technology that uses sound waves to pinpoint leaks in underground pipes. A Canadian company has already commercialized NRC's LeakFinderRT technology and is selling it to water main asset managers around the world.

A cluster of researchers at NRC, the City of Regina, the University of Regina, and the private sector are developing technologies designed to catch leaks when they're small, understand and prevent the causes of water distribution failures, and provide water main operators with new software tools to manage these and other municipal infrastructure assets.

"As climate change becomes a reality and prolonged drought periods become more frequent, we are seeing more sewer line and water main breaks in Regina," says Dr. David Hubble, Manager of the NRC Centre for Sustainable Infrastructure Research. "The key is to catch leaks while they're small enough to plan a less expensive, proactive, repair program versus a reactive emergency program."

An NRC researcher and a consulting engineer attach gauges to a water pipe
An NRC researcher and a consulting engineer attach gauges to a water pipe

"NRC's technology cluster initiatives are encouraging research partnerships between federal, provincial and municipal governments, industry, and the higher-education sector... accelerating the commercialization of new technologies... [and] building regional S&T capacity in key sectors and industries across Canada."

Canada's Science & Technology Strategy: Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage
Government of Canada, May 2007

Regina recently experienced a historic high in water main failures – particularly in the old asbestos cement pipes that account for nearly 70 percent of its water main network. In response, NRC and its municipal and private sector partners began studying why the city's soil is moving and pipes are failing. The answers should help municipal managers across the country extend the life of water distribution systems – and save time and money. This research is expected to result in marketable decision support software tools.

Regina's Communities of Tomorrow, a non-profit partnership between NRC, the City of Regina, University of Regina, Saskatchewan Industry and Resources, and Western Economic Diversification, is partially funding the current leak detection and management project. Beyond early detection, researchers also want to safeguard water for communities by preventing leaks entirely.

Their research goals include developing non-destructive test methods and robotic devices to inspect pipes, as well as identifying ways to manage conditions to avoid future problems.

Work with industry partners also covers technology solutions for addressing water quality problems in distribution systems, developing online monitoring tools, and investigating storm water management under adverse conditions – including climate changes. Once new tools have been validated and demonstrated in a real municipal setting such as Regina as the living lab, they will be commercialized and used by consulting firms and municipalities throughout Canada and abroad.

In North America, the estimated replacement costs for municipal infrastructure ranges from $2 billion to $23 billion annually. It's clear that municipalities everywhere need better tools to sustain their vital community lifelines. Most experts agree that the work done by Regina's sustainable infrastructure cluster will have national and international implications, and that there has never been a more critical time for these kinds of R&D partnerships.

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Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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