Illinois Rural Water Circuit Rider Locates Leak in Unmapped Water Main

TUSCOLA, Ill. – When a 120,000 gallon-per-day leak threatened to disrupt service in Tuscola, Illinois, the community turned to experts from the Illinois Rural Water Association to locate the leak.

“They couldn’t keep up with the demand and they were losing water from the tower,” said Chuck Woodworth, an IRWA Circuit Rider. “They would have run out of water in two days.”

A Rural Water Circuit Rider is a roving water expert that provides training and technical assistance to utilities. Woodworth has previously provided leak detection for Tuscola, city of 4,600.

“They were looking for heavy flows in the sewer main because they couldn’t find any water on the surface,” Woodworth said. Usually the pressure from such a large leak pushes water to the surface, unless it has another place to drain.

After searching the town, Woodworth and Dewayne VanCleave, the Tuscola Systems Operations Specialist, located a manhole with water flowing into it.

“There was water pouring in through the seams,” Woodworth said.

Woodworth used a computerized leak logger to pinpoint a possible location. They consulted the system’s pipe maps and tried to narrow down the leak’s location on the nearest water main. Except when the Circuit Rider tried to confirm the location with a ground mic, he couldn’t hear a leak. There was clearly a leak near the manhole, but there was no leak audible on the nearest mapped water main. The only option was to start searching for another source.

“I started using the ground mic to sweep the area,” Woodworth said. “I found and marked a leak sound.”

He and VanCleave consulted the system map, but there was no main listed at that location.

“I used a subsurface material locator to confirm there was a line in the area,” Woodworth said.

The material locator uses UHF radio waves to measure changes in material density.

With the ground mic and material locator indicating the presence of a leaking main, VanCleave decided to excavate the area.

“Within a couple of scoops from the backhoe, water started coming out of the ground,” Woodworth said. “Normally maps are close, but in this case, it was 20 feet off.”

Locating the leak in the unmapped main saved the community thousands of dollars and prevented the water pressure from dropping low enough to require a boil order.