San Diego Plans to Use Drones to Monitor and Minimize Water Main Breaks and Sewer Spills
Sat, April 10, 2021

San Diego Plans to Use Drones to Monitor and Minimize Water Main Breaks and Sewer Spills

City officials will start flying drones to detect early signs of potential problems / Photo Credit: Dancestrokes (via Shutterstock)


Last year, San Diego drastically reduced the number of water main breaks and sewer spills across the city, helping ratepayers save money and aiding neighborhoods in avoiding significant disruptions, reported David Garrick of The San Diego Union-Tribune, a website that covers news in San Diego, California. City officials cited ramped-up maintenance and replacement efforts on water mains, sewer lines and pipes, specifically those made of cast iron that led to the significant reduction of water main breaks and sewer spills. But San Diego officials said they will soon use drones and other monitoring devices to look for early signs of potential problems.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer explained, “We’ve focused on replacing our old cast iron water mains and sewer lines to improve neighborhood infrastructure and better protect our environment.” In 2019, San Diego had the fewest water main breaks in 15 years, which was a drop of over 35% from 2018 and it was lower than the record 131 breaks in 2010. Last year, the number of sewer spills decreased to nearly 25%, from 50 in 2018 to 28 in 2019. Both figures are lower than the record 365 spills documented in 2000. Shauna Lorance, who took over as the city’s Public Utilities director last August noted, “New pipelines, monitoring tools and the vigilance of our Public Utilities crews are making a huge difference.”

Crews routinely inspect valves, pipelines, pumps, and other portions of the water and sewage systems, Lorance added. “One of the ways to have excellent customer service is to reduce the number of potential breaks and spills that impact people’s lives,” she said.

With regard to the new monitoring systems and drones, Lorance explained that San Diego will join other cities “on the cutting edge” when they start using the UAVs. The monitoring devices will be installed near sewer mains that are at high risk for spills to detect early signs of preventable blockages, root intrusion, sediment, or debris.

The drones will be sent out over environmentally sensitive areas and challenging terrain after rainstorms to identify potential problems for maintenance crews to resolve.