Vallejo Pipes - Mayor's Challenge

Fixing Leaks Before They Flood Our Streets

Mayor's Challenge

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On February 21, 2018, the City of Vallejo was selected as one of 35 Champion City Finalists for the Bloomberg Mayor’s Challenge.  The City proposed a pilot project that could help reduce water waste, improve infrastructure planning and preventative maintenance, lower City energy costs, and ultimately reduce the City’s carbon footprint. The project will utilize crowdsourced information from residents and businesses to compile data into heat maps and cross-reference with information collected by ground-penetrating radar, acoustic sensors, and artificial intelligence/machine learning to develop a detailed map of subsurface water pipes, conduit and infrastructure without excavating or disturbing the ground.

In March 2018, four City staff from the City Manager’s Office, Public Works, and the Water Department attended a 3-day “Ideas Camp” in New York hosted and sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies, along with the 34 other Champion Cities to further refine, adapt and revise the original proposal.

As part of the test project, the City will partner with a professor and his research team from the University of Vermont that specializes in ground-penetrating radar technology, as well as a Silicon Valley-based technology firm, Civic Foundry, who will work on the artificial intelligence/machine learning algorithms.

The six-month test has three key phases:

Radar/Acoustic Technology

The City, University of Vermont research team, and Civic Foundry will perform a series of progressive tests for the radar/acoustic hardware and machine-learning software. Pipe size and condition variables will be controlled to allow image testing and validation, and subsequently translated into a user interface GIS map that can be used by pipe mechanics, water technicians and underground excavation crews. 

Crowdsourced Data

Map070218A resident engagement campaign will encourage residents to report “symptoms” of aging water infrastructure (low water pressure, sediment, small leaks) through an existing and interactive reporting online (SeeClickFix and/or Formstack) and in-person (events and/or partnership with California Youth Energy Services Rising Sun Program), with modifications specific for this project. Outreach materials (fridge magnets, flyers, water bottles, postcards) will be utilized through existing City engagement programs and cultural events, as well promotion through the City’s social media platforms. 

Ultimately, the City will generate heat maps of crowdsourced reports from residents, and cross-reference the citizen-submitted data with the radar/acoustic data to validate whether this data combination will be sufficient to plan infrastructure projects that address aging infrastructure before leaks (and water waste) occur. 

Water Conservation

The City will test the hypothesis that water resources will be conserved by combining crowdsourced data with radar/acoustic-based GIS mapping, thereby allowing the City to identify leaks before they happen, creating several positive impacts:

  • Water conservation by reducing water leaks, main breaks, and quicker emergency repairs.
  • Reduced energy consumption by minimizing the amount of water pumped through the City’s system.
  • Planned capital improvements of aging infrastructure, including coordinated utility and excavation work, instead of unplanned emergency water break response that disrupts service.
  • Reduced carbon footprint through utility coordination, minimizing emergency water main break response by dedicated construction crews, and lowering power consumption.
  • Lower costs of water for residents, businesses and ratepayers.
  • Improved safety and quality of water delivery.

Next steps

The final test results and documentation of the innovative and iterative process will be re-submitted to Bloomberg Philanthropies in August 2018 for competitive review. Bloomberg Philanthropies will award four of the 35 Champion Cities $1 million each, and a fifth city will receive the grand prize of $5 million, all to further develop and build the project.