Cleveland Water Alliance awards grants to companies seeking ways to detect underground lead water pipes

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cleveland Water Alliance has awarded grants to three companies hoping to develop a method to detect lead water-service lines without having to excavate them.

The awards were made as part of the alliance’s 2023 Open Innovation Challenge designed to find a cheaper way for cities and utilities to replace their lead water lines.

Cleveland Division of Water Commissioner Alex Margevicius said last year it costs an estimated $700 per connection to dig up a water line and examine it, and that it would cost tens of millions of dollars to do that for every line within the water department service area that is suspected of containing lead.

Criteria for the innovation challenge included developing a method that’s portable, does not require entry into a home or breaching of a pipe, and that doesn’t rely on historical records.

Global Quality Corp., based in Cincinnati, received the first-place award of $40,000. Its technology focuses on electromagnetics, radio frequencies and artificial intelligence methods.

The second-place award of $25,000 went to Solinas Technologies of Toronto. “Pipe excitation and sensors” is the description given for its proposed method of identification.

Utility Technologies of Lebanon, Ohio, received $10,000 in third-place money. Something called a borescope is part of it proposed method, as is magnetics.

The awards also come with additional support services, as well access to a facility in Parma Heights that’s owned by the Cleveland Division of Water. Companies can use the facility to test their identification methods on lead, copper and galvanized steel pipes buried in the ground.

The U.S. EPA estimates that there are 9 million lead water pipes in the country and as of next year it wants utilities to provide a complete inventory of the material in their pipes, according to the alliance.

Lead pipes are buried at different depths depending on where they are. In the Cleveland area they tend to be found about five-and-a-half feet below ground, but in the Cincinnati area they are more shallow at about three to four feet, according to Brenda Culler, a representative of the Cleveland Division of Water who was part of the grant awards announcement.

Judges for the contest were from the utility departments in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Sandusky and Akron and from water service provider Aqua Ohio.

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