Smart Fire Hydrants and their Alternatives

Technology these days is going at lightspeed, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down any time soon. All the different capabilities of the new gadgets constantly hitting the market keep ballooning to higher and higher levels. There are very few industries that remain unaffected, and the waterworks industry is definitely not one of them. Introducing intelligent monitoring and flushing technology to your water system could be just what you need to bring a distribution system into the 21st century.

Making sure your water system has the right mix of equipment is paramount to improving and maintaining drinking water quality. Your community is counting on it, and they might not even know it. Here, we’re going to explore a couple of your options when it comes to water quality equipment in your distribution system, with a particular focus on adding intelligent monitoring and flushing capabilities.

At first blush, these different types of stations might sound quite similar, but that’s only if you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of water systems and the different fire hydrant options within them. For example, an Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing station and a smart fire hydrant might sound like similar pieces of equipment, but they actually have very little in common with each other. And if you’re going to make an informed choice about what kind of equipment you’re going to install in the water system, then you need to read up on those important differences. That’s why we’re here.

First, we’ll explain some basic concepts. 

What is a smart fire hydrant?

Of course, there’s no way you’ll want to add smart fire hydrant technology to your existing distribution system if you don’t know what it entails. That makes a brief explainer an excellent place to start. 

Calling a fire hydrant smart doesn’t mean it got a good grade on its SATs — a smart fire hydrant simply means it’s got some kind of technology component added to it. Some smart fire hydrants can collect and send water usage data with the goal of increasing efficiency, while others monitor the chlorine residuals, making sure they stay in the appropriate range. No matter what a smart fire hydrant is monitoring, the name indicates that it’s using sensors to take readings and record data relevant to the concerns of utilities. Then, it will store or report that data in a way that makes it convenient for interested parties to retrieve it.

The alternatives are what utilities have been doing for years — manually taking readings, flushing hydrants if necessary, or otherwise using manpower to make sure the system is functioning properly.

What kind of smart fire hydrant options are there?

Some smart fire hydrants are their own complete unit. These would fully replace traditional fire hydrants in a water system.

However, there’s also the option of retrofitting existing fire hydrants with a smart cap or other small device that has all the same smart capabilities. This sort of option can be particularly cost-effective, since many places don’t want to spring for all new fire hydrants all at once. Instead, you can purchase smart elements to upgrade existing fire hydrants. 

Here at Kupferle, we have several smart fire hydrant add-on options. Take, for example, the Eclipse #9250i. While not an entire smart fire hydrant itself, it’s a piece of equipment that can enhance the monitoring abilities of existing fire hydrants. This is a portable unit that attaches to the 2-1/2” NST nozzle and can be moved around your distribution system to monitor the pressure at various points. You’ll get real-time information about your water system pressure via cellular communication, which is a big draw for many. On top of all that, this product is solar powered, which means don’t even need to worry about periodically replacing batteries or the rolling cost of sending a worker out to do this. That’ll save you some valuable maintenance time and money. And since this unit is solar-powered, you can program the unit to send pressure data at 5-minute intervals or longer without having to worry about the battery going dead. You can also take advantage of notifications for high or low pressure threshold conditions.

Another intelligent option here at Kupferle is the Eclipse #9700i-Solar. This is a portable Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing station you can use on your existing fire hydrants to collect and transmit critical water quality data. The Eclipse #9700-Solar attaches to the 2-1/2” NST nozzle and can house up to eight sensors that monitor water quality aspects like chlorine (free, combined, or total), pressure, turbidity, pH, temperature, ORP, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, fluoride, among others. You’ll set the water quality parameters for chlorine (low and desired levels), and/or turbidity and the unit will flush to maintain these parameters, as well as, collect and transmit the data. This valuable data is easy to access and use (CSV files). Again, this product is not a smart fire hydrant on its own, but an analytical tool you can use to monitor water quality in various points of your distribution system utilizing your existing fire hydrants. 

A third option is for an activity every water utility performs on a regular basis…flushing fire hydrants. No matter how big or small a system, everyone flushes fire hydrants. But when flushing fire hydrants to raise chlorine residuals and improve the turbidity (clarity) of the water how do you know when you are done? For chlorine, most systems take hand samples and process them using a colorimetric chlorine analyzer. But for turbidity it is a bit harder and mostly done by looking at the clarity of the water in a white cup or mason jar. Kupferle provides yet another solution that piggybacks on fire hydrant flushing know at the Eclipse #9750i (aka The Flushing Buddy). The Flushing Buddy is a small case with a handle that goes with the crew and connects to a fire hydrant via a 2-1/2” hose connection. As the fire hydrant flushes the Flushing Buddy monitors the flush and alerts the crew when the chlorine and turbidity goals have been met, thus letting them know when to turn off the hydrant without guessing. Water quality data from multiple flushes is captured and is easily accessible to be loaded into a GIS program, pre-formatted spreadsheets (supplied by Kupferle) or imported into an existing SCADA system. The Flushing Buddy is another Intelligent Monitoring device that saves utilities precious time, water and money.

Smart Fire Hydrants and Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing

It turns out that Intelligent technology in water distribution systems can do a whole lot more than simply monitor and alert you to any problems with the equipment. It can also be massively useful to the flushing process. Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing can truly change the game when it comes to keeping your water fresh and safe. 

First of all, flushing is a process of removing water out of a distribution system. This is necessary in order to raise residual levels back to safe levels and remove aging water before disinfectant byproducts can form, both of which can post a threat to consumer’s health. There are a few ways to accomplish flushing a water distribution system, but by far the most high-tech is with Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Stations.

Flushing needs to happen fairly often in order to maintain the integrity of the water system, especially on water main dead-ends. Dead-ends with aging water issues need to be flushed at least once a week to prevent the formation of disinfection byproducts and also to make sure that chlorine residuals don’t fall below the minimum residual level so that they can’t properly combat the growth and spread of any microbial pathogens that might be present in the water supply.

By far the easiest and most efficient way to accomplish this important task is through Automatic Flushing Stations. The alternatives are far more labor intensive, time-consuming, and inefficient uses of water. So, let’s dive a little deeper into Automatic Flushing Stations to make it clear why they make a lot of sense in the smart hydrant space. 

Automatic Flushing Stations

Maybe it’s redundant to explain what an automatic flushing station is, since it’s a fairly straightforward concept, but for the sake of clarity, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. These are not fire hydrants, but are a simple technology to employ either by attaching to existing fire hydrants or attaching directly to the main. Their sole functionality is to flush a water main dead-end or low flow area on a scheduled, programmed basis. No utility manpower needs to be used to accomplish this, which is a huge advantage over more traditional flushing methods. These stations operate solely on the power of a 9-volt battery.

Automatic Flushing Stations come with a handheld or Bluetooth controller that is simple to program and use. Using this device, you can set your desired day/time/duration for flushing. There’s plenty more to learn about Automatic Flushing Stations, and you can check out our other post on the subject here.

Why Should You Choose an Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Station?

There are plenty of reasons why Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing technology is the way of the future. We’ll list some of them here.

  • Better data means better decisions. Using either a portable or permanent Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Station means you’ll be able to more accurately track water quality data like chlorine residuals, turbidity, pressure, etc. Having those data points will clue you into what’s actually going on in your water system. So when it comes time to make decisions about adding Automatic Flushing Stations, booster stations to raise residuals, replacing equipment, scheduling flushing crews to go out, or any other important aspect of your distribution system, you’ll have all the information you need to make informed choices.
  • Being proactive saves time and money. Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Stations can let you know when there’s an issue, meaning you can get in front of it before it becomes a larger huge problem. For example, an Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Station, whether portable or permanent, can send pressure alarms to alert utilities of possible main breaks in certain zones of their system allowing them to get a “head start” in minimizing the damage that could occur and begin work on the issue.
  • Technology makes processes more efficient. While an Automatic Flushing Station is not an Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Station, these units definitely fit under the same technology umbrella but in a lesser sense. As we’ve seen, Automatic Flushing Stations are much more efficient at flushing water main dead-ends on a consistent basis than the alternative of manually flushing fire hydrants. They don’t require crews to manually flush, they can be programmed to operate in the middle of the night when demand time for water is at its lowest point, and they can more accurately flush the right amount of water saving as much as 50% flushed water.

What is an Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Station?

We won’t get very far if we’re not all on the page about what an Intelligent Monitor and Flushing Station even is. An Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Station and a smart fire hydrant might sound somewhat similar if you’re not familiar with what they do. Smart fire hydrants can monitor pressure, etc. and send data using replaceable lithium-ion batteries, but they are hampered by the amount of power available. This can limit the frequency of which they collect and send data before batteries need to be replaced. But smart fire hydrants only report water quality data. In order to address issues crews must be deployed to flush in order to improve water quality. On the other hand, Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Stations not only monitor water quality with up to 8 separate sensors per station, but they also can improve and maintain water quality by flushing the exact amount of water needed to maintain safe residuals and remove aging water based on real water data and then transmit that data via a cellular connection. Additionally, most all of these stations are powered by lithium-ion batteries that are recharged either by solar panels or a water turbine that captures the kinetic energy of the flushing water.

Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Stations can not only be used to monitor and flush water to maintain water quality inside of a distribution system, they can also be used to monitor purchased or sold water from water wholesalers or municipal utilities that provide water over large geographical areas. As an example, a city in Ontario, Canada purchased water from another city that was some distance away. The water provider was required to deliver water with a minimum of a .2ppm residual. The buyer used a Kupferle Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Station to monitor the purchased water and automatically flushed any water that fell below the minimum. In the first year, it saved the purchasing city over $250,000 in flushed water using the data the Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Station provided. Water wholesalers can also benefit by monitoring the water they sell to cities and other water districts guaranteeing the quality of the water based on Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Station data.

Kupferle manufactures a full array of Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Stations. Portable stations that attached to fire hydrants, permanent stations that tap directly to the main in either warm or cold climates. Wall mounted monitoring stations that can be installed into existing pump stations, booster stations or any location with power and water. Portable and permanent pressure sensor stations that either attach to a fire hydrant or can tap directly to the main, a boss on a fire or flushing hydrant, or be incorporated into a meter resetter in a meter box.

Whatever you application need might be, Kupferle can provide a standard or customized Intelligent Monitoring and Flushing Station to fit you need.


Top 6 Benefits of an Automatic Flushing Station

When you turn on the tap to fill up a nice, cool, refreshing glass of water, you expect a clean stream to land in your glass, right? Ensuring the quality of our water is a top public health concern for any community. According to the World Health Organization, unsanitary water can lead to the spread of cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio, among other diseases. We’re lucky that most places here in the U.S. do have access to clean water for drinking, cooking, and other domestic uses, but that doesn’t mean this is a given. Keeping the quality of water at an acceptable level is no small task. Making sure water utilities have the equipment to properly attend to that concern is paramount, and one of those types of equipment is an automatic flushing station.

Here, we’ll take you through just a handful of the benefits an automatic flushing station can bring to a water system. We’ll detail how efficient, user-friendly, and effective these automatic flushing stations are, and why you should consider adding automatic flushing stations into your distribution system.

Before we jump into any of this, though, we need to make sure we’re all on the same page regarding the definition of an automatic flushing station. These devices can be a vital tool in improving and maintaining water quality, like we said, but many people in the water industry haven’t ever heard of them. We’ll define what an automatic flushing station is, and then we’ll get into what automatic flushing does. After we get that out of the way, we’ll move into what we promised you: Six benefits of an automatic flushing station. Sound good? Let’s begin.

What is flushing, and what different options are out there?

At the most basic level, flushing just means running water through a distribution system to freshen it up, getting rid of the old water and bringing in the new to raise residual levels and remove aging water before disinfectant byproducts form. When it comes to flushing a water system, your main options are an automatic flushing station, which we’ll talk about in detail in the rest of this piece, or flushing a fire hydrant or blow-off.

For now, let’s focus on flushing hydrants. Maybe you’ve seen water all over the street around a hydrant in the early spring months before and wondered what had happened. The likely cause was flushing. Cities will have crews go around and flush fire hydrants periodically, typically twice a year. This helps maintain the integrity of the water system. 

While flushing once or twice per year may be OK for exercising hydrants or flushing out debris from the system it is usually not sufficient to address aging water issues, especially on water main dead-ends. When chlorine is added to water and chemically changes the makeup of it, and then that water ages, two dynamics come into play. First, chlorine in water mains dissipates over time and can disappear altogether, usually within the first two weeks if customers on dead-end mains are not sufficiently using enough water and turning over the line. Once residuals fall below a .2 ppm for Free Chlorine / .5 ppm for Combined Chlorine, they are no longer able to control the growth and spread of microbial pathogens that may be present. Second, when naturally occurring organic material (NOOMs) that is in all water comes into contact with chlorine, these NOOMs are transformed into toxins we refer to as Disinfection By-Products or DBPs. These DBPs when consumed, inhaled (as in a shower mist), or absorbed through the skin can cause serious health issues such as heart disease, liver damage, and/or reduced nervous system activity. DBPs usually begin to form in as little as 4-7 days, so it is important to flush dead-end mains with aging water issues at least once per week.

So, while flushing hydrants is a good practice to improve water quality in general, it does not address the ongoing water quality issues of problematic dead-end mains. This is where alternatives come into play. Let’s get into them.

What is an automatic flushing station?

We won’t get very far into it without explaining what an automatic flushing station is to begin with. It’s important for all of us to be on the same page. And we can’t even begin to explain what an automatic flushing station is before explaining the water systems they’re part of.

We’re acting like this is some kind of big reveal, but it’s not, really. An automatic flushing station is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. When you’ve got to get water to people for all the things they need water to do, you need to make sure it’s clean and safe. Due to some factors we’ll detail in later sections, aging and stagnant chlorinated water does not fit that bill. One of the main goals of a water system is to keep water moving through the distribution system so that it never sits still long enough for chlorine residuals to dissipate, making it susceptible to the growth and spread of microbial pathogens, and for DBPs to begin to form.

As we’ve already discussed, flushing a water system can be done through opening a fire hydrant and releasing water that way. While a fire hydrant has several different functions in addition to flushing potential, an automatic flushing station’s singular purpose is to automatically flush areas with aging water issues on a scheduled programmed basis without the need for any utility manpower being present. 

Now that we’re all on the same page regarding what flushing is and what equipment you can use to do it, let’s jump into what we promised at the outset. Here are the six main benefits of choosing an automatic flushing system over the alternatives.

1. Helps prevent DBPs

The health benefits of automatic flushing are definitely paramount, but we can’t dive straight in. Once again, we need to clarify some terms before we can get any deeper. So, let’s answer a pretty important question…

What are DBPs?

DBP stands for disinfection byproduct. The process of making water safe to drink involves several steps and the additional of chemicals. The main player here is chlorine. According to the CDC, chlorine started being used as a disinfectant in 1850, and it became more widely used in the early 1900s. Today, chlorine is the most commonly used chemical disinfectant for water in the U.S. It’s an important tool that completely revolutionized water purification, so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also have drawbacks. When you use chlorine to purify water, and  it comes into contact with NOOMs that are present in all water, it can transform these NOOMs into toxins we call DBPs. When consumed, inhaled (as in a shower mist) or absorbed into the skin these DBPs can cause several health issues including heart disease, liver damage, and/or reduced nervous system activity.

How does a flushing station prevent DBPs?

One of the main ways to prevent DBPs is by not letting the water sit around for too long. A flushing station can get rid of any water that’s gotten old. Professionals in this field will talk about decreasing water age, and they don’t mean finding the fountain of youth. All it means is that after chlorine has been added to water, it’s a matter of time before DBPs start to form, so it’s important to make sure all the water you’re using isn’t “old” and prone to harmful DBPs. 

Automatic flushing removes that old water out of the system on a regular scheduled basis. That reduces the “age” of the water you’re using by getting rid of the old and bringing in new. The safe level of chlorine residuals can be attained through flushing the water out before DBPs have a chance to form. That lets a community have the disinfecting benefits of chlorinated water while avoiding the potential harmful effects of DBPs. 

2. Easy to use

This is a particular benefit for automatic flushing stations, as opposed to all flushing methods. Automatic Flushing Stations include a hand-held or Bluetooth controller whereby a user can program a set day/time/duration for flushing water lines. For example, you might set a schedule of three days a week for 20 minutes at 2 a.m. Automatic flushing stations allow users to flush during the lowest demand time, usually in the middle of the night, when most customers are asleep providing a fresh line of water for the morning.

Automatic flushing is definitely an easy way to go toward ensuring the quality of your water and most of the time the only maintenance needed is to replace two 9-volt batteries about once per year. Not all dead-end mains need to be flushed out as often as the example we gave above, as many of these have sufficient turnover. However, automatic flushing stations can be a huge asset for those dead-end mains that do require frequent flushing due to water aging issues.

With automatic flushing stations you flush less water, more often keeping chlorine residual levels consistently safe and removing aging water before DBPs can form. The EPA bench tested automatic flushing stations and found that they flushed up to 50% less water compared to flushing fire hydrants, saving utilities water and money.

3. Improves water quality

As we already explained in a previous section, an automatic flushing station can refresh a water line supply, meaning DBPs have less of a chance of forming. This is one of the ways in which automatic flushing equipment can improve water quality. 

But DBPs aren’t the only factor impacting the healthfulness of the water. Keeping safe residual levels is also an important factor in keeping water safe for consumers. Most states require a .2 ppm residual for free chlorine and a .5 ppm for combined chlorine. These minimum required levels ensure that the chlorine is strong enough the control the growth and spread of microbials that may find their way into the water system. So by using automatic flushing stations users can maintain safe residuals AND remove old water on a regular basis before DBPs form.

Additionally, discoloration can also be controlled by using automatic flushing stations. As water sits idle in older iron pipes (usually overnight) discoloration can occur. By programming automatic flushing station to turn the water line in the early morning hours this discoloration can be removed before customers begin to use the line.

4. Saves water

Your options other than a flushing station are going to use a whole lot more water than automatic flushing technology. The average flow from a fire hydrant is around 1500 gpm as opposed to an automatic flushing station that flushes anywhere from 20 -200 gpm. By flushing less water more often using an automatic flushing station, users can save about half as much flushed water compared to flushing fire hydrants. This saves water, labor time and, in turn, money and the environment. Automatic flushing stations are key in providing health benefits, which we’ve already detailed: The water quality improves when aging water is regularly flushed out.

5. Boosts efficiency

When you couple those water-saving benefits we just discussed with the time savings that automatic flushing stations can bring, you have a huge time efficiency boost on your hands. Let’s face it, new EPA water regulations continue to roll out, distribution systems continue grow and expand, and most water utilities are not overstaffed. Automatic flushing stations can help utilities address and accomplish more pressing issues rather than spend extra labor time on manually flushing fire hydrants

And as far as maintenance goes, automatic flushing stations only require a change of 9-volt batteries about once per year and occasionally cleaning out the valve if debris keeps it from closing properly.

6. More convenient 

Remember what we said about how hydrant flushing works? A crew goes around and releases water from the hydrant in a controlled manner, getting rid of all the old water. For someone to do this manually, that means it’s going to happen during daytime hours, when water is in high demand in the community. An automatic flushing station solves this issue. You can program it to run during the nighttime hours, when water demand is usually at its lowest level. That will alleviate some of the issues we highlighted earlier — namely, customers noticing discolored water or decreased water pressure.


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Automatic Flushing: The Cost Effective Way To Improve Water Quality

Consolidated Utility District (CUD), located in Murfreesboro, TN, is a lare water System that encompasses over 13,000 miles of both urban and rural water lines throughout Rutherford County.

In early 2006, CUD received a notice of violation from the state of Tennessee for exceeding disinfection byproducts limits.  At that time, their flushing program consisted of two employees that would address problem areas as needed.  the process was time consuming and ineffective.  When CUD began receiving customer inquiries because of the required public notice regarding the violation, Assistant General Manager Bill Dunnill contacted The Kupferle Foundry Company located in St. Louis, MO, to search for a solution.  After consulting with CUD and assessing the problem, Kupferle suggested using the Eclipse Model #9700 portable automatic flushing device.  CUD ordered three units and began using them in the field.

Focusing on the most troublesome areas firs, CUD began to test the effectiveness of the 9700s, which attach directly to any fire hydrant.  Dunnill states that “CUD saw immediate…”


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