Gaining Depth of Analysis

Specialty contractor focuses on data collection and delivers accurate diagnoses

Gaining Depth of Analysis

Smoke-testing crew leader Kenny Andrews (right) and assistant smoke tester Danny Gonsaulin use a Hurco Technologies smoke machine to test sewer lines in Baton Rouge.

With its large fleet of camera trucks, combination sewer trucks and other equipment, Compliance EnviroSystems would appear to be a large, well-equipped sewer cleaning contractor. But its highly visible public face belies its true mission, which plays out more behind the scenes: helping municipalities find the troublesome sources of inflow and infiltration.

“All that equipment is there just to provide our clients with data,” says David Guillory, vice president of business development for CES, headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “All of the evaluation work we do — things like sewer cleaning, smoke testing and televising pipelines — is related to I&I detection. We consider ourselves an I&I detection company that happens to do a lot of sewer cleaning, too.

“The data is where the rubber really meets the road,” he continues. “That’s the key deliverable for our clients in I&I situations. We spend a lot of time analyzing data and developing GIS maps for clients, which is what usually differentiates us from our competitors.”

A staff of about 20 experts does the analysis work in a data-management center in Baton Rouge. “All they do is compile and analyze data,” Guillory explains. “They’re doing reports all day long.”

It’s not unusual for companies like CES to provide data for clients. But two things separate the company from most of its competitors: the depth of the analysis and the collective experience of its staff.

Moreover, the company — established in 1995 by Ken Dutruch — has developed a solid reputation by staying in its lane. Some I&I detection companies diversify into trenchless rehabilitation services such as pipe lining, grouting and pipe bursting to fix I&I problems.

CES, on the other hand, specializes in just collecting, analyzing and disseminating data to clients. And along the way, the company has laid down some impressive numbers: an estimated 90 million feet — or a little more than 17,000 miles — of pipelines evaluated.

Every so often, the company will tackle a pipe cleaning project, usually a large-diameter pipeline. But the vast majority of the time, the company’s focus is on data, Guillory says.

Quality data

Guillory says CES provides quality assurance and quality-controlled data, which ensures customers are getting a comprehensive, in-depth and accurate analysis of what’s going on inside their infrastructure. This leads to better solutions for I&I problems.

“Some companies just give clients raw data right off the (camera) truck without it being quality-assured and quality-controlled,” he explains. “But with our process, clients get a higher-quality deliverable. Some of our clients end up coming to us because they get tired of receiving bad data. That’s the whole point of why they hire us. Developing a good, quality product helps set us apart.

“Sure, it costs more for us to evaluate a foot of pipe than our competitors, but we feel our clients get a better deliverable for that money,” he adds. “We’re not the cheapest contractor among all of our peers, but I know we provide the best product.”

It typically can take anywhere from a week to more than a month to get the data to clients, depending on their needs. Sometimes clients would rather get everything at one time, while others want it in chunks as it becomes available. But either way, Guillory says the data CES supplies is better than feeding clients raw data without any accompanying analysis.

Experience matters

The company’s expertise stems from its senior management, which has compiled decades of pipeline-evaluation experience. For example, owner Brad Dutruch, the son of Ken Dutruch, has 25 years’ experience in the industry, dating back to his days in high school.

Furthermore, Dutruch is a former one-term president of NASSCO and is a certified trainer for pipeline assessment. As if that’s not impressive enough, he also has evaluated more than 40 million linear feet of pipe since 1995.

The firm’s vice president, Joshua Hardy, has been with CES for more than 20 years and has managed the evaluation of more than 10 million feet of inspections and overseen 100 flow studies. He is also a professional engineer.

So is Guillory, who also used to be the director of the Baton Rouge Department of Public Works where he managed 800 employees and negotiated and oversaw a $1.4 billion consent-decree project to rehabilitate and enlarge the city’s system. 

The company’s roughly 160 employees also include veterans of the industry like Tim Jacobs, a project manager with 32 years’ industry experience. Jacobs has supervised challenging underwater jobs and river-basin cleaning projects, handled floating rigs and countless other pieces of equipment, and managed numerous routine cleaning projects.

In fact, Jacobs currently is managing a sewer assessment and rehabilitation program in Memphis, Tennessee. CES technicians there are in the seventh year of an 8- to 10-year project that includes evaluating nearly 3 million feet of pipe, 18 inches in diameter or smaller, and another 385,000 feet of interceptor pipe, ranging from 2 to 8 feet in diameter.

Blowing smoke

Smoke testing has always been one of the company’s primary tools for finding sources of I&I. The company owns approximately eight smoke-testing machines made by Hurco Technologies.

“We do a lot of smoke-testing work,” Guillory explains. “Smoke testing is one of the better I&I detection processes because smoke is very good at finding leaks — places where it can escape. It’s more effective than televising a line because an inspection camera can’t always see defects in pipelines.

“With a camera, you can see a crack in a pipeline, but you don’t know how much that crack is contributing to I&I unless you use smoke testing,” he adds. “Smoke testing just catches things that cameras can miss. They’re very different tools, but they’re both useful in their own way.”

Smoke testing also is a very cost-effective way to track down I&I problems, which makes it an attractive option for customers. Sections of sewer lines undergoing testing (typically from manhole to manhole) are isolated with pipe plugs or sandbags, which also increases the air pressure inside pipes and helps force smoke through defects.

“The longer the pipe you’re trying to smoke, or the bigger the diameter, the longer it takes to build up enough pressure to make smoke-detection work,” Guillory points out. “So depending on those specifications, it may help to isolate as small a segment of the pipe as possible.”

Where there’s smoke

Typically within minutes, technicians will see smoke emerging from the ground wherever there’s a leak. “You’ll see it come out of the ground in people’s yards (from leaks in lateral lines) or from under sidewalks — just about anywhere,” Guillory says. Furthermore, sometimes smoke testing will also reveal pipeline connections that municipal officials weren’t even aware of before.

Crew members mark leak locations with flags and also snap a photo for a visual reference point. Nowadays, CES crews also use GPS units made by Trimble to document the location of smoke leaks. If there aren’t any leaks, technicians will typically see smoke emerging only from the next manhole downstream or from stack-pipe vents on the roofs of homes.

Because it’s hard for smoke to travel through wet ground, soil conditions must be dry for testing to be successful. “Down here in Louisiana, the water table is high and it rains a lot, so it’s hard to find those conditions all the time,” Guillory explains. “It doesn’t necessarily limit our use of smoke testing — you just need to wait for the right conditions to do it.”

Under ideal conditions, it takes roughly 15 minutes to smoke-test one manhole-to-manhole section of sewer pipe. An experienced and capable crew working in ideal conditions can test 8,000 to 10,000 feet of sewer line a day, Guillory says.

To detect pipeline leaks, CES also uses dye-testing tablets made by BRIGHT DYES - Division of Kingscote Chemicals; a sonar-testing unit manufactured by Cobra Technologies coupled with a Trio-Vision camera and robotic crawler; CCTV trucks outfitted with inspection camera systems made by CUES, RapidView IBAK North America and Envirosight; and flowmeters from Teledyne ISCO, ADS Environmental Services, Hach and FlowWav.

The company relies on 32 Vac-Con and Vacall combination trucks for cleaning sewer lines. Waterjetting hoses are transported to inaccessible locations with easement machines built by Vactor, PipeHunter, Sewer Equipment and Stanley Infrastructure. CES also owns three Marsh Master amphibious vehicles, manufactured by Coast Machinery.

High-water challenges

One of the biggest hurdles faced by CES crews is the unusually high water tables in Louisiana, not to mention the fact that cities like New Orleans actually sit about 15 feet below sea level. “On the West Coast, where it’s very dry, they’re trying to keep water inside pipes,” Guillory notes. “Here in the South, especially along the coast in Louisiana, the water table is very high, so we’re trying to keep water out of the pipes. You dig down 5 feet in New Orleans and it’s just mush.”

As such, CES crews typically are evaluating sewer lines that almost always are fully surcharged. To contend with this, crews often use bypass pumps and isolate line segments by plugging them at both ends, then pump out the water in order to work.

“Even then, sometimes the sewer lines start to leak right away,” Guillory explains. “Every situation is different — we’ve probably seen it all. The only good thing is that when something becomes the norm, you just get used to working with it.”

For example, sometimes a crew might isolate and pump out a segment of a sewer line, only to have it fill up with water right away, making camera inspections difficult. In those cases, the crew might be forced to wait until the water table drops enough to allow televising operations.

“A lot of it just depends on rainfall and how high the river is, because both those things affect the water table,” he says. “If you’re standing downtown in the French Quarter and you’re close to the river when a big barge comes by, you’ll be looking up at the barge because you’re actually below where the river is flowing.

“We’re always working under wet conditions, which means there’s a little more setup and breakdown time on the front and back ends,” he continues. “In New Orleans, it can even depend on what part of town you’re working in. It’s an entirely different process to get a line televised in the French Quarter, for example, than in another part of town.”

Looking ahead 

Guillory sees continued growth for CES, but he emphasizes it will not come through service diversification. “We could line or fix pipes, but we don’t veer into that lane,” he notes. “We stay in our own sandbox, which is detecting I&I through cleaning and evaluation. It’s what CES is built on, and it’s what we want to keep doing.

“Plus, it takes different people with different skill sets, as well as other kinds of equipment, to provide other services,” he adds. “Furthermore, we’re not in danger of running out of work anytime soon. In the areas where we provide service, there’s plenty of work to keep both us and our competitors busy for quite a while.”


Relying on expertise and equipment

When municipalities hire Compliance EnviroSystems to help them find the sources of inflow and infiltration, David Guillory compares the investigatory process to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

“And sometimes the smaller I&I jobs are the more challenging ones because you’re really trying to pinpoint and home in on the sewer leaks causing a particular problem, perhaps at a pumping station or a treatment facility,” says Guillory, vice president of business development for the business, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“But we hold clients’ hands through to the end. And more often than not, there’s not just one problem. We may well determine that we think there are 10 to 20 problems a client may need to fix in order to stop I&I.

“Sometimes we’re looking for needles in a haystack, but if you’re doing this right, you stick with the client until you find the problem,” he adds. “When you sign that contract for a job, you’re really on the hook to find a solution.”

That’s where the company’s depth of employee experience, both in upper management and out in the field, plus investments in technologically advanced equipment, all come into play. As an example, Guillory cites a recent project the company performed in Houston, where the city is broken down into hundreds of municipal utility districts (or MUDs) that control their own water and sewer services.

“Each MUD has a particular set of problems, and one of them called us to find the problems,” Guillory says. “A lot of times it’s one big problem they’re looking at — maybe a treatment plant that gets overloaded when it rains, for instance,” he says. “But that usually isn’t caused by one or two problems: There might be 35 or 50 little problems.

“Sure, sometimes you find one smoking gun, but usually it’s a lot of small things creating a big problem, such as defects in the pipe, missing clean-out cap or cross connections.”

To get started, CES typically does flow monitoring in a larger area, which can indicate the source of the problem. “Flow monitoring can narrow down the search and save clients money,” he explains. “Say a flowmeter in a particular sewer line shows 1,000 gallons of water passing through on a dry day, but then shows 50,000 gallons passing through a day later, after it rains. That tells us that something is leaking badly upstream because technically, rain shouldn’t be getting into the sanitary sewer lines.”

From there, Guillory says CES technicians can isolate small sections of pipe and use tools such as smoke or dye testing and/or camera inspection systems to pinpoint the problems. “We have a big group of folks who put their heads together to solve these kinds of problems for clients.”



Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.