Jun 5, 2024 - News

Atlanta looks to AI to help detect water leaks

Mayor Andre Dickens speaks at a press conference

Mayor Andre Dickens announces that water service has been restored in Midtown. Photo: Miguel Martinez/AJC

A new committee and AI technology are among the steps Atlanta officials are taking to protect and maintain its water pipes.

Why it matters: Last week's two major water main breaks show Atlanta can no longer kick the can down the road when it comes to repairing its aging and outdated water and sewer infrastructure.

The latest: Mayor Andre Dickens announced at a press conference Wednesday the formation of a "blue ribbon" panel that will review how to ensure the city's water system is "sustainable and resilient for decades to come."

  • Former Mayor Shirley Franklin and Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce CEO Katie Kirkpatrick have agreed to join the panel, which Dickens said will help enact recommendations offered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA.

What they're saying: "My goal would be to move us up to best in class, to look at the standards that we can exceed, and we want to make sure that this doesn't happen again at this scale," the mayor said.

  • Franklin told Axios via text message that she's "glad to assist [the] mayor in whatever way he requests."

The intrigue: Atlanta will also pilot a program that uses AI technology that could detect water main breaks.

  • Department of Watershed Management commissioner Al Wiggins Jr. said the city will install devices on water line valves at the sites of both the Midtown break, and the break at Boone Boulevard and Brawley Drive in Vine City.
  • If successful, the program will expand.

Catch up quick: Both breaks happened Friday, leaving a large swath of the city either without water or with low water pressure. Midtown's break was repaired early Wednesday and repairs to the Vine City break were done Saturday.

State of play: Sporadic issues with water pressure do remain in some areas. Around Midtown and other neighborhoods on the east side, a boil-water advisory remains in effect.

  • Hannah Hanbury, a volunteer with Christ Covenant's Kids Camp on Armour Drive in northeast Atlanta, told Axios that the church had to send parents and children home Tuesday after opening the camp when they discovered their water wasn't working.

Friction point: The city and Dickens' administration have been widely criticized for inconsistent communication following the water main breaks and the mayor's trip to Memphis as crews were repairing them.

  • He said the trip, which the AJC reports was a campaign fundraiser, was planned, and at the invitation of Memphis' newly elected mayor.
  • Dickens said he returned Saturday morning but was in regular communication with staff members.

What's next: Dickens said the city will also ask the federal government for money to help improve its system, a number he said could be in the billions.

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