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If you’ve ever wondered how the Louisville Water Company tests pipes without turning the water off, the answer is: with a six-foot robot.

In a demonstration Tuesday, the company lowered the device, called a PipeDiver, into a water main under Westport Road to inspect the pipe. Program Manager Bill Barloon said the equipment is expensive but can prevent costly cave-ins.

“I’ve seen water main breaks in the country that cost millions and millions of dollars of damage to personal property,” said Barloon. “And then, you know, if the main is running through a field in a very remote area, you don’t have a lot of damage in that case.”

The PipeDiver and Smart Ball let the company collect data on Louisville’s water and sewage pipes without disrupting service to residents. That data is used to repair pipes and prevent cave-ins like the one on Broadway this week.

“With this tool, what we can do is give Louisville Water actionable information to help them proactively go in and make repairs before a catastrophic break happens,” Barloon said. “It’s not just the dollars that you’re saving, it’s also the community that you’re helping.”

Louisville Water's Pipe Diver, Which Analyzes Pipes For Errors or Needed RepairsKyeland Jackson | wfpl.org

The PipeDiver and Smart Ball let the company collect data on Louisville’s water and sewage pipes without disrupting service to residents.

Company spokeswoman Kelley Dearing Smith said Louisville Water is in charge of more than 4,000 miles of pipe, and tests have allowed the company to inspect 75 miles of pipe and repair 96 sections of pipe since 2009.

This year, she said around $47 million will go into inspecting, replacing and repairing pipes in the water system.

“It’s preventative maintenance,” Dearing Smith said. “You’re trying to take care of something now so that you don’t have a bigger problem in the future.” 

The company’s goal is to replace 1 percent of the city’s water mains every year. Dearing Smith said they’re hoping to do more tests with devices like the PipeDiver and Smart Ball as the technologies evolve.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.