Combining the proven and the new could be the key to future water leakage management
Faced with the imminent prospect of less money from OFWAT to tackle water leakage, the UK's water companies will need to find new ways to manage the problem. ABB's Measurement Products UK & Ireland General Manager, Tony Hoyle, discusses how water companies can combine proven techniques with new technologies to fight the problem of leakage.
Water companies in the UK have made huge progress with recent leakage management programmes, but a run of high profile incidents at the back end of last year, plus concerns over long-term water availability even after weeks of prolonged rainfall have brought leakage management programmes back into the public eye.
Many existing leakage management programmes focus on resolving leaks that are likely to cause immediate problems, due to the need to conserve costs and balance manpower resources across other activities.
While some leakage reduction has been factored into the AMP5 investment programme over the next five years, it looks like relatively little money will be injected after that to bring leakage down further between 2015 and 2030. The fact that leakage can never be totally eliminated means that water companies will need to find new ways to better identify and rectify leaks whilst keeping costs on a tight leash.
DMAs - the front line in the fight against leaks
District metering is an ideal starting point in the war against leaks. The concept of District Metered Areas (DMAs) was first introduced to the UK at the start of the 1980s by the then UK Water Authorities Association. A district is a defined area of the distribution system that can be isolated by valves and for which the quantities of water entering and leaving can be metered. The subsequent analysis of flow and pressure, especially at night when a high proportion of users are inactive, enables leakage specialists to calculate the level of leaks in the district. This can be used to determine not only whether work should be undertaken to reduce leakage, but also to compare levels of leakage in different districts and thereby target maintenance in those areas where it will have the greatest impact.
Leakage generally falls into two categories - background leaks and bursts or breaks. Even new distribution networks experience both types of leak, and the water industry in the UK must work with some of the oldest underground assets in the world.
The role of DMAs is to divide the network into manageable sections that make it easier to determine where bursts are and to repair them.
District metering is now part of an established, active leak management programme among UK water companies. Initially, DMAs are used as a tool to drive down leakage in networks that had received little or no previous leak detection work, apart from dealing with reported problems. At this stage, their role is to highlight those areas where companies should be concentrating their efforts, helping to get the biggest benefit for a given maintenance budget.
More innovation, less leaks
New technologies are also presenting new opportunities for tackling leakage.
One example is Project Neptune, a joint partnership between Yorkshire Water, United Utilities, ABB, the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and seven UK universities. Represented by the trident of Neptune, the Roman god of water, the project set itself a three-pronged goal of improving the monitoring, control and optimisation of water supplies.
Working together, the project partners have developed an automated leakage management system which combines up-to-the-minute pipeline data with artificial intelligence to continually monitor network performance.
Its success has already been proven in 16 DMAs throughout the Yorkshire Water catchment, with leaks now able to be spotted and repaired at a much earlier stage. The immediate benefits include the ability to better allocate repair teams and minimise disruption caused by repair works. The longer terms benefits of this will include better control of water supply and improved energy efficiency through the reduced need for production and treatment of replacement supplies.
With an infrastructure that is already struggling to cope with the needs of a growing population, the UK needs to conserve and manage its water supplies more carefully than ever.
The reduced level of funding likely to be available for tackling leakage means that water operators will be under increasing pressure to do more with less in the near future. With the ability to help reduce the costs of tracing and rectifying leaks, the use of both proven methods and new technologies such as those outlined above can play a vital role in helping to ensure that the UK's water supplies are managed as effectively as possible.