Pipes bursting with success

The Met Office, in association with Thames Water, recently launched a Œstate-of-the-art' weather forecasting service, designed to give advance warning of potential burst situations, particularly in underground cast iron pipes, when sub-zero temperatures are anticipated reports Brian Dumbleton.


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Burstcast uses a specially designed meteorological service which is claimed,

by using information updated every few hours, to be capable of forecasting

burst pipes up to four days before they are due to happen. This should

enable water companies to implement contingency plans, ensuring fast

repairs, reduced water loss coupled with unnecessary costs.

“Cold weather bursts can be caused by a combination of factors such as

ground movement, pressure variation, vibration and wear and tear. Really low

temperatures lead to multiple bursts and as a result we have already

received enquiries from engineers in Canada, the USA and Poland regarding

our system,” said Mr Tutton.

Using a computerised ground temperature depth model it combines site

specific weather forecasts, sensitivity analysis and historical data to

predict in particular unexpected bursts over and above traditional

anticipated ones.

“Times of peak demand are the most vulnerable and we have determined that

there is a significant time lag between prevailing and forecast weather

conditions and actual serious bursts,” said Anthony Astbury, business group

operations manager at the Met Office.

“Following considerable tests and research, we have established a link

between the ground temperature 0.3m below a road surface and bursts,” said

Mr Ashbury. 0.3m was determined as the most sensitive depth, but with more

available data the system can operate down to a metre which is the depth of

an average water main.

We have now installed over 700 Œroad sensors capable of producing the best

data available of its kind in Britain. This information is then transferred

into Œburst mode¹ enabling us to forecast much more than just the weather.

“Because we can now look four days ahead, we neither over or under react so

the potential benefits for London and other large conurbations are very

considerable. The model does not pinpoint particular bursts in specified

mains but is highly effective on an area basis and is aimed at reducing

inconvenience for both consumers and road users,” explained Mr Tutton.

The Met Office is also constantly looking at ways it can expand and develop

its services. “For instance much of the information we supply to the water

industry is now based on weather radar enabling us to provide an updated

forecast every 15 minutes and we also operate a Œsewer flooding register’

service and ŒMIST’ a PC weather information system,” said Astbury.

“This enables the latest data to be transmitted direct to operational

control centres throughout the UK and is used to schedule maintenance and

site access, co-ordinate fleet vehicle activity and monitor river flow and

sewerage systems,” explained Astbury.

Severn Trent has also recently commissioned the Met Office to provide an

assessment of climate changes likely to affect its operations.

“Among other topics we are currently researching are changes in rainfall

resulting from increased greenhouse gases to enable us to assess our urban

storm water drainage systems,” said Met Office senior account manager Alyson

Bedford. “Climate change is likely to have a significant impact on our

services and the way in which we operate. By working with the Met Office we

can plan our needs efficiently and make any necessary changes to our

services in good time,” said Severn Trent’s director of asset planning and

investment Dr Terry Kitson.

This should be all good news for the Environment Agency which expects water

companpies to over-achieve on the new mandatory leakage charges set by Ofwat

for 1999/2000.

“We are of course glad to see any progress being made. Figures published to

date represent the very minimum that companies should be expected to

achieve,” said EA’s director of water management Dr Geoff Mance.

“Their ambitions should and can extend to beyond these targets and they

should continue to strive to maximise the benefits for their customers and

the water resources available to them.

“We are also anxious to bring the debate about leakage levels into the open

so that the assessments by water companies of their economic levels of

leakage can be published and we can then examine and compare the assumptions

and conclusions,” said Dr Mance. “Meantime the Agency will continue to

press for rapid progress with leakage control and will not issue any new

water abstraction licences unless it is satisfied with the water company’s

performance in this critical area.”

Also MVA, a multi-disciplinary consultancy, recently completed a contract

for Thames Water designed to assess the traffic disruption associated with

leakage control. Working in association with WRc, MVA was commissioned to

evaluate the costs to motorists and other vehicle operators of road works to

them, as a result of Thames Water’s leakage control programme, estimated at

around £1 million a year.

“Leakage control results in hidden costs arising from disruption to traffic

when roads are closed or particularly closed for leak detection and/or

repair,” said MVA project leader Neil Shepherd.

“These are vitally important

when assessing the wider and longer-term impact of maintaining adequate

water supplies,” he concluded.


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