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.
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
“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
“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.