Water scarcity and regulatory pressure are leading to more remote monitoring of leakage - and technological advances mean that might be about to accelerate, writes Alan Cunningham, technical director, Ovarro.
Global water resources are stretched and the application of advanced leakage management technologies is one way to ensure supply and demand balances are met. Various drivers mean interest in the application of real-time data analysis has quickly gone from it being ‘quite a nice idea’ to ‘we need to do this, we need to do it now’.
In the UK the drivers are mainly regulatory, with strenuous leakage targets imposed on water companies in England and Wales and expectations from regulator Ofwat for innovation to be woven into strategies . There are also challenging targets to bring down the duration of customer supply interruptions and the industry’s own Net Zero 2030 Routemap, which has accelerated leakage reduction as part of the ambitious plan.
In Australia and parts of the US, leakage management is driven more by drought and availability of water. Utilities and municipalities are doing much more leakage reduction as part of a range of measures required to manage demand, including water restrictions and efficiency measures.
There are many cities where water availability is constrained and leakage management and improved visibility and management of the network is necessary to keep taps running. In 2018 Cape Town nearly hit day zero, when residents experienced such a severe drought that there was justifiable concern that the taps would run dry.
Through a combination of very extreme water restrictions, a lot of focus on managing the water network and a bit of luck with the rain arriving just in time, Cape Town eventually managed to keep the network running.
The good news is the increased availability and falling cost of real-time leak detection technology. Acoustic logging technology is not new, ground microphones and hydrophones have been used for some time. Traditionally this has been on a lift-and-shift basis – the network operator identifies an area with leakage, acoustic logging equipment is installed and once the leak is found, the kit is moved to a new site.
As this acoustic logging technology advances and costs fall, the direction of travel is towards more permanent monitoring. Fixed network acoustic logging features in utilities’ business and water resource plans and chief executives are saying that this is what will help them achieve their leakage goals.
Looking ahead, the uptake of remote monitoring is expected to increase and the human resource challenge experienced during the Covid pandemic is a good example of why.
Historically, the water industry has not always moved as fast as others in embracing new technology. These solutions are now becoming more widespread and where the risk is greater, whether that is from water shortages or sending operatives out on site, the balance shifts.
The water crisis may be deepening, but the increased availability of proven technologies that capture the power of data means that more efficient and proactive management is within reach.