If you cannot beat it, control it. Cutting leaks in a water stressed world.

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Water scarcity is one of the major challenges of our age. Fresh water use has risen rapidly over the last century, rising six-fold since 1900 to reach some four trillion cubic meters per year by the early 21st century and yet the amount of freshwater available has not changed. [1]

Despite the high rainfall in the UK, we have no cause for complacency about our use of water. A staggering 3.2 million cubic metres of water a day, escapes through leaks in the distribution network.

These enormous water losses must be replaced, treated and pumped again to maintain supplies to customers. This in turn uses more energy and resources, cutting the sustainability of water operations and leading to higher operating costs.

Utilities can take three general approaches to leakage management, classified as passive control, regular survey and leakage monitoring in zones or sectors.

Passive control is the least sophisticated strategy and in practice is a reaction to visible leaks reported by customers or spotted by the company’s staff.

The second strategy of regular surveys involves listening for leaks on pipework and fittings or taking readings of flow rates to identify high-volume night flows. High water consumption at night would suggest a burst or leak.

Leakage monitoring is a strategy of monitoring the flows into defined zones or districts to measure leakage and prioritise maintenance.

Traditional mechanical meters do not offer the accuracy needed and cannot cope with the low flows seen at night. By contrast, electromagnetic flowmeters offer improved accuracy over a far superior range of flows. In fact, modern meters could even detect a toilet flushing.

An example is ABB’s AquaMaster4. Its built-in Data Logger runs at high speed, giving the user total flexibility to download logged data frequently, every fifteen minutes if needed. The user can then investigate, in precise detail, flow and pressure activity during a period of interest, at even higher time resolution. Such high-resolution data aids step testing, leakage detection and water network analysis.

New thinking and technologies are shaking up how water companies find leaks. One such technique is acoustic loggers or laser beams transmitted through fibre optics. Vibrations caused by water leaving the pipe alter the refection of the laser beam pulse, signalling a leak.

Measurement of flows was a major factor in the ability of Scottish Water to reduce its leakages, saving a staggering 1,000 pipe bursts in three years.

If we are going to meet the challenge of global water scarcity water companies must be prepared to detect leaks in new ways and will help convince customers that they should also play their part in reducing water use.


[1]          https://ourworldindata.org/water-use-stress

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