Water is a precious resource – we need to be smarter at managing it

David McLoughlin, Managing Director
14 August 2018
Amey employees wearing PPE
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A proactive approach to prevention and developing new technology to predict where leaks will occur is essential if we want to preserve our water says Amey's Managing Director for Utilities David McLoughlin

Imagine having to manage an aging network you can’t see, transporting millions of litres of clean and waste water underground across the UK - and then imagine having to try and predict where and when a leak may occur on that network.

That’s the challenge faced by water companies up and down the UK, including Amey. Clean water wasted from leaks is estimated at three billion litres per day with many areas across England on track to potentially face significant shortages by 2050. This teamed up with the significant environmental risks caused by sewer collapses means that addressing this issue is now more crucial than ever.

Changing attitudes to water use

In a recent report by The Environment Agency, Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency said: “We need to change our attitudes to water use. It is the most fundamental thing needed to ensure a healthy environment but we are taking too much of it and have to work together to manage this precious resource.

“Industry must innovate and change behaviours in order to reduce demand and cut down on wastage – and we all have a duty to use water more wisely at home.

With demand on the rise, water companies must invest more in infrastructure to address leakage instead of relying on abstraction and the natural environment to make up this shortfall.”

Millions of pounds are spent each year delivering reactive response services to customers across the country because of faults. Water companies and contractors need to become smarter in how they monitor and manage underground water networks to predict faults before issues arise.

Understanding the root cause of leakage

There are several factors to consider when it comes to leakage. The increase in demand for clean water and the ever-growing population places significant pressures on water companies to reduce the waste of water through leaks.

On top of this we’re faced with the challenge of aging Victorian water networks - some of these are up to 150 years old meaning they are at an ever-increasing risk of leaking. Water companies across the UK have been carrying out significant investment programmes to upgrade the networks and reduce leakage - but there is still a long way to go.

Of course, leaks can happen across newer sections of the water network too, so understanding the root cause and key triggers points is key to proactively managing leakage.

Climate change also has a huge impact on our water networks. In recent years, we have been faced with a significant rise in flooding events which place an enormous amount of strain on water and waste water networks - sometimes leaving them vulnerable to bursts.

Proactive prevention is the answer

At Amey we believe that proactive prevention is fundamental to tackling this issue. We’re working on better ways to proactively predict areas at risk of leaks so they can be prevented, which would mean more water, less wastage, reduced risks to the environment and reduced costs for companies and their customers. On top of this there would be less disruption resulting from burst pipes.

We’re investing in projects to review how we manage leaks and make better use of data and technology to predict key issues and risks with the purpose of ensuring a more resilient network.

Amey has teamed up with the Virtual Engineering Centre, part of the UK Scientific Research Council, to develop the first tool of its kind in the water industry that predicts where and when customer affecting incidents will occur.

By using readily available data, we can build a historic picture of each customer’s journey, enabling better informed, proactive decisions to be made. The tool will predict the incidents and automatically issue instructions direct to field operatives who then prevent potential problems for our customers.

Currently in the first phase of development and implementation with a prototype out for trial, the tool is on track to be in place and improving our service offering during peak periods by the end of the year. Once in place this will not only reduce the number of reactive call outs and unpredicted leaks but we believe will also increase customer satisfaction and first time resolutions.

Technology can identify risks across networks

On top of this we’re carrying out an extensive proactive network intervention trial using multiple existing sources of asset and operational data. This along with additional sources, including satellite monitoring – focusing on ground movement to identify areas at risk of sewer collapses or sink holes – allows us to better identify risks across the network.

During our exploratory phase, we retrospectively analysed several major sewer collapse incidents and found there to be clear trigger points for intervention some time before the actual collapse occurred. We also used our Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) operational capability to highlight the risk of voids in the ground, potentially impacting on or being caused by network assets.

As any doctor will tell you, prevention is always better than cure. If we can use a data analysis approach to better identify areas of risk, or use new technology to see weak spots in networks that we didn’t know were there, then we can fix problems at the earliest juncture – and get smarter at preserving the vital resource that is water.



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