UK drought conditions helping drones spot water pipe leaks

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Anglian-Water-Drone-Water-Leak-Screen-Capture
Anglian Water has used drones since 2017. The company estimates that the technology can save as much as $11,000 per flight in water lost through leakage, prevent unnecessary pipe replacements, and help to keep customers’ bills low. Screen capture credit: Norfolk Now, via YouTube

Anglian Water, a large U.K.’s water and wastewater utility, is taking advantage of unusually dry conditions by using drones to spot water pipe leaks that may have otherwise gone undetected in full reservoirs.

With nearly 24,000 miles of water pipe to monitor, often in rural and remote areas, the aerial technology — combined with low water levels — helps Anglian Water spot unusual flora growth that can often pinpoint leak locations.

The company says it is investing millions in advanced technology, including pressure management and system optimization, to help it achieve leakage rates per kilometre of watermain that are half the industry average.

“These leaks are usually really difficult to find,” explained Chris Utton, Anglian’s leakage delivery support manager, in a statement. “In the past, drones have helped us find and fix leaks on sections of pipe that we had previously planned to replace.”

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Anglian officials have used drones since 2017. The company estimates that the technology can save as much as $11,000 per flight in water lost through leakage, prevent unnecessary pipe replacements, and help to keep customers’ bills low.

“Our previous work usually focused on thermal imaging, to find different temperature patterns, but this year’s drought has given us the opportunity to spot leaks in a new way,” continued Utton.

In Canada, cities like Hamilton, Ontario, have also begun to use new ways to detect leaks. In early 2021, Hamilton introduced magnetic listening devices to fire hydrants and isolation valves to listen for leaks that could be within 100 metres. The listening took place between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. when water usage and traffic noise are typically less, meaning reduced interference and more accurate readings. After locating a potential leak with the listening device, crews would head into the field to pinpoint the exact leak location.

Hamilton officials said that at the end of 2021, proactive leak detection technology was deployed to more than 5,990 locations and had identified an additional 109 leaks (17 of these leaks were located on private water service lines). The detections saved the city an estimated $537,068.

Also in 2021, a study by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) found that cities such as Toronto could be wasting as much as 103 million litres of treated drinking water daily due to leaky or broken pipes. The leaks could stem from bad connections, internal or external corrosion, or mechanical damage caused by excessive load.

In line with Anglian’s efforts, the RCCAO report also highlighted the need for municipalities to increase water pressure to prevent infiltration.

A 2018 survey of 308 water utilities in North America showed that the typical age of a failing watermain is 50 years.

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