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17 January 23

Affinity Water uses new technology to repair leaks faster and trains up a new generation of apprentices in leak detection

Following the big freeze thaw of this Winter Affinity Water is explaining to its customers how it is investing in and improving its leak detection work to find and fix leaks faster.

Since April 2022 (until Nov 22) our dedicated teams have fixed over 13,000 leaks, an equivalent of 78 million litres per day of water. This means it is already half-way to meeting its target to cut leakage by 20 per cent by 2020/2025 and by using a multi-pronged approach the Company is confident it is on track to achieve this commitment to its customers.

In a new podcast Wayne Novelli, the Business Lead for Active Leakage Control at Affinity Water, explains how investing in new technology and learning how to use it better, while also recruiting and training up a new generation of leakage technicians is helping the Company to improve its leakage performance.

He says: “We are trying to find ways of detecting and fixing leaks that are not reliant on acoustics. AI is helping us, and we are also building digital networks, and using situational tools which are still in the early stages of development. All this does help us narrow down an area when we have a problem, it makes our surveys more efficient”.

He gives us a fascinating insight into how the practices of detecting leaks in the past on old metallic pipes has now given way to using tools such as hydrophones on more modern plastic pipework so they can listen through water. Even so, the traditional methods of employing Leakage Technicians who use metal listening sticks to listen for leaks is still part of the evolving new mix.

Any noise such as that generated by traffic, aeroplanes, trains, wind and rain, people moving about, can make the job of listening for leaks that much more complex. Mr Novelli is interviewed by a road, allowing the podcast audience to hear for itself how difficult it is to hear above traffic noise.

In hot weather and in cold weather, the underground pipes move and are at greater risk of fracturing and leaking and there are more call outs for Mr Novelli and his teams.

He says young people are finding the leakage apprenticeships interesting as they combine both field work and the use of new data applications. “It’s challenging and engaging, and we all feel we are doing something good.”

They also employ fixed network loggers in areas with plastic pipes and technicians are sent out to confirm if there is a leak on the system when these loggers detect specific noises.

Another important tool in leak detection is the practice of splitting areas up into so called DMAs, District Meter Areas, so that the teams can determine more accurately when an unusual amount of water is being used in a locality and this in turn might be a sign there is a leak on the systems. These teams have the hard job of finding leaks below ground before they are spotted and complained about.

He said: “With the new trends we are better at preventing leakage in the first place. We have more and more tools that make us aware when there is a problem. We can then narrow down that area of interest. The equipment that enables us to locate the leaks is improving and then we can fix them faster”.

He said there was no “magic bullet” that would automatically solve leakage but that having a “strong foundation” for their work through their management structures and imparting the skills to use the basic tools and new technology better would help them make the right decision in where to dig for the leak.

He continued: “You have to make a judgement, draw a circle and say that is where I want you to dig. It’s these real basic detection skills that are helping us to find and fix leaks faster and that our apprentices are learning”.

He then illustrates how this is done when you are by a road. “We need to listen for the leak noise coming up from the road surface and then we do a whole load of checks and processes. The leak isn’t necessarily where the noise is and then when we do find it, we also have to ensure we can get to our Main!”

Mr Novelli ended the podcast by saying how much he enjoyed his work and helping to enhance the environment: “I got into it because of someone I knew that did it and it sounded interesting. I always wanted to do something that adds value and reducing leakage and saving water was always important and as the years have gone on it’s become more and more environmentally important. There’s still so much to learn and there’s still so much to progress. I’ve been doing this since 1997 and I can still learn something every day. I always say to the apprentices you will learn something every day. That is a great feeling going home at the end of the day and knowing you have done something that has made a difference but knowing you are part of improving the future environment”.

Affinity Water is asking its customers and stakeholders to “have a say” in how they would like the Company to plan for its water supplies in the short and longer terms with the challenges that an increasing population and climate change present.

The Draft Water Resources Management Plan 2024 sets out the Company’s roadmap to provide a reliable, resilient, sustainable, efficient, and affordable water supply to its customers between 2025 and 2075. It highlights the challenges it will face and how it intends to maintain the balance between water supply and demand, while protecting the environment. The plan covers leakage.

We can help customers to do their bit by saving water, energy and money off their bills with free water-saving devices, visit affinitywater.co.uk/saveourstreams.

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