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15 February 23

Technicians at Affinity Water explain how they fix and repair leaks and why hot and cold weather leads to more problems

There’s more to fixing a leak on a network than most people realise, and with 17,000 km of pipes across its three regions that would stretch from London to Sydney, Affinity Water knows how important it is to have skilled teams at the ready to respond to call outs.

In a new podcast Rob King, a Regional Operations Manager and Phil Adams, the Business Lead in the North, explain how the Company has invested more in utilising technology to find leaks and how it has been reducing the time it takes to fix them.

The network of pipes Affinity Water is responsible for is used to deliver over 936 million litres of high-quality water to 3.8 million customers, every single day. It will be investing in innovative technology to drive down leakage, with an aim to have reduced leakage by 20% by 2025.

Day and night it is monitoring its network of pipes making use of technology and developing Artificial Intelligence and relying on its experienced teams of technicians to detect and solve problems when they arise.

The hot summer of 2022 and the cold freeze thaw in December 2022 put considerable pressure on the network and the teams to respond to an unprecedented level of call outs but working around the clock they responded to situations as and when they developed.

In this new podcast Rob and Phil explain how most leaks are in the ground, rather than the classic burst pouring out across a street, so to repair a leak they need to identify the right place to dig, and whether it is safe to dig or whether the pipework of other utilities makes this immediately possible or if they need to wait to co-ordinate their work with others. In some circumstances road closures will be needed and permits granted from local authorities for traffic management systems.

If the leak is found to be on the customer side, they will try to help, but it may well be that a plumber is needed.

The podcast, which is the seventh in this Affinity Water “How Water Works?” series, can be listened to here:

Phil Adams begins the podcast by explaining how they prioritise call outs and why some may take precedence over another, such as a leak which is spilling water onto a footpath which could represent a trip hazard: “Safety is key to prioritisation. The safety and well being of our customers, vehicle users, and passers-by. Often when you have a burst it can undermine the road infrastructure and create large holes underneath the road that can create a collapse. That is rare, but it can happen, and we also have to take into account the sheer volume of water that is being lost, and vehicles can aquaplane if it is going onto a road. A freeze thaw can turn a road or a footpath into an ice rink. So, we prioritise in those ways. But equally if we have a single customer without water, we will prioritise that very highly because again it impacts their family and their life”.

Rob, who looks after a team of customer service technicians, says the smallest of leaks can become a danger to the public. He explains how his teams respond to calls by travelling out to see what is happening and once at the burst technicians listen to see how serious the problem is and asses its impact on others.

In the hot weather the ground dries out and the old cast iron pipes can move and the joints can leak, and then in the summer months the Company may well be experiencing high demand as well: Rob continued: “We can prepare for things like a hot Bank Holiday weekend, and anticipate that demand will increase so we can move water around and try and top up our reservoirs to do rezones, so we try and prepare for it. This summer was 40 degrees it was unbelievable and then in the winter we got minus 10. You work round the clock, to repair pipes, and to move water around. In the freeze thaw again the ground movement was causing the pipes to leak, and then everybody was at home using water, so demand was high, so it was a perfect storm. On top of that we had business and customer side leakage too, contributing to high demand. You get in the car it is minus 10 and then you know temperatures are going to go back up and that is when more bursts happen. You are carrying out repairs and your teams are moving from one thing to another and then at night you are talking to your colleagues on Teams. You don’t stop but you do support one-another.”

Phil Adams continued by stressing that planning is key particularly when customers, businesses and even hospitals maybe without water with bottled water and tankers being brought in to help and priority being given to those on the PSR Priority Services Register: “We set up Bronze and Silver commands to plan ahead, but this December was very bad. We went to where we were most needed and then we could see our reservoirs where low, and we were working some exceptional hours”.

Venturing into one of the Company’s satellite stores where many different types of pipes and valves are kept, Phil and Rob, explain how important it is to keep spares and to have them geographically located around the region where they can be easily accessed: Rob said: “We have all different types of fittings, you don’t want to cut the customer off you can repair live. You wish you had x-ray vision, but you are standing on top of a road, and you are listening on a listening stick, so we know what pipe to dig on but then you may have to factor in traffic management as well. With the fittings and technology we have we can do a lot of things live without cutting the customer off. We communicate with customers via a text, or knocking on the door, and we try and give them a time when we will do the repairs, even writing to them if there is time. When it is done, they then get another text to say your water has been restored.”

Rob has worked for the Company 27 years and Phil 35 years. They would recommend their careers to others. Rob explained: “We’re measuring water a lot more than we used to, we’re making areas smaller”. Phil said: “We’ve got some great technology coming on stream which is fantastic”.

Rob ended by saying: “I have worked all around Affinity Water, it is a big company and well spread but we feel as if we know each other. As a career I would recommend it, you can change roles and pursue your interests”.

Phil explained that customer service is key: “I know we are not always successful, but I like customers to know that we are trying our very best, to ensure we deliver a great customer service 24/7 365 days a year, that’s our goal”.

More information on reporting leaks can be found here: affinitywater.co.uk/my-water/leaks

More information on the Priority Services Register can be found here: affinitywater.co.uk/priority-services

More information on Affinity Water careers and Apprenticeships can be found here: affinitywatercareers.co.uk

You can catch up on our write-up and audio of the previous podcasts in this “How Water Works?” series here.

 

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