Big Data Joins The Battle On Water Leakage

The water industry’s battle to reduce leakage levels could be transformed with the development of a new data-driven technique to identify and tackle the most problematic areas.

Using a wide range of information sources, Essex & Suffolk Water will work with data professionals to identify areas across Essex that can be targeted to deliver the best possible reductions in water loss and reduce leakage levels to a record low.

The aim is for this groundbreaking data and spatial awareness-led methodology to be used alongside existing techniques for tackling leakage in a bid to return the company’s levels to below their historic minimum of around 57 megalitres (Ml) a day, down from the current 70Ml.

In partnership with two companies, PA Consulting and 1Spatial, the company has identified that focusing its efforts on specific locations – known as district metered locations (DMAs) – where more water is being lost, can help to achieve this keep Essex & Suffolk Water at the forefront of the industry.

That’s an annual reduction of 4,745,000,000 litres a year and the methodology is adaptable to other geographic areas.

The idea first came about when Essex & Suffolk Water’s parent company, Northumbrian Water Group (NWG), held its first ever NWG Innovation Festival in July 2017.

As part of the week-long Festival, 60 data scientists spent three days crunching 55GB of data from a wide variety of sources, ranging from existing information on leakage and ground structure to road traffic statistics and Second World War bombing records.

Following the NWG Innovation Festival, the three companies continued looking at how to develop the idea and are now starting work on creating a “heat map” that will direct the most effective resources more efficiently, prioritising the finding and fixing of the biggest leaks.

Michael Hull, Intelligence and Analytics Manager at Northumbrian Water Group, said: “This is going to revolutionise the way we tackle leakage from our water network and, most importantly, significantly improve the results we get, saving large volumes of water.

“Currently, we go into an area and fix as many leaks as we can find before moving on to the next location. This heat map will lead to smarter, better informed deployment of resources that will make a much bigger impact.

“We will get in and out of an area more quickly, finding more leaks faster and significantly reducing the volumes of water lost from our network.”

The first stage of the work involves PA Consulting establishing the most important variables that have an effect on leakage, such as soil types and the age of existing pipes, so that these can be used to identify target areas.

A model will then be developed by 1Spatial that will inform activity. The aim is to be using the new system, which will be integrated with the water company’s existing mapping software, by April 2018.

Michael said: “While the overall idea will work anywhere, each part of the country is different, so the variables that will inform the process will vary. We already have the data for Essex, which is where we experience our biggest leakage challenge, available from the NWG Innovation Festival, making that the ideal place to start. We can then apply the same methods to creating a heat map for Suffolk, as well as for the North East, where we operate as Northumbrian Water Limited.”

Nigel Watson, Group Director of Information Services at Northumbrian Water Group, said: “The NWG Innovation Festival was set up as a way of working with others to tackle significant problems that affect far more than just our company and its customers. It’s fantastic that something as industry-leading as this, which can be used throughout the sector to address a major issue, has come out of the festival and we’re very excited to see the results and how they could be game-changing for the water industry and anyone else with underground infrastructure.”

Dennis Dellow, Technical Consultant at Essex & Suffolk Water, said: “This is a big breakthrough for the water industry, with the use of big data and spatial patterns giving a real insight not only into those factors that can affect leakage, but also into how that knowledge can help us get ahead of the game.

“Using a combination of this inferred knowledge and existing practices, we are making real strides towards reducing leakage significantly.”

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