Field Technician Damien Cox working detecting leaks in Colchester in Essex. May 26 2015 Matthew Power Photography 07969 088655 @mpowerphoto

Saving water and only using what we need is important, not just for keeping household water bills low, but also for the environment. Anglian Water’s Director of Water Services, Paul Valleley explains how the company is doing its bit to make every drop count by waging a war on leakage.

in England and Wales and we supply just over a billion litres of water a day along enough pipes to reach to Sydney and back. Not only this, our region is the driest in the UK. The East of England receives around half the rainfall compared to the rest of the country, and sometimes rainfall averages are lower than Jerusalem’s – although it doesn’t always feel like it when it’s still grey outside. These facts combined with being one of the fastest growing regions and the major challenges posed by climate change mean we’re in the business of resilience and saving water.

Anglian Water is waging a war on leakage and is using some more unusual tools in its armoury to win the battle. And it’s working. Our innovative approach to tackling leaks has made us an industry leader, with the lowest level of leakage of any water company – half that of any other.

Even though our leakage levels are already much less than the rest of the industry, in 2017 alone, we reduced leakage levels by a further five per cent, saving an additional 10 million litres of water everyday – enough to fill four Olympic sized swimming pools. But we have ambitious targets to save even more.

We don’t believe it’s good enough to stop at the economic level of leakage and targets set by our regulator; not when reducing leakage is so important to customers and so vital for us in this dry part of the country. As part of our draft Water Resources Management plan we’ve committed an extra £50million to drive leakage down by a further 23% by 2025. This will take Anglian Water to a world-leading low level of leakage.

Despite supplying water to over a quarter more properties than in 1989, Anglian Water puts slightly less water into supply each day now than we did back then. This has only been possible with the help of customers being more water wise and by our continued investment into tackling leakage.

We hate leaks as much as our customers and by the end of this AMP we will have invested £124m to wage a war on leaks.

Along with a 300-strong team of leakage technicians, on-hand throughout the year to help spot and fix leaks, we’ve been investing in the latest cutting-edge technology including sensors and drones with thermal imaging to help find the ‘below the surface leaks’ that are harder to find. A specialist Intensive Leakage Team work around the clock to find leaks that can’t be seen or heard with traditional equipment. Together, the teams discover an impressive 7,000 leaks a year – before any customer would even know they are there.

Our leakage teams are serious about their craft and committed to doing a great job for customers. They’re like a dog with a bone.

As a business, our aim is to prevent them ever occurring in the first place or if not, to find them before they are noticeable, and ensure we respond rapidly to any leaks which our customers report to us.

It is this unwavering commitment to driving down leakage which has lead to Anglian Water being named one of the Leading Utility’s of the World in April 2018. There are only 28 water utilities in the world who have achieved this accolade and membership is by invitation only. Anglian Water is the only water company in England and Wales that has been invited to join, in recognition of its achievements and innovation in areas such as leakage.

Paul added: We are immensely proud to have been named one of the World’s Leading Utilities. Driving down leakage is the right thing to do for our customers and for the environment. It’s also essential for building greater resilience across our water network, given the challenges of climate change and a growing population. With extremes of weather and the risk of drought becoming more frequent innovative solutions are needed in order to establish long term, resilient water supplies.

Attack of the drones

In 2016, Anglian Water became the first water company in the UK to trial thermal imaging technology to detect leaking water pipes. With nearly 24,000 miles of water pipe to keep an eye on, much of it in rural and remote areas the aerial technology will help reduce the cost and time taken to find a leak by pinpointing its location more precisely.

The thermal imaging drones work by spotting changes in soil temperature near the water pipes. Cold mornings are the best time to fly the drone, so that any leaking water is around 10 degrees Celsius warmer than the average ground temperature. They are flown in the morning along the length of the pipe and the images can be analysed straight away. Any changes in soil temperature are then marked and investigated further by the leakage team.

Another benefit of the drone technology it is helps to minimise disruption for customers, by covering large lengths of the water pipeline in a short space of time. The sensor and camera on the drone can identify differences in soil temperature. These differences are then analysed and the exact point of the temperature change is then investigated using traditional leakage approaches and by excavating the area.

All this means the job can be carried out quicker and more precisely – meaning less digging, less cost to the business, less water lost and less disruption to customers.

Each drone flight that detects a leak can save the company up to £7,000 in lost water, and can save tens of thousands of pounds if the leak would prove difficult to identify using traditional leak detection. The drones are just one way of helping to keep customers’ bills low and ensuring we’re running an ultra-efficient business.

Listening for leaks

Our proactive leakage detection activity aims to identify issues before customers are aware of them. An example of this work is the mass deployment of noise loggers to identify leaks before they become visible. We are exploring a new type of noise logger that is left permanently in place on the network to continuously listen for leaks. This will tell us exactly when and where a leak occurs, allowing us to fix it as quickly as possible

In addition, we kept our leakage monitoring systems operational at all times, and have a dedicated team to manage this process as well as diagnosing, designing and delivering best value solutions to issues that arise when the network doesn’t respond as we expect it to. This team also ensures future investment is targeted to where it is needed most, fixing thousands of burst pipes every year.

Smart Meters

In addition, as part of The Smarter Drop campaign, Anglian Water has been trialling new ‘Smart Meter’ technology across thousands of properties in the Newmarket area. More than 6,000 smart meters have been installed to accurately record and analyse the water usage in these properties. The smart meters give an almost real-time breakdown of a household’s water usage, meaning any spikes in demand at unusual times of day can indicate a customer-side leak. Any anomalies in data are followed up on by a member of the leakage team where we work with the customer to help them rectify the problem, ultimately helping them save water and money on their bills at the same time.

Putting it all together

We are committed to continuing to excel at leakage reduction, to going well beyond our regulatory targets, driving down leakage even further by 2020 and ultimately achieving world leading leakage levels through our ambitious Water Resource Management Plan investment. We’re also committed to sharing best practice with other utilities so they can learn from our experiences. International speaker engagements and hosting knowledge-sharing days are commonplace, and essential to help the UK industry improve as a whole.