Achieving sustainable water management should be the aspiration of every utility company worldwide. Besides the environmental aspect, sustainable water management is simply good business.
Water is a scarce and valuable resource under increasing stress, and sustainable water management not only protects the environment – it also saves utilities and their consumers real money.
Water lost is money lost
Non-Revenue Water (NRW) is the difference between the amount of water a utility supplies to the distribution system and the amount of water billed. NRW is a waste of money, and water losses from leakage is a waste of the planet’s scarce drinking water resources.
Unfortunately, NRW levels are high in many cities around the globe. Huge volumes of clean water are lost through leaks and overflows or not accounted for due to metering inaccuracies at consumers and illegal connections (theft). In many parts of the world this results in far more water extraction than needed, and limited water resources are being over-exploited.
This is unsustainable, and the result is people suffering from water scarcity and unnecessarily high water prices. In the long run, high NRW levels pose a real threat to development, urbanisation and agriculture for many people.
NRW is always a key performance indicator for any water utility. Reducing NRW-levels is a pivotal management challenge, and the aspiration should be to reduce NRW down to the optimal economical level of leakage (ELL). This will be the most beneficial for both economy, finances and resources.
How to manage?
Effective leakage management is not accomplished with a quick fix, and since all utility networks in the world are unique, the objectives to be selected depend on the current situation in each individual company. No matter what your challenges are, we can help you.
1. Develop an NRW master plan
The first step is to analyse your water distribution system and develop a master plan for NRW reduction. Performing a water audit with a breakdown of the IWA (International Water Association) water balance will help you quantify the different NRW elements to prioritise activities and investments to reduce leakage.
Always consider the full cycle of water from the source up to the point of consumption. Do not focus solely on the components the utility can manage. Customer awareness is also a vital part of this aspect, and every drop counts.
Establish an overview
You need to know your water network in detail. Locate all pipelines, production plants, pumps and valves and have the complete network registered in a Geographic Information System (GIS) so you know exactly where all your assets are located.
You need to locate the major leakages first. Luckily, these are also the easiest to find. Use standard portable acoustic equipment and a systematic approach.
Assess and register all identified leakage locations, prioritise and repair accordingly, and store the results in your GIS. You have now considerably reduced your NRW while also obtaining good data on your geographical work area.
The next steps depend on the current situation in each individual company. First establish an overview, then expand with more advanced systems.
Pipes, valves, pumps, smart meters, sensors, simulation models, management information systems (MIS) etc. The idea behind the LEAKman initiative is to make all components of the utility and the distribution network operate as an integrated system. This allows the utility to manage assets, production, operation, leakage, energy consumption, pressure, revenue and finance, making it profitable and helping you achieve a single, integrated and sustainable system.
2. Instrumentation and monitoring
Your master plan may have pinpointed a need for investments in basic instrumentation such as intelligent meters (flow, pressure, consumption) or information systems such as GIS, CIS (Customer Information System) and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition).
Skilled and well-trained staff working in a professional environment with access to the right tools and equipment is key to reducing leaks. Optimising the speed of repair will reduce the volume of water lost through running leaks, but often, a focus on increasing the quality of repair to prevent the same leaks from re-appearing is just as important. An ongoing capacity building programme combined with a number of Key Performance Indicators is vital.
3. Optimising pressure and leakage control
Intelligent valves and pumps can be utilised to manage the pressure. In combination with hydraulic modelling, pressure management solutions can be designed to operate at the optimal point. The pressure is continuously minimised in the water network on DMA-level (District Metering Area) whilst ensuring the minimum required pressure at all customers.
Operating the distribution network at the lowest required pressure reduces not only leakage from existing leaks, but also burst frequency and energy consumption while prolonging the lifetime of the pipes. In other words, it saves a lot of money.
Using permanently deployed noise loggers reduces the runtime of invisible leaks significantly. Combined with smart meters and water balance reporting on DMAs, it enables leakage teams to react quickly and efficiently and target the weakest areas and pipeline segments.
4. Pipeline management & rehabilitation
Continuous management of the pipeline network is the only way to reduce leakage to an absolute and lasting minimum. This requires preventive maintenance as well as strategic rehabilitation. In order to know when and where to repair or renew, efficient and databased asset management is a necessary precondition to ensure intelligent rehabilitation plans.
Data made available and operational
Objectives should be formulated in terms of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Access to updated and validated data is essential in order to select and monitor relevant KPIs. Many utilities are large businesses that generate large amounts of data; the challenge is to make this data available and operational.
Continuously improving performance
It is vital for any efficient utility company to master performance management. Performance management reduces NRW and ensures that the utility executes its primary objectives in the most efficient manner.
Utilities in general have a substantial number of objectives they want to achieve. However, we recommend selecting a maximum of 4-5 objectives as focal points for a given period, typically 1-2 years. As work progresses and objectives are met, you can then evaluate the results and set new objectives.
We can help
It takes considerable work to get that far. But it is worth the effort. Any utility that becomes compliant with these standards will achieve significantly reduced overall costs and a pipe network that is in constantly good condition.