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Managing leakage is a critical issue for water companies in the UK & Ireland.  In particular, water companies in England & Wales are being set targets to reduce leakage by at least 15% over the 2020-25 period by Ofwat and the Environment Agency.  These targets represent substantially lower leakage than has ever been achieved historically and will require concerted investment and focus if they are to be achieved.

Servelec Technologies recently completed two projects for UK Water Industry Research Ltd (UKWIR) regarding the analysis of costs and benefits associated with Active Leakage Control, i.e. the detection of leakage and undertaking of associated repairs. These were titled ‘The impact of reductions in leakage levels on reported and detected leak repair frequencies’ and ‘Measuring the Efficiency of Active Leakage Control’.  The Servelec Technologies team for the latter project included Hydrosave and CM Water Economics Ltd.

Alan Cunningham, Technical Director at Servelec Technologies, commented “The outputs of these projects will help water companies and other industry stakeholders to understand the full costs of leakage reduction, thereby informing the required budgets and strategy to meet challenging regulatory targets.”

Jo Parker, Project Manager for UKWIR, commented “Servelec Technologies worked hard to ensure that sufficient data was collected for the projects and carried out a robust analysis of the datasets provided.  The outputs of the projects will be of interest to all practitioners involved in leakage.”

The impact of reductions in leakage levels on reported and detected leak repair frequencies

This project investigated the impact of reducing leakage levels on the average frequencies of bursts and other identified leaks, including the proportions which are reported by the public and others, compared with those that are detected by Active Leakage Control.  The project included analysis of datasets supplied by several water companies. 

There was no clear evidence in the data reviewed of an offsetting of increased detected leaks by fewer reported leaks as leakage is reduced.  As a result the total number of leak repairs would be expected to increase.  Water companies will therefore need to factor the costs associated with additional detected leak repairs into the cost of leakage reductions.

Modelling carried out by the project suggested that an increase in Active Leakage Control effort by 50% would increase the total number of detected leaks by approximately 15% and only increase the number of detected bursts by approximately 5%.

The findings from the project will support water companies in understanding the costs and benefits of leakage reduction activity through Active Leakage Control.  This will support comparison of costs and benefits for different approaches to achieving performance commitments and help to ensure a holistic approach is taken to leakage economics modelling and network management.

Measuring the Efficiency of Active Leakage Control

This project reviewed the appropriate measures of Active Leakage Control performance and how efficiency of Active Leakage Control activity can be meaningfully quantified in the context of explanatory factors.  The project included a survey of water company and contractor representatives to understand in detail the motivations for assessing efficiency.  Illustrative models at a number of levels using frontier efficiency analysis techniques were developed to allow both operational and strategic issues associated with Active Leakage Control to be considered. 

Modelling carried out by the project showed that all other things being equal, a greater volume of leakage is expected to be found where more hours are worked, and in contexts where there is higher excess leakage, longer lengths of pipes, and an older network.

The project report recommends that water companies should build models of Active Leakage Control efficiency based upon the approaches described in this report. Water companies will be able to compare the performance and efficiencies of their various Active Leakage Control activities and personnel to identify good practice within their organisation and hence improve future performance.  This will provide a better understanding of the current level of Active Leakage Control performance and efficiency and the extent to which these can be improved in the context of the company’s underlying contextual factors. 

More generally, the report will support stakeholders in understanding the costs associated with efficient Active Leakage Control activity and hence how these compare with other approaches to leakage reduction.

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About UKWIR (UK Water Industry Research)

UKWIR was set up by the UK water industry in 1993 to provide a framework for the procurement of a common research programme for UK water companies on 'one voice' issues. UKWIR is responsible for facilitating the shaping of the water industry's research agenda, developing the research programme, procuring and managing the research and disseminating the findings. UKWIR's members comprise 19 water and sewerage undertakers in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.