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"Management of pressure at different points is crucial in a project: key for leak detection"

Aganova, specialists in the development of technologies for drinking water analysis, continues to expand internationally, with technologies for water leak detection in large diameter networks – the Nautilus System – a solution designed and patented by the company from the Costa del Sol, Spain.

The Smart Water Magazine team had the chance to speak with Cristina Fernandez, technical director at Aganova, about her career at Aganova and her perspective on the sector. Cristina has led water loss detection projects in Africa, America, Asia, and Europe, and can boast on her resumé of having “navigated” more than 2,000 pipeline kilometres and having contributed to the recovery (only in 2021) of 5,200 litres per minute of water, through the location of more than 800 leaks in transmission networks.

Cristina provides us her technical perspective, from the point of view of global water leak minimization.

First of all, Cristina, tell us about your experience and your career path.

My career path has been linked with Aganova from the beginning. I studied industrial design, and soon, after finalizing my university degree, my first water leak detection projects with Aganova began. Since then, I have alternated my studies from behind the desk – where I have done a master’s degree in Water Sector Technologies Management and university studies in project management – with, as you said, work out in the field. In fact, in terms of my academic background, I could have opted for a position in the R&D department, but if I am being honest, the challenges in the area of operations were more motivating for me.

  • In many areas, the main obstacles that make NRW minimization difficult originate from a lack of knowledge about the networks

At Aganova I have had the opportunity to be in contact with water systems from all over the world, and have been able to study their particularities and issues up-close. To be young and working side by side with such amazing engineers from all over the world was a lucky opportunity for which I am grateful.

In your experience, what are the main problems or obstacles that make non-revenue water minimization difficult?

We can count on a large network of partners who are key to supporting our adaptation to the idiosyncrasies of any country

In my case, I can talk about non-revenue water (NRW) issues concerning water loss caused by leaks in transportation or large diameter networks, which is where I have been involved more directly.

In this sense, the reason for the problem can vary depending on the country. In many areas, the main obstacles originate from the lack of knowledge they have about their networks. When studying projects, I am still surprised by the absence of historic knowledge of their network. Of course, taking the particularities of the large diameter networks and long routes into consideration, the maintenance technicians find serious issues when identifying and segmenting their networks to undertake leak detection campaigns. There is huge work for many water companies over the world in terms of inventory of their networks and registering existing elements. On innumerable occasions, various issues have been discovered in the network during the inspection with the Nautilus System, whose existence was unknown by the client (lost or partially open valves, derivations that were not completely closed, etc.). These are not sporadic situations, but something quite frequent.

Of course, another reason that complicates leak detection is administrative processes. From the time losses are noticed until a contract is awarded, large amounts of water are lost.

What are the key differences between the water networks over the world?

There are a lot of differences, but there are more similarities. Even though it may seem obvious, the main differences are cultural, and the work processes in each society. Luckily, at Aganova we can count on a large network of partners who are key to supporting or facilitating our adaptation to the idiosyncrasies of any country from the outset.

The Nautilus System can detect leaks providing that we have a minimum pressure; if very low, we would study different approaches

Of course, there are also technical differences which ideally should be standardized, but the reality is that we have always been able to adapt to different work conditions. For example, insertion and extraction systems are key procedures for our Nautilus System, as it permits a free-flowing field operative. However, on innumerable occasions, we have adapted our patterns to the client’s needs: creating specifically tailor-made traps for the pipes, using divers in subaquatic situations, or using nets designed for very diverse configurations.

From my experience, the crucial difference in the study of a project is the management of the pressure at the different points: this is key for leak detection. Depending on the pressure level, the typology of the leaks and their frequency can be very different. In higher pressure points, leaks are more frequent, but their detection is less complicated. Generally, in areas where the pressure is lower, leaks are less common but more complex to pinpoint. With the Nautilus System, we can detect leaks providing that we have a minimum pressure. In the event that the pressure was extremely low, we would study different ways to approach the project.

  • Many projects are reactive, the client calls us when the water loss is sizeable; however, preventive campaigns would be most effective

Could you tell us what are, in your opinion, the solutions to reduce water leak losses?

Campaigns that raise awareness about the importance of water resource protection are being put forward. Furthermore, policies and regulations are increasingly less permissive regarding water losses by operators. However, from my experience, which is completely practical, these policies usually take a while to be applied. Many projects that are carried out are reactive, meaning the client calls us when the water loss is sizeable. However, frankly speaking, preventive campaigns would be the most effective. If we can detect leaks from 0.005 litres per second, why wait for leaks to increase and cause major problems?

Of all the projects you have worked on, is there one you feel especially proud of?

That is a really difficult question because I have learned a lot from every project and, speaking on behalf of the technicians on the team, every campaign has meant a great deal of progress for us and our technologies. If I had to mention one, I would emphasize a project accomplished in countries suffering from water stress and with lower purchasing power, as contributing to water management in these areas is more gratifying and entails bigger challenges. A project which comes to my mind is one we have just finished in the United Arab Emirates, with DEWA. With our support, the client has been able to reduce (in only a few months) water losses by 68.4 million gallons, which makes me feel very proud. This project has made me reflect on the potential water loss minimization we could achieve if more extensive campaigns were made in every country.

Changing the subject, and as we come to the end of this interview, I would like to ask you about your experience as a young woman in this mainly male-dominated sector.

There are thousands of anecdotes to cite on this topic. More and more women are joining this sector. Even though it is true that seeing a woman in the field has caused surprise among technicians, I have always received appreciation and respect from colleagues and clients. Therefore, I encourage every young professional woman to join this thrilling sector and support the sustainability of our planet’s development.