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Anglian Water uses drones to find and fix hidden leaks during drought

  • Anglian Water uses drones to find and fix hidden leaks during drought
    Credit: Anglian Water

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Anglian Water
There are more than 4,500 of us here at Anglian Water and we’re putting water at the heart of a whole new way of living.

Anglian Water is carrying out innovative drone surveys around Ardleigh reservoir, Colchester, to identify difficult to find leaks and fix them, as this year’s drought presents an opportunity to spot leaks in a new way.

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 aerial drones are just one of the innovative ways in which the region’s water company is driving down leakage rates. While its leakage rates per kilometre of water main are already half the industry average, despite having the biggest geographical region of any water company, Anglian Water is determined to keep pushing boundaries. The company is investing millions of pounds in advanced technology, including pressure management and system optimisation, to help it achieve its challenging targets – which have never been achieved before in the UK.

The teams in Colchester will use drones to take images, which are then stitched together for geospatial analysis. Teams can then use these images to identify unusual flora growth which may be caused by leaks on water mains. Part of the reason for carrying out this work now is the dry weather, which makes any unexpected foliage easier to spot.

Chris Utton, Leakage Delivery Support Manager for Anglian Water, said: “We’ve been using drones to find underground, hidden leaks since 2017. Our previous work usually focused on thermal imaging, to find different temperature patterns – but this year’s drought has given us the opportunity to spot leaks in a new way.

“Our drones are looking for unusual flora growth which, during periods of dry weather like we’ve seen this summer, can indicate leaks on our water mains. These leaks are usually really difficult to find. In the past, drones have helped us find and fix leaks on sections of pipe that we had previously planned to replace. This technology can save us up to £7,000 per flight in water lost through leakage and tens of thousands of pounds preventing unnecessary pipe replacements, helping us keep customers’ bills low.”

Another benefit of the drone technology is that it helps to minimise disruption for customers, by covering large lengths of the water pipeline in a short space of time. This means the job can be carried out faster and more precisely – meaning less digging, lower costs, less water lost and less disruption to customers.

Colchester lies in the driest region in the UK and is particularly vulnerable to climate change. This summer has been the East of England’s driest year since 1976. In the last 8 months, the region has had just 74 per cent of its average rainfall. That’s 117mm less than normal and roughly equivalent to 2 1/2 months less rainfall than usual.

To help make Colchester more resilient to the impacts of climate change and population growth, Anglian Water is already ensuring leaks are detected and fixed sooner through its transformative smart metering programme. So far, more than 80 per cent of homes in Colchester and the surrounding area have been upgraded to a smart meter as part of Anglian Water’s investment, which also gives customers more visibility of their usage, helping to reduce the cost of their water bills.

The water company is also investing £400 million into laying hundreds of kilometres of new, interconnecting pipes that will bring water from the wettest areas in the north of its region to the driest areas in the south and east, including Essex, by 2025.

With the East of England still in drought status, Anglian Water thanks and continues to urge customers to help keep doing their bit to use water wisely and has been working with local customers to help them to conserve water. Most recently, it was a headline sponsor of Colchester’s Eco Festival in early September, offering free water saving devices to encourage customers to help reduce their water consumption.

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