Across Victoria, water loss accounts for around 10 per cent of total water usage, so being able to detect and fix leaks, as well as maintain the integrity of pipes, is vital to the success of the sector. Intelligent Water Networks (IWN) is currently investigating technologies that can detect leaks across Australia, including the use of high-tech satellites to locate underground leaks from space.

Intelligent Water Networks (IWN) is a partnership between VicWater, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and 17 Victorian water corporations, and it is currently investigating new technologies and methods that can combat the increasing problem of water leaks.

However, IWN isn’t just using your average asset inspection methods. Instead it is using technology such as satellites to detect underground leaks from space, which is the same technology that NASA is using to look for water on other planets. IWN is also trialling the use of optic fibre cable sensors in live water mains, and is developing a tractor probe to assess sewer pipe integrity.

Besides leak detection, IWN’s programs investigate digital metering solutions, asset and energy optimisation and management, and use of big data systems.

Satellite radar image with leaks

Satellite radar image with leaks

Ground control to Major Tom

Dean Barnett, Program Manager, Pipe Rover and Leak Detection program at IWN, said the first trial of satellite leak detection technology was conducted in 2015 over an area of more than 3,000 square km by IWN members Western Water, City West Water, Yarra Valley Water and South East Water.

“Ground crews visited the potential leak sites identified by the satellite technology and 32 leaks were confirmed. The results were sufficiently promising to warrant continuing assessment of the technology,” Mr Barnett said.

But how exactly can satellite imagery detect water leaks all the way from space? Mr Barnett says it comes down to electromagnetic radiation.

“Spectrometers can measure the reflection of electromagnetic radiation from different materials, each of which produces a unique or signature reflection spectrum.

“Utilis – the supplier of the water leak data, based in Israel – uses radar from a satellite 650km above the Earth, to detect the spectral signature of potable water (as opposed to rainwater or swimming pool water).

“Firstly, raw spectral satellite images of the area are taken. Then, Utilis filters the raw data to remove the spectral signatures of manmade objects and vegetation, and uses advanced algorithmic analysis to detect the spectral signature of potable water in the ground.”

NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor mission, which was launched in 1996, and its 2001 Mars Odyssey mission both used spectral imaging – the same technology used by IWN – from an orbiting spacecraft to find evidence of water on Mars.

Back on earth, Mr Barnett said once the water is detected on the satellite images, the location is overlaid with maps of pipe networks to determine the exact location.

Given the initial success of the technology, it is also being considered for use in Class A recycled water and irrigation channels.


Satellite leak detection trial partners in front of Maintenance vehicle: Martin Shaw, Detection Services; Dean Barnett, IWN And Western Water; and Eddy Segal, Utilis.

Pipe integrity

IWN is also investigating the use of optic fibre cable sensors in live water mains, with field trials to begin in late 2016.

“Optic fibre cable sensors have the potential to not only find leaks, but to identify illegal connections, preserve the security of key infrastructure and to monitor pressure and pipe strain or dam wall integrity and movement,” Mr Barnett said. “These benefits could be delivered without shutting off the water supply.”

The IWN is also assessing a new technology in collaboration with LaTrobe University, which is a mini-tractor with a probe that is designed to enter live sewer mains and test for damage caused by corrosive hydrogen sulfide gas.

“The ease with which the tractor’s probe penetrates the concrete wall of the sewer main indicates the degree of corrosion in that section of pipe.

“By precisely identifying which pipe sections require replacement, as well as the critical timeframe, infrastructure maintenance costs will be reduced. Trials of this technology are due to start in December 2016,” Mr Barnett said.


Leaks detected from satellite.

Future-proofing the water industry

IWN is a fairly unique initiative as it brings together 19 organisations across the state to work collaboratively on addressing the key challenges of the water sector, including leak detection.

As well as VicWater and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, the member companies include City West Water, Melbourne Water, South East Water, Yarra Valley Water, East Gippsland Water, Gippsland Water, South Gippsland Water, Westernport Water, Barwon Water, Central Highlands Water, Grampians-Wimmera-Mallee Water, Wannon Water, Western Water, Coliban Water, Goulburn Valley Water, Lower Murray Water and North East Water.

The organisation is jointly funded by all member organisations and was developed following discussions between the companies’ managing directors, who wanted to create an opportunity for their staff to enhance their skills.

“We aim to build the capabilities of all Victorian water businesses to meet the challenges of population growth, aging infrastructure, changing customer expectations and climate variability,” Mr Barnett said.

“We will test and implement new technologies that improve delivery of water, wastewater and stormwater services, for the benefit of all stakeholders.

“IWN is about collaboration. The Victorian Government aims to establish Victoria as a world leader in urban water delivery, which will only happen if we work collaboratively to address the issues we share as one water sector.”

Lauren brings a fresh approach to content. While she’s previously written for publications as diverse as Australian Geographic, The Border Watch and Girlfriend, she’s found her true passion in her current role as an editor in the world of energy and infrastructure trade magazines.

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