SA Water has used advanced smart technology to manage an underground water network, allowing it to proactively identify and repair potential leaks and breaks before they escalate to impact customers and commuters.

The first stage of the utility’s smart water network integrated more than 400 sensors across the Adelaide Central Business District (CBD), which have prevented 15 water main breaks or leaks since they began monitoring and collecting data in July 2017.

SA Water’s Manager of Water Assets, Dr Helen Edmonds, said the deployment of this technology was the largest of its kind in Australia.

“The combination and volume of sensors installed across the water network in Adelaide hasn’t been seen before, and is delivering outcomes and learnings that will be applicable right across the country,” Dr Edmonds said.

“As engineers, we’ve been immersed in rich data that’s helping us make informed decisions, but as South Australians striving to deliver a world-class service for our customers, we’re making vital in-roads to delivering a better customer experience.

“Although our network performance is among the best in Australia, we know that any water main break or service interruption has an impact on our customers, and we want to reduce that as much as possible.

“Identifying a potential leak and intervening has been hugely rewarding, but there’s also been a sense of accomplishment in analysing the data and understanding the immediacy of some sudden ruptures that didn’t offer any warning signals.”

The data is collected through 305 acoustic leak detection sensors, 34 pressure sensors of which 23 are transient loggers, 11 flow meters, three water quality monitors, and 100 smart meters on customer connections.

The information is transmitted over long-term evolution and narrow band technologies to an analytics platform, at five to 15 minute intervals.

The acoustic sensors – or accelerometers – cover an average range of 150m and monitor around 50 per cent of the water main network in the Adelaide CBD, with a focus on cast iron pipes in areas where the potential customer impact of a break is greater.

“The music of the network tells us a story, but the art and science of this combine in the algorithms we’ve built to filter an evolving leak from typical water usage sounds and the background noise of a busy city street.”

Insights have been gathered on the forces within and outside of the network that can contribute to faults, such as pressure transients arising from customer activity.

“One of the transient loggers detected a recurring event with a consistent hydraulic character, happening on the same day and time, every week, and it turned out to be the result of a large building’s fire service being tested.

“Having this information meant we could work together with the building owner to calm the weekly testing process, and also with the technical regulator to amend design standards for future builds.

“Importantly, it means the customer will have far less chance of a water main break right outside their building, and the interruption this would cause their operations.”

An online portal allows smart meter customers to monitor their own water usage, but significant benefits have been realised by SA Water staff identifying abnormalities in customers’ consumption.

“We were able to alert a customer to 100 litres a minute being lost by a faulty float valve constantly refilling their building’s header tank, and the excess water just overflowing into the sewer. Left undetected until their next bill, the water loss alone in that case would have cost over $15,000 a month.”

Dr Edmonds said the implementation had been so successful that further roll-outs were planned in 2018 across both water and wastewater networks.

“In just ten months we’ve proven this combination of smart technology can effectively reduce the impact of water main breaks on our customers, so we now have an obligation to spread this benefit across as much of our network and customer base as possible.” 

Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.

After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.

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