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Whether to sweat, repair or replace water mains is a dilemma facing most water businesses, which have to strike a balance between maintaining an aging asset base, often with a limited maintenance budget, and increasing customer expectations.

Data extracted from a 2019 Australian Bureau of Meteorology National Performance Report indicates that non-revenue water loss in Australia over a five year period was 1251GL, averaging out at around 9 per cent of utilities’ system input.

Isle Utilities Asia Pacific is providing Australian and global water utilities with the expertise required to reduce water leakage and to conserve water through its Leakage Management Benchmark.

Isle’s Leakage Management Benchmark was developed in Australia and has been adopted by nearly 20 participants worldwide, from Australia, the United Kingdom and South America.

Paul Harris, Isle’s Head of Business Consulting, said, “The Leakage Management Benchmark Program is providing major benefits to local and international water utilities in the fight against water leakage.

“Traditionally, many water utilities have used rough estimates for determining how their Real Losses are distributed across their different asset classes.

“The program provides completely objective performance assessment using hard quantitative evidence and information, not only at a business unit level but at an industry level, and then compares these results against a range of world-class water utilities, each operating with their own Non-Revenue Water strengths and challenges.

“The accurate and objective determination of real water loss is crucial, because if you’re a few percentage points out in your calculations, that could represent millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure that water companies are assigning to their networks that may not be necessary.

“Board members, CEOs or general managers of local water utilities are interested in the program because it determines objectively as to where they stand in the realms of benchmarking across the world and more importantly, what are other utilities doing to make them better than they are?

“Once objective performance assessment has been achieved, we can then create a customised improvement pathway for participating utilities.

“The process importantly justifies the need to invest in specific innovations and identified improvements and also informs utilities in their leakage management decision-making.

“There is also a benefit in brand reputation. Communities, government and customers care about leakage, they care about wasting water and water conservation. As an industry we need to be seen to be promoting water conservation and leakage reduction, and improved general asset stewardship to create important increases in water utilities’ community and government image and reputation.”

Unitywater in South East Queensland puts a high priority on water conservation and reducing leakage. The utility has a bulk water provider and has one of the highest costs of water in Australia.

They pay $3 per kilolitre for their bulk water and ultimately whatever the amount of water lost between off-take from their bulk water supplier to its delivery to their customers equates to lost revenue and a lost opportunity for them as an organisation. Water loss for last year alone was in excess of $15 million.

Ivan Beirne, Head of Asset Management at Unitywater, said, “We have been investing heavily in leakage reduction for the majority of our being – around 10 years.”

A key finding in the Isle Utilities Water Leakage Benchmark showed that those utilities doing a lot of water main renewals generally had low leakage, and this is what Unitywater has achieved.

What the UK water industry was looking at and what they were impressed by is that Unitywater has a young network, yet they still do water main replacement, while in the UK where some utilities have over 100 year old networks, they are still struggling to justify replacement to their boards and regulator.

Tim McMahon, Head of Water Asset Management, Thames Water (UK), said, “By working together to identify best practice, all of the utilities involved will improve the service they offer to their customers. Isle’s Leakage Management Benchmark has really driven a change in mindset into Thames Water’s approach to backlog and speed of repair.”

According to Mr Beirne, “Leakage is a key driver for Unitywater’s asset renewal program.

“Over the past five years we have focused heavily on water main and service replacement to reduce real losses, as well as replacing nearly 50 per cent of our meter fleet to reduce apparent losses.

“The decision Unitywater made a few years ago was to use customer impact as the primary driver for prioritising our mains replacement program.

“We focus heavily on fit for purpose strategies and incorporating best practice with local context. This has been delivering results for us for many years.

“We are looking to implement practices that we know will deliver an outcome. We are not going to invest money for the customer without some level of confidence that it will deliver an outcome for us.

“Water conservation is important to our customers.

“The Millennium Drought is still fresh in people’s minds. Our customers remember the sacrifices they made to conserve water during this time and now they expect and demand a timely response to leaks. Our goal is to resolve all leaks quickly and effectively and we are continuing to invest in technologies that will detect leaks sooner and allow us to deal with them in a more timely manner.”

Mr Harris added, “Another benefit of the program is that participating utilities legitimately build relationships with people within their own industry, creating opportunities to share knowledge and to share practices on a world stage.

“There is an opportunity for some businesses to ‘leapfrog’ and to progress very quickly by utilising other organisations’ experiences, particularly in the technology space, providing a significant implementation advantage.

“Water utilities are also under leakage management scrutiny from their respective economic regulators. The objective data being sourced by the program is allowing for successful applications by utilities to their regulator for additional funding for leak reduction programs.”

Charlotte Pordage is Editor of Utility magazine, a position she has held since November 2018. She joined the team as an Associate Editor in October 2017, after sharpening her writing and editing skills across a range of print and digital publications. Charlotte graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2011 with joint honours in English and Latin. When she's not putting together Australia's only dedicated utility magazine, she can usually be found riding her horse or curled up with a good book.

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