With a long history of innovation, SA Water continues to embrace change in its everyday operation and long term planning, including by fostering and developing new applications of cutting-edge technology for the benefit of its customers and the South Australian community.

SA Water’s role of providing trusted water services for a sustainable and healthy South Australia is, among other strategies, underpinned by agile and mature water mains asset management and condition assessment.

Coupled with continued investment and adaption of new technologies, it’s helped the utility build a greater understanding of the state’s water and wastewater network and more recently, contributed to a reduced water main break rate not seen in years.

Maintaining Australia’s longest pipe network

SA Water’s expansive state-wide network of pipelines, pump stations and vital treatment infrastructure exists to provide customers with the most essential of services, and as a result, requires a modern and comprehensive management strategy which meets customer expectations.

SA Water’s General Manager of Sustainable Infrastructure, Amanda Lewry, said a substantial part of this includes a fresh approach to our water mains performance and condition-based maintenance programs, enabling the utility to maximise the useful life of assets and reduce operational costs.

“Our water mains condition assessment strategy is diverse and can be tailored to different situations, ranging from the use of hoop stress calculations in our reticulation network, to determining blockages and low-flow incidents harnessing CCTV and flow meter technology,” Ms Lewry said.

“Our innovative fleet of more around 300 smart water acoustic sensors across the Adelaide CBD has also proven to be instrumental in proactively using acoustic monitoring to gauge a better understanding of our underground network, and successfully detected leaks and breaks proactively through the power of noise.

“Our sensors detect around 200 environmental noises every day, and we continue to understand and interpret the different acoustic patterns to distinguish cracks in our pipes from other sounds picked up by the technology.

“The adoption of smart technology into our day-to-day asset management system made us the first water utility in the world to implement a range of Internet of Things-enabled sensors in a defined geographical area and has underpinned the expansion into our sewer network and customer meters.

“Our thirst for innovation sees us continue to embrace new technologies to best understand the condition of our assets and make them work smarter in delivering trusted and reliable water services into the future.”

The adoption of smart technology into sa water’s water main management has helped the utility proactively monitor leaks and breaks in its underground network.

Leak numbers lowest in four years

The Bureau of Meteorology’s National Performance Report (NPR): urban water utilities continues to confirm SA Water’s water network among the best performing in the country. The 2020-21 results show SA Water experienced an average of 13.3 water main breaks or leaks per 100km of pipe, which is lower than the average of 18.9 and better than more than half of comparable-sized Australian water utilities (with 100,000 or more customers) – showing that water main incidents are certainly not unique to South Australia.

SA water’s general manager of sustainable infrastructure, Amanda Lewry

“Adelaide’s reactive clay soils moving between seasons and the stress this causes on underground pressurised water pipes means we can’t completely prevent leaks and breaks from occurring, but our ongoing investment means we can help to reduce their frequency and impact on customers,” Ms Lewry said.

“This continued focus on driving customer outcomes is demonstrated through our investment of $155 million between 2020-2024 towards proactive water main replacements, the installation of additional valves and the continued development of smart technology. “This includes a state-wide water main replacement program, which last year involved the installation of around 59km of new pipe, including under several key arterial roads in Adelaide.”

In 2021, 3614 water main leaks and breaks were reported across SA Water’s 27,000km network, compared to 3749 in 2020. “Similar to 2020 and 2017, we saw relatively mild transitions between seasons last year, resulting in more stable levels of moisture in the soils and therefore fewer water main breaks.

“The less challenging conditions in 2021 coupled with our sustained focus on driving customer outcomes were what led to the lowest water main incident rate recorded in four years.”

Case study: improving South Australia’s longest drinking water pipeline

For nearly 80 years, the Morgan to Whyalla Pipeline has transferred large volumes of drinking water – produced at SA Water’s Morgan Water Treatment Plant in the Riverland – providing a clean and safe supply to around 100,000 customers in the Barossa, Mid North, Upper Spencer Gulf and Eyre Peninsula regions of South Australia.

As part of its role in delivering trusted water services, SA Water’s thorough condition assessment program identified sections of the 358km pipeline to be upgraded over multiple regulatory periods, to enable a long-term, secure supply of drinking water into the future.

An upgrade to the first 34km of South Australia’s longest drinking water pipeline, ranging in size up to 750mm in diameter across sections in the towns of Burra and Lindley, is set to commence in mid-2022.

“The Morgan to Whyalla Pipeline provides drinking water to customers throughout regional South Australia, and many large businesses depend on this supply to enable their operations. By duplicating sections of the pipeline, we’re able to keep the water flowing to these communities during this important project,” Ms Lewry said.

“In 2018 our team used an advanced and non-invasive condition assessment method called Ultrasonic Thickness Phased Array, which sends electronic signals through the pipe material to measure the thickness of the pipeline.

“Using the analysis of this assessment and performance data we were able to prioritise various sections of the pipeline for renewal over time, with the long-term program helping secure regional drinking water supply into the future and preparing the network for ongoing residential and business growth.

“This initial stage of the renewal is part of our four-year, $1.6 billion capital program which will deliver a diverse portfolio of projects to sustain and enhance our water network while improving services for our customers.”

Hear more from SA Water’s General Manager of Sustainable Infrastructure, Amanda Lewry, at Digital Utilities 2022. Amanda will be presenting at the Future Grids virtual conference on 21 June. Register for free here.

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