In an Australia-first project, cutting-edge distributed acoustic sensing technology is being deployed beneath Perth’s CBD by Water Corporation to detect leaks in the water network. 

The project, by Perth-based Terra15 Technologies, turns existing fibre-optic cable in the city into a giant acoustic leak detection network to detect water leaks before a pipe bursts. 

Laser light is pulsed through a thin strand of fibre-optic cable, no thicker than a human hair, which detects any minute interruptions in the signal due to vibration or sound. 

Programmed to listen for the distinctive sound of a leak in nearby water mains, the technology enables Water Corporation to fix the pipe long before it bursts, saving valuable water, money and more significant disruption. 

The equipment is so sensitive it can detect regional earthquakes, as well as the background noise of footsteps, traffic and construction work. It can also detect tampering or theft on a pipeline. 

Water Corporation General Manager Assets Planning and Delivery, Evan Hambleton, said that the technology will help improve the reliability of the CBD water supply and reduce reactive repair work, which cost $12.5 million within the metro area in financial year 2022–23 alone. 

“While we are progressively upgrading the Perth CBD water network, some leakage is unavoidable with sections of our old cast iron pipes dating back more than 100 years,” Mr Hambleton said. 

“This clever technology, which uses spare capacity in existing telecommunications fibre-optic cable, causes the fibre to behave like thousands of vibration sensors, or acoustic loggers, spread out over many tens of kilometres.

“Sensitive enough to detect a tiny leak quickly and track it over time, it will enable us to fix the pipe long before any water would be visible at the surface, preventing a much more damaging and disruptive burst. 

“Water Corporation has a proven track record of innovation in the Australian water industry and this technology will help improve the resilience of the Perth CBD supply and save taxpayer money.” 

The project is on top of Water Corporation’s planned $184.7 million investment in the metro water network and supply projects, including its current $10 million project to replace ageing water mains around the Kaarta Gar-up (Mount Eliza) reservoir in Kings Park under its Pipes for Perth program.

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