Anglian Water uses satellites to help detect region’s hardest-to-find leaks

Anglian Water engineers are pushing the boundaries of engineering innovation as it adds satellites to its armoury to help detect invisible leaks across the most challenging parts of its vast network to maintain.

With enough water pipe to reach Australia and back again, much of it in rural and remote areas, the space technology is already helping to detect particularly hidden leaks in largely inaccessible, rural areas by highlighting the presence of drinking water below the earth’s surface.

Running since December 2022, results are now in of the first two completed scans of Anglian’s entire region helping to proactively detect hard-to-find, invisible leaks sooner. So far, the innovative technology has resulted in a water saving of over two million litres a day (ml/d) – enough water to supply 8,000 homes in the Anglian region.

Chris Utton, Leakage Intensive Delivery Manager for Anglian Water, said: 

“This technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we find and fix leaks across our water network. As so much of our region is rural, the satellites are particularly helping to detect any leaks in these harder to spot stretches of our network, where traditional monitoring is much more difficult, and are already proving to be a fitting addition to our existing armoury of innovative technology in the war against leakage.

“Over the last 30 years, we’ve reduced leaks in our network by 38%, despite putting a third more water into supply to meet the increasing demand of our rapidly growing customer base.

“Although we’re the best in the business at tackling leakage, we know we must go even further as it’s one of the most important things to our customers and the wider environment. Gone are all the low-hanging fruits and quick wins, we’re now into the realms of tracking down really hard-to-find leaks, long before they’re visible to the naked eye, to fix them quicker and save as much precious water as possible.”

Anglian Water is working with SUEZ, a leading provider of innovative and resilient solutions for water and waste services, and innovative technology company, ASTERRA – the only service in the world to use L-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) with patented technology and analysis to find leaks from the satellite images. The satellites work by sending a pulse down from space and measuring interaction with materials on the Earth as backscatter, in this case the signature of drinking water below the Earth’s surface, which may suggest a hidden leak in the water network.

The satellites are just one of the innovative ways in which the region’s water company is driving down leakage rates. Anglian Water is already leading the industry on leakage, reporting half as much leakage per kilometre of water main as any other water company in the UK on average. It invests millions of pounds in advanced technology and was the first company to use thermal imaging drones and naval hydrophone equipment to help find and fix hidden leaks in its water network.

Increasingly extreme temperatures throughout both the summer and winter months, and an ever-drier climate, significantly increases the risk of bursts and leaks in the water network due to the increase in ground movement which impacts the water pipes underground.

As the driest region in the country, with a third less rainfall than anywhere else on average, Anglian Water is well-versed in preparing for the impacts of climate change and invests heavily into managing its region’s water resources for today and tomorrow.

Tackling leakage is a top priority for the water company. It’s not only using all of the traditional methods to help find and fix leaks but is now putting the use of satellites together with all of the other innovative techniques it has, including thermal imaging drones, naval hydrophone equipment and smart meter data for maximum efficacy.

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