As pressure builds on the privatised water companies to reduce leakage, the utilities are finding innovative solutions.
Radar is being used to track leaking pipes in London. Thames Water’s leak detection work is hampered by traffic noise above ground and congestion underground caused by the maze of public service networks.
Thames maintains 20,000 miles of pipes in London and the Thames Valley, and recently recorded a leakage rate of almost 40% – one of the worst in the UK. Now it is piloting radar equipment originally developed for archaeological and police investigations which it believes could help pinpoint leaks.
The technology detects damp areas around leakages. Radio waves emitted by radar are scattered by damp which shows up on the radar screen as scatter or `white noise’.
`This is far more useful to us as we strive to accurately detect leaks and meet our target of halving leakage by 2005,’ said Tony Rachwal, Thames Water research manager.
A similarly innovative use of radar is being undertaken for North West Water by private consultancy Mecon in Cambridge. It has developed a sensitive radar for use with an oscilloscope to detect vibrations from pipes when water leaks.
Laboratory tests have shown the radar can detect vibrations of less than 1micron. Now Mecon is seeking funds to develop a handheld probe version.
Ultimately, say water companies, a combination of radar and sound-sensitive technology will be needed to solve the problem of identifying leakage.