The Power of Pipe Management

By Mark Nicol 9 July, 2014

Mark Nicol from Echologics tells us how acoustic tech can non-invasively detect underground leaks, Mark Nicol from Echologics tells us how acoustic tech can non-invasively detect underground leaks

NRW especially important given rising urbanisation; Global NRW = US$ 14billion or ~35% of water supplied
Not just a water efficiency issue, NRW also has health implications; multiple stakeholders responsible
Better management (proactive) & more long term planning needed by govt to ensure water safety & save costs
Mark Nicol
Author: Mark Nicol
Having completed a Master’s degree in Water Modelling and Management at the University of Reading, UK in 2001, Mark initially working for Thames Water in the UK and then for Ranhill in Malaysia, where he gained a wealth of knowledge and experience in the daily operation and management of water supply networks. He has lived in Asia for the past 7 years, and has worked with numerous water operators and government departments across the region including India, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Philippines to help address and resolve their NRW challenges. Mark joined Echologics as the Business Development Manager for Asia in 2011 to help bring the latest solutions and technological developments from the industry into the region. Echologics provide non-invasive, non-destructive solutions tailored to help water operators maximize revenue, minimize cost and extend asset life.
Read more from Mark Nicol →

China’s water pollution is definitely not new news to anyone, it’s frequently in the headlines of Chinese newspapers. However, what is being overlooked is the means by which water is transported – China’s pipe network and how it also plays a crucial role in ensuring China’s water safety.

In an interview with CWR, Mark Nicol, Regional Manager Asia-Pacific at Echologics shares how significant Non-Revenue Water (NRW) is, the issues of current NRW mitigation strategies and how pipe networks are often mismanaged.

This is very timely given China’s current review of its urban pipe network and plans to replace it.

China Water Risk (CWR): Why is it important to address Non-Revenue Water (NRW) in the face of urbanisation?

Mark Nicol (MN): NRW is the difference between the volume of water produced (known as the system input volume) and the volume of water billed (or billed authorised consumption). The majority of NRW losses are due to leakage from transmission and distribution mains, caused by an historic lack of long-term planning, and insufficient investment, in an aging infrastructure that is hidden under our cities.

Global NRW is estimated to equal US$14 bn or around 35% of all water supplied

Reported levels of NRW are staggering, with an estimated 45 million m3 of treated water being lost annually in developing countries alone through leakage, and a further 30 million m3 per year being delivered to customers but not invoiced due to theft, poor management and corruption. This equates to an estimated US$14 billion or around 35% of all water supplied globally – enough to supply an additional 200 million people with clean water (Source: World Bank Discussion Paper No. 8, Dec 2006).

Across Asia, NRW is rapidly becoming headline news with water rationing due to insufficient water supply becoming a more common feature in some of the largest and most developed cities in the world, such as Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Despite many years and investing millions of dollars to reduce NRW, the impacts of anthropogenic activity, climate change and a population growth continue to exasperate this situation and with an ever increasingly educated and youthful population expecting everything to be available 24/7, it is not surprising these huge losses are starting to cause a kerfuffle around the world, especially in Asia.

CWR: So is this a water efficiency issue?

MN: Not really, in situations with intermittent supply this can also lead to potential water quality concerns due to cross contamination of harmful substances, which may occur when positive pressure cannot be maintained.

CWR: Can you walk us through some of your products and their different uses?

MN: By taking large volumes of data and performing high level analytics, Echologics provides our clients with intervention strategies and non-invasive solutions, that addresses not only the short-term targets but also ensure losses remain low in the long-term.

Non-metallic pipes

LeakFinderSTWe recently launched the award-winning LeakFinderST (developed in conjunction with Severn Trent Water and Loughborough University in the UK). This product was designed specifically to address the lack of a suitable solution in the market for detecting leaks on non-metallic pipes. This is a particular problem in Asia due to the high percentage of asbestos cement and plastic pipes that have been laid over the last 50 or so years.

Transmission mains

EchoWaveLarge diameter transmission mains are another part of the network that is often overlooked and can account for huge losses. This is where Echologics’ EchoWave leak detection services are of benefit.  These services have been successfully deployed around the world and have located hundreds of leaks to within 1m accuracy on mains up to 2.8m in diameter over distances of 1km or greater.

Life cycle

We are able determine the remaining useful life / time to failure of these assets, enabling utilities to prioritize the replacement of only those assets which have truly reached the end of their useful life.

Real-time monitoring

EchoShoreTwo of our latest products, EchoShore from Echologics & the Mi.Echo from Mueller Systems (our sister company), enable clients to monitor their water systems for leaks on a 24/7 basis. Both systems quickly alert water operators when an issue, such as a leak, occurs on their system. This can then be repaired in a planned and timely manner, reducing long shutdowns and flooding, which are commonly
associated with catastrophic failures.

CWR: So your technology can be used to prevent water contamination like the Lanzhou incident in China where cracks in the water pipes of a water treatment facility led to the contamination of the city’s water supply?

MN: Yes, by undertaking a proactive leak detection program any leaks in the network within a water treatment facility can be located and repaired, which may prevent this type of incident from happening. Through undertaking a proactive approach, to understanding the condition of the pipe wall, it is possible to predict when a leak will occur in the future and enable to operator to replace the assets before they fail.

CWR: Who should be responsible for NRW, the public or private sector? Should the government take the lead?

MN: Stakeholders need to understand the role they play and the impact their decisions have on NRW levels.  Everyone – be they elected politicians setting legislation; public sector workers responsible for allocating budgets and targets; or engineers at private water supply companies who have a concession to supply water to a city – has a role to play in ensuring the existing network is operating as efficiently and sustainably as possible.

“NRW is often overlooked in favour of more ‘sexy’ options”

The best and least expensive ‘new’ source of water almost always comes from reducing NRW. When looking at options to address the current or future shortfall between supply and demand this is often overlooked in favour of more ‘sexy’ options such as a new state-of-the-art treatment plant. If a new treatment plant is required, it is still essential that the system is first confirmed to be in a condition to accept the additional water that will be pumped into it. All too frequently we read stories from around the world of a new treatment plant being built at great expense to the tax payers, only for the majority of the water supplied to be lost through an increase in leaks and bursts.

CWR: Addressing NRW appears to be a ‘band-aid’ approach. At what point does it make more sense to replace the pipes?

MN: Indeed, the solution over the past few decades has been to undertake a ‘band-aid’ approach to the problem by investing significant sums of money in short-term ‘opex heavy fixes” such as: proactive leak detection, establishment of DMAs and more recently pressure management. These are often implemented by private NRW specialist companies, usually with great results in a short period of time. However, as soon as the NRW reduces to acceptable levels or the contract ends, the funding is withdrawn and NRW levels go back up.

The best way to break the cycle is to integrate short and long-term solutions, including pipe replacement & regular services

The best way to break this vicious cycle is to implement not only ‘short-term solutions’ but to also ensure the long-term targets are met through rehabilitation and renewal of the pipework before the assets reach the end of their useful life. It’s comparable to owning a car, if you do not regularly check the tyres or change the oil, you are probably going to need to scrap the car and buy a new one sooner than if you had taken it for a regular service. The same principle applies to our water networks – no matter how many times you find a leak and stick a plaster (or clamp) on it, at some point you are going to need to replace the pipe.

However, it is expensive and to replace a pipe as they are buried under already congested towns and cities, and this often involves investing millions of dollars and causes significant interruption to people’s lives. As this is something almost everybody wants to avoid, very little pipe has been replaced over the last 20 years and we are now faced with the daunting task of replacing hundreds of thousands of kilometres of pipe at or near the end of their useful life which requires billions of dollars of investment –where the funds are simply not available.

CWR: The Chinese government is planning to upgrade its urban pipe network, what should it factor in?

MN: As large networks are often laid within a very short timeframe it is often wrongly assumed that the entire network needs to be replaced in one go. In reality, assets deteriorate at varying rates due to a number of factors, and therefore using age alone can often lead to huge sums of money being spent to replace assets which still have tens of years of useful life remaining.

Assets deteriorate at varying rates…

by undertaking a direct assessment decisions can be made on which parts to replace first, saving money

However, by undertaking a direct assessment on the true condition of these buried assets, using technology such as Echologics, an informed decision can be made on which parts of the network to replace first. This information can then be fed directly into a variety of capital planning models to run multiple scenarios and determine how much investment is needed to maintain different levels of service into the future. This ultimately saves the operator/owner millions of dollars by ensuring funds are spent where they are needed first.


Further Reading

  • 5 Takeaways from Aquatech China 2014 – How real is China’s war on pollution? Will it translate into a growing domestic water market? See what local & foreign industrial leaders have to say in Shanghai and check out our 5 key takeaways from Aquatech China 2014
  • AIDF Water Summit: 5 Takeaways – Dawn McGregor gives us her 5 takeaways from AIDF’s Asia Water Security Summit ranging from exposure of GDP to water risk to the crucial need for un-siloed approaches and key areas of improvement in the water sector
  • Can Cities Meet Increasing Water Demands – Nitin Dani and Georgina Glanfield from Green Initiatives Shanghai share their thoughts on how Chinese cities can ensure water security. Can the public play a role?
  • Water: Beijing Leads The Way -Beijing takes the lead announcing a RMB500 billion Energy Savings & Environmental Protection industry days after the national plan, with more water treatment, recycling, harvesting and pipes plus stricter monitoring of pollution
  • More than Pipe Dreams: Non-Revenue Water Solutions – Pure Technologies’ Jon Boon shares their experience in tackling non-revenue water in Manila and why this could be the fastest way to water efficiency