Beat the leaks: A step-by-step guide to reduce water loss in the distribution system

Non-revenue water (NRW) is basically produced, cleaned water which is lost somewhere in the water distribution system, never reaching its final destination. This means water not used or paid for, affecting local economies as well as local resources available. The problem is universal, ranging from NRW levels of about 5% to as much as 80% in certain areas.

To reduce the non-revenue water level, we need to make sure that as much water as possible stays within the network. But why is water even lost, and what are the options available?

10 steps to reduce water loss and non-revenue water:

1. Aim for efficient leakage recovery
Leaking pipes and equipment, due to bursts or breaks, is one of the primary causes to water loss. When a leak occurs, it can take days, weeks or even years before it is noticed, and localising the exact area in a huge, wide-reaching network is no easy task.

2. Divide the water network into sections
Trying to cope with water losses in the complete distribution network at once would therefore also mean working in a reactive, passive manner, where activities are initiated only when a loss becomes visible or is reported.

Therefore, dividing the supply network into separate sections, also referred to as district metering areas (DMA), is an efficient technique that makes it possible to obtain a valuable overview of what is going on below the ground. Water losses can then be calculated in the sections individually, and operators are able to better plan and prioritise their efforts.

3. Quick assessment and repair
Through this separation of the network, operators can act more efficiently and target issues immediately. With quick assessment, vital resources are saved, and network activities are faster up and running, causing less disturbance for all the network customers depending on a continuous supply of water.

By investing in a targeted leak detection program, it is in most places possible to reduce the overall leakage in the distribution system by at least 40–50%.

4. Monitor network activities
Leakages can easily be detected through noise loggers integrated in for example ground-level surface boxes. The loggers react to the sound of leaking water and enable operators to set in exactly when and where needed.

By using the technique of district metering areas, it is also possible to measure and manage water pressure in the different areas of the water supply network.

5. Take control of the network pressure
Pressure management is considered the single most beneficial, important, and cost-effective leakage management activity. The higher the pressure, the more water lost through bursts or leakages. Furthermore, most pipe bursts occur not only because of high pressure, but rather due to ongoing pressure fluctuations forcing the pipes to continuously expand and contract, resulting in stress fractures.

For pressure management, control valves are essential. Control valves are regulating valves, able to maintain certain pressure, flow or level regardless of changes in the supply network. Therefore, they can assist in reducing water losses while upholding the best conditions for the network equipment.

Pressure management is also an efficient way of reducing unnecessary energy consumption. By allowing for a lower pressure in general, especially during off-peak hours, energy consumption for pumping can be reduced. The pressure can be adjusted to the critical point at a strategical consumer in the DMA, which means that no energy will be used to pump water to a higher level than necessary.

Learn more about pressure management here, or through the download links below.

6. Use all the available data, and think smart
Collecting and acting on data is very important when aiming for efficient management of a network.
Valuable real-time data can be collected in various ways from the installed products throughout the water network, making it possible to obtain demand-driven management. As an example, a control valve with an added controller has the ability to receive data from a number of inputs and can operate itself accordingly based on inputs of flow, pressure, network losses, temperature, open/close position, and maintenance requirement period.

Learn more about smart water management and how to apply intelligence to water management here.

7. Set an NRW limit, and follow up
Once the NRW is reduced to an acceptable level, the operations staff should set up a monitoring regime for the water balance for each DMA. It makes sense to set an intervention limit, determining the level at which NRW becomes unacceptable. Once the intervention limit is reached, the teams should be sent in to detect and resolve losses. Generally, once the utility manager deploys teams into the DMA, they can reduce the NRW level within few weeks.

8. Look for ways to tackle illicit consumption
Water theft, illegal connections and unauthorised use is a vast issue in many parts of the world. Applying the DMA structure is an efficient way to obtain overview of where illegal consumption takes place throughout the network. Also, there are practical ways to secure easy targets such as hydrants; through constant monitoring, the hydrant is able to set off an alarm message when the cover is opened. Learn more about hydrant monitoring through the case link below. 

9. Quality products and solutions
Based on all the above mentioned, it makes sense to stress the fact that high-quality products and solutions are the backbone in any efficient water system. The expenses and complications linked to choosing poor quality and easy fixes far exceeds the ones of an investment in a solid, well-planned solution. Learn more about the way we do business, and how we achieve high quality in products and solutions here.

10. Training and education
While being critical issues in many parts of the world, and not just in developing countries, we need to create more awareness of the many well-proven techniques to manage water in the utmost efficient ways. In Denmark, we have obtained a highly efficient balance in the way we handle water’s complete journey throughout society; from ground to tap and safely back into nature. This also includes viewing all aspects of the journey and the potential they offer; as an example, wastewater treatment plants are able to obtain energy-neutrality by utilising the by-products from their own treatment process. By using the sludge for energy production, they can create enough energy to run the plant's processes - and sometimes even other utilities' as well.

To assure a well-equipped water sector ready to meet the needs of tomorrow, we need to create good conditions for knowledge-sharing. This not only covers technical solution insights, but also a focus on introducing this greater, holistic view on water to the people who will become decision-makers, engineers, constructors and field workers etc. on future water projects. Every August, we host a Summer School in Låsby, Denmark, where students and representatives from all over the world come together to learn, share and expand their network.

At AVK, we focus strongly on building partnerships with like-minded companies in the industry, and in combining our strengths for the innovation of even better solutions. We are part of several consortiums, including the LEAKman project which is a leakage management association of nine Danish water companies focusing exclusively on optimum leakage solutions.

Register for world change

Learn about our Advanced Water Cycle Management Course (5 ECTS) - a two-week, intensive knowledge upgrade about water's journey throughout society.

Read about the course

The LEAKman Project

LEAKman offers water suppliers one integrated leakage management solution to bring down non-revenue water levels; less than 20% within the first year.

Go to leakman.net

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