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Leak detection partnership brings savings to regional Queensland town

A leak detection program that has saved Unitywater $35 million and 11 billion litres of water in the past 10 years is being implemented in Stanthorpe to help the community take savings and water security efforts to the next level.

Unitywater has partnered with Southern Downs Regional Council and software provider TaKaDu to roll out a 12-month leak detection trial, which aims to reduce water loss, identify leaks, improve customer services and help the town manage a sustainable water supply.

Unitywater Executive Manager Customer Delivery Rhett Duncan said the utility has established itself as a leader in network management and is well positioned to assist with implementation. 

“The purpose of the trial is to help Stanthorpe as a town reduce its water loss from its network, identify leaks which do not come to surface, save financially due to water loss and help the community manage in delivering a sustainable water supply,” he said. 

“Unitywater has been using this software since 2013 so are well placed to guide Council’s team through the installation of this new software. Since the full-scale implementation, real water loss now accounts for 7.7% of Unitywater’s bulk water purchased from Seqwater.”
Duncan said Unitywater partners, TaKaDu and Detection Services, will be on the ground monitoring equipment and maintaining the smart water network, as well as coordinating acoustic leak detection sweeps and valve testing.

“This trial will leverage the smarts of our crew to support Council in monitoring 90kms of water network while responding to leaks quicker, saving water for the community of Stanthorpe along with improving resilience in a town that has had historical water security challenges,” he said. 

“Once installed, we’ll be able to notify Council of potential problems which can then be investigated and repaired before they become larger issues that impact the community.”

Focus on security

The population of Stanthorpe and the adjacent community of Applethorpe is projected to increase from about 6170 to about 7540 people by the year 2036, Duncan said.

“Storm King Dam is the sole source of bulk raw water supply for Stanthorpe’s reticulation network,” he said. 

“Water extracted from Storm King Dam is transferred by pipeline approximately 7km for treatment at the Mount Marley Water Treatment Plant, located on the eastern outskirts of Stanthorpe.

“From here, treated water is delivered to the town’s reservoirs and distributed to customers via the reticulation system. Stanthorpe’s reticulation network currently provides water for urban purposes to about 5100 people or about 83% of Stanthorpe’s residential population.”

With Storm King Dam being the only bulk water supply source used to provide treated water to Stanthorpe, Duncan said it's important for the community to find efficient and cost-effective ways to bolster water security. 

“This single, relatively small water supply storage relies on seasonal inflows to maintain storage levels,” he said. 

“For the residents of Stanthorpe this means that there is an ever-present risk of the storage becoming depleted as a result of drought or extended dry periods, and water supply shortfalls occurring.”

Network setup

Southern Downs Regional Council, Unitywater, Detection Service and Takadu started by undertaking technical investigations, Duncan said. 

“These investigations have determined that a trial network can be implemented, both Council and Unitywater will contribute both resources and financially to the installation and operation of the trial and network,” he said. 

“The trial targets a reduction in water loss by deploying the CEM system across the water network, with Unitywater providing live control room monitoring. Four District Metered Areas (DMAs) have been established to facilitate efficient event monitoring and response.”

Duncan said the DMAs establish different areas of the water distribution network where digital data-loggers measure flow, pressure and water quality data remotely. This data is then sent back in real time to the Takadu CEM, which monitors the water network looking for potential and real leaks.

“The system uses algorithms to determine the trends in the water network and learns the performance of it,” Duncan said. 

“Unitywater will coordinate the establishment of four DMAs through its existing contractors and then provide network and event monitoring and alerts from the Unitywater control room. 

“Southern Downs will act on the alerts and interact with the infrastructure accordingly, either using leak detection technology or immediate repairs for high severity leaks. They will also ensure meter and telemetry faults are repaired and handled.” 

Next steps

It’s expected that the installation of the equipment and training of the Takadu system may take up to six months and the trial will follow the installation for a 12-month period, Duncan said. 
“The trial is still in its set up stage, but we look forward to reporting when the system is fully up and running in the next month,” he said. 

“We are currently targeting a reduction of water loss down to 18% from an estimated 25% current loss. We have performed acoustic leak detection of the water network and detected some leaks which have been communicated to SDRC for repair.
“Some of the smaller leaks will be prioritised over the remaining trial period for repair to ensure we target leakage repair with a financially efficient perspective.”

Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi said he was keen to gain valuable insights from the trial. 

“We are excited to build on our existing smart water meter technology to monitor water usage in real time and identify and detect potential leaks,” he said. 

“With more than 2700 smart water meter units now in place in Stanthorpe, Council has seen the benefits of immediately investigating abnormally high-water reading alerts to determine if the source is a leak.

“I look forward to the 12-month results of this trial and to understand the challenges of our network infrastructure as part of Council’s ongoing commitment to water security for the residents, Granite Belt growers and tourism operators in Stanthorpe and its surrounding villages.”