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Tapping statewide flow data to tackle non-revenue water

In a bid to stem the flow of water from its leaky statewide network, TasWater has embarked on an ambitious new district metered area (DMA) project to help reduce non-revenue water and optimise operations.

Involving the installation of hundreds of flow meters across Tasmania, the DMA project aims to develop a better understanding of water loss within and between various service area districts. 

When TasWater formed in 2013, the new utility inherited a portfolio of ageing infrastructure and assets. Up until recently, TasWater prioritised bringing drinking water service provision up to standard, TasWater Asset Lifecycle Department Manager John Gabbedy said

“You can only deal with so many things at once, and TasWater started with fixing drinking water quality issues. We did the 24-glasses Regional Towns Water Supply Program and focused on making sure everyone could drink the water coming out of their taps,” he said.

“Now we are turning our focus to making sure we can fix our leaking network and get on top of losing our core product.”

Gabbedy said TasWater is currently losing approximately 30% of water from its network every year.

“Fixing leaks is one of our corporate key focus areas for the business. Delivering the DMA project, along with the leak detection program and other work we are doing, is 100% aligned with our broader strategy,” he said.

“Ultimately, the project will help us reduce the amount of water we need to produce, which will result in a reduction of operational costs, energy consumption, carbon emissions, chemical use, but there are a lot of additional flow-on benefits to this program, as well.”

The project includes a monitoring system across the DMAs that uses AI technology and machine learning to understand the flows in and out of each district. The monitoring system is equipped to predict normal flow rates and quickly flag when there are issues in the system.

“Aside from helping us discover undetected leaks, it’ll allow us to optimise our responses to fixing leaks, as well, which will also reduce our repair times,” Gabbedy said.

“The project is one part of a greater program of work we are doing to understand the water loss in our systems, and to enable 24/7 monitoring coverage, which will provide leak detection capability for over 98% of the network statewide in Tasmania.”

Network challenges

Gabbedy said improving non-revenue water in TasWater’s system is an interesting challenge, given how unique Tasmania is in terms of infrastructure, geography and population.

“We have smaller population numbers compared to other Australian capital city utilities, but we have a big geographical area, a lot more infrastructure and a lot of water mains,” Gabbedy said

“We have a much larger length of water main connections per customer, too. And we have ageing networks.”

Gabbedy said TasWater’s project delivery targets are ambitious, with the utility aiming to install at least 150 flow meters by the end of this financial year, but while it is close to achieving this goal, there have been challenges.

“We are looking at 225 DMAs, which involves about 357 meters and loggers. It’s a big infrastructure project and, within our vast geographical area, there are other complexities in terms of getting the meters in the ground,” he said.

“Finding contract resources to help with the project has been an issue, particularly in remote locations. And the securing supply of such a large amount of meters has been a challenge for the project, as well.”

Despite a few setbacks, Gabbedy said TasWater is still committed to meeting its aggressive water saving targets.

“We intend to reduce our non-revenue water to less than 23% by June 2024, and hopefully less than 13% by June 2025,” he said. 

“If we can make those percentages, that will essentially put us into a position as industry leaders in this area.”

Big benefits

Having commenced in September 2022, TasWater has already installed dozens of flow meters as part of the DMA project, with many already actively collecting data.

“We have introduced a central event management system. We have had it since September 2022, when we started with 10 DMAs. As we install the flow meters and commission the DMAs, we put that data straight into our system,” he said.

“We haven't finished installation of all the flow meters yet, but we are utilising the data. We have already been getting benefits from the project.

“We have identified more than 10 significant leaks since September 2022. That equates to more than 600 ML of water saved over a 12-month period, worth about $700,000.

“And it’s only early days. At that stage we had about 50 active DMAs in the system. Our aim is to get to 225 DMAs by the end of the calendar year.”

Gabbedy said the DMA project is certainly focused on leak reduction, but it’s also about helping TasWater to optimise its system.

“The project is going to provide a really good base level of data to deal with that core issue of water loss, but there are definitely other areas where we will be able to use the data to optimise our work,” he said.

“All the data that we are collecting goes into our data management system. It gives us the ability to correlate long-term water usage against things like weather patterns, and other environmental factors, so that we can start to see how all these things influence consumption,” he said.

“This work will also give us the ability to understand the difference between industrial and commercial water usage, even to the point where we can see where water has been pooled, which can be very useful during bushfire season.

“By understanding how these key areas and water patterns change, we can start to evolve our long-term water supply strategies. That will allow us to tailor our networks and optimise our operational responses to better meet our customers’ needs.”