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Utility’s drone program takes safety sky-high

As eyes in the sky, drones are reducing safety risks and improving operations at SA Water.

The utility currently has seven licenced drone pilots and aims to have 20 staff members licenced by the end of the year so it can deploy the technology at more of its water and wastewater facilities.

SA Water General Manager of Business Services Jamie Hollamby said expanding the use of drones was about creating a safer work environment, particularly when inspecting infrastructure in hard-to-access locations.

“Drones enable us to remotely view and film the condition of structures, such as outlet towers and tunnels, providing close-up, high-quality images, even in the dark,” he said.

“In addition to eliminating safety risks by removing the person from a particular situation, using our drones is also reducing the time taken to complete tasks, which in turn is reducing operational costs.”

But drones aren’t only useful for asset inspections. SA Water is also taking flight to capture aerial and thermal photography and videography. This provides greater perspective on large-scale operations, which helps the utility assess the health of the environment over time and monitor the progress of capital works.

This includes a recent survey of 40 km of shoreline of Lake Victoria, which involved taking more than 20,000 photos. This allowed the utility to produce surface and vegetation comparisons to determine the stability of the shoreline and monitor changes.

SA Water’s Riverland team, which covers an area of South Australia along the Murray River, has also used the technology to capture aerial photography of locks and weirs. 

“We started with two drone pilots in 2016, and now we’re striving to continue finessing our capability,” Hollamby said.

“As we continue to develop and embed the capability, we’re learning more each day about the various applications and benefits of drones.”

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