Innovation and technology as definitive solutions. Avoiding water loss is one of the main commitments in integrated water service management. Research and the implementation of increasingly more advanced technologies and solutions allows to achieve the best results.
And the initial results from the pilot project launched by Acea Ato 5 to search for water leaks using satellite images, which was completed a few days ago, are pointing in the right direction.
Acea Ato 5’s work to reduce water leaks is carried out on multiple levels. The ones closest and most visible to users are those involving repairs along the distribution network, as they are often in plain sight. However, less visible work is carried out along main and secondary feeding pipelines, where leaks often occur in remote areas (on mountains or in places difficult to access) and require specific competences and operational capabilities.
It goes without saying that a leak along a main feeding pipeline, in addition to causing the loss of significantly greater amounts of water – due to the greater capacity – also risks causing inconvenience to a larger number of users and residential areas compared to a leak along a local distribution line. Therefore, Acea Ato 5 works daily on both fronts, in order to guarantee constant water supply to all its users, thanks to tens of interventions during each 24-hour period, some in plain sight, others less visible but probably more necessary.
Among its less visible activities, over the last few weeks, Acea Ato 5 has completed a pilot project to search for water leaks through satellite images and radar photographs taken from an airplane, analyzing them with a special algorithm able to highlight the presence of drinking water outside the network lines, indicating a possible break or leak in the pipeline. A technology that has already been used in many parts of Italy and across the world, and that Ato 5 has used for the first time.
Results are positive and promising. The pilot project involved the municipalities of Alatri, Fumone and Veroli, and the satellite images were taken over a period of approximately 10 days, between September and October, along 580 kilometers of pipes.
The project has highlighted more than 100 suspicious leaks, including in areas difficult to access and therefore harder to detect. Almost 60% of these “localized leaks” (as they are technically referred to) were confirmed after on-site surveys. In some cases, the leaks were not visible because they did not emerge to the surface, and therefore would have not been identified otherwise.
Acea Ato 5 teams and companies have already intervened and repaired some of the leaks, however, in the most complex cases, work is currently being planned based on surveys and discoveries.
The technology used is known as SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar), and in Italy it is offered by 2F Water Venture, who collaborates with the main Italian integrated water service providers.
This technology allows to identify specially hidden leaks and background issues (i.e. leaks not identifiable by traditional technology). A map of the water network is placed over the satellite image, and once unnecessary elements are removed from the picture, it allows to record the presence of water using the rebounds of radio waves.