The Daughters of Danaus were condemned to carry water in sieves for eternity. To escape a similar fate we need to employ some smart water solutions to address our aging drinking water infrastructure. Which is the best tool to help us pick the perfect moment to replace our pipes?

Greek mythology has it that, following a murderous act, the Daughters of Danaus were punished by being condemned to spend eternity attempting to fill a bathtub using only leaking vessels.

Leaving aside their terrible crime the futility of the task they were given paints a vivid image of what we might face if we don’t attend to the growing problem of Non-Revenue Water (NRW), caused by leaks and administrative flaws.

Just as roofing materials eventually start to fail and small leaks appear so too with pipework. And as with roofs, without action, eventually a catastrophic collapse will occur.

But when is the optimal moment to replace aging infrastructure? How do we measure the health of our pipes?

International experience

In the Netherlands the issue of NRW has not traditionally given us many sleepless nights but as our infrastructure ages the implications of leaking pipes, especially if those pipes are buried in some of our dikes, certainly makes the problem more pressing.

The Dutch find our water expertise in demand across the globe where we are often tasked with translating and applying Dutch technologies and techniques. But when it comes to the tools for assessing and measuring the quality of pipes and water loss from them, perhaps it’s time for us to look for international inspiration.

NRW is a huge problem in developing nations, the World Bank estimates that 45 million cubic metres of water is lost in these countries each day. The scale of the problem has led to partnerships between the World Bank and International Water Association and the development of indicators such as the Infrastructure leakage Index.

Carrying water in a sieve, is NRW a punishment? | Royal HaskoningDHV 

Building our toolkit

Increased investment in research in the Netherlands will add some useful tools to our kit. However we must also make full use of the tools already available. The Infrastructure Leakage Index (ILI) is a very useful method for assessing the physical health of pipe infrastructure.

The ILI is a performance indicator of real (physical) water loss from the supply network of water distribution systems. It has been applied in at least 50 countries worldwide. Where traditional NRW is measured as a percentage of water lost as a share of net water produced, the ILI provides an assessment of the physical health of pipework rather than any operational inefficiency and as a result provides the parameters that will help predict functional collapse.

Our OPIR® technology, a proven software solution to predict water consumption which is widely used in the Netherlands, is now being further developed to include leak detection. This operational inefficiency monitoring tool provides real-time input to longer period asset maintenance efforts. As we know from above ground industry, operational data is the basis to inform replacement and redesign. Therefore so too can advanced software solutions be used to tackle the invisible problem of aging underground pipe infrastructure, before it becomes dramatically visible.

A basic problem needing a smart solution

Although NRW in the Netherlands is still very low in comparison to countries around the globe the latest figures show that it is increasing.

A leak might feel like the most basic of problems but if we don’t want to end up like those Greek maidens we need to tackle it with some of the very latest smart solutions.

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