In the early 1990’s the concept of managing water supply networks through discrete network areas called District Meter Areas (DMA) became fashionable and was adopted across the industry. DMAs allowed water companies to manage leakage, and they’ve been very effective. They work by essentially capping areas of the network with values. These values can be ‘kept-shut’ or ‘fully open’. You can measure the amount of water going into the DMA and the amount of water coming out, thus allowing you to know if there is a leak in the area. But, these days, there is so much more to managing water networks than just controlling leaks. Controlling leaks is still right at the top of the list of things we need to manage, but we consider interruptions, water quality, and pressure just as highly now.
In 2012, working with Imperial College London and Cla-Val, we introduced our ‘field lab’ to test out an approach we call Dynamic District Meter Areas (DDMA). In its simplest form DDMAs work by introducing multi-function self-powered automatic control valves, rather than the older ‘open or shut’ valves in DMAs. These work a little bit like a kitchen tap. Rather than being fully on or off, you can turn them on a bit or a bit more if needed. It allows different DDMA to work together, to be more fluid. These network controllers optimise the network connectivity and hydraulic conditions which means you can better control pressure, reduce the risk of burst mains, reduce the risk of water quality incidents, as well as manage leakage. It also means that if you do have a burst main then more people are like it to stay in water or you can get them back in water quicker.
The project has also developed and implemented analytical methods and control technologies which allow us to switch between different controls depending on what’s going on within the network. We can switch between ‘control to optimise’, ‘control to discover’, and ‘control under extreme events’.
If you want more of a technical explanation as to how DDMAs work then please click here.
So what does all these mean in the real world? Well in September 2014 and large burst main north of the field lab saw thousands of people lose their water supply. But 4,000 customers inside the field lab area, who would have otherwise lost their water supply, maintained their supply. Furthermore, we didn’t need to take any action, and we received no discolouration complaints.
Within the field lab area we have also reduced background leakage by in excess of 10%, we’ve seen an 80% reduction in burst mains in the area, and the number of water quality complaints has reduce to zero over the six years.
So what does it mean? It means a safer and more reliable water supply for customers.
We are continuing to work with our partners at London Imperial College and Cla-Val and we’re currently extending the lab to other areas of our network. We’re also sharing our learnings with others and will continue to meet with colleagues from across the water industry to help implement these ideas across the country.