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Non-revenue water (NRW) in potable water distribution systems is water that has been produced, treated, and pumped into a pipe network, but is either physically lost before it ever reaches customers for consumption, is not accurately metered or recorded for billing purposes, is used for authorized purposes but not billed, or is used without authorization. A primary cause for the physical loss of water is leaky pipes and main failures. These account for an average of approximately 30 gallons per connection lost each day, which in a 100,000-connections system, would be equivalent to three large swimming pools or 75,000 baths of lost water per day.
Water, which we use every day for drinking, bathing, cooking, and cleaning, is a critical resource for daily life, yet because our pipes and water infrastructure are typically underground, they are virtually invisible. Most of us don’t consider how our water is being delivered to our faucets, or that millions of gallons of water may be lost each day, leaking into the ground beneath our feet.
Water utilities, however, are acutely aware that leaks are occurring and that the costs of such leaks are significant—both for end customers and the utilities themselves. For customers, there is the financial cost, which is passed on through increased bills as utilities try to offset the additional expense and amount of treatment needed for drinking water. For utilities, there are the costs associated with both identifying leaks, which is an expensive and time-consuming process, and the cost of not identifying leaks, consequential damages, service outages and losing millions of gallons of treated water. There is also the cost of wasted energy, and adverse impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, associated with pumping water that is eventually lost.
The reported NRW by water utilities in the U.S. ranges from 20 to more than 47 gallons/connection/day. Additionally, the annual cost associated with water losses can run anywhere between $273K-$1.2M per utility according to the AWWA Utility Benchmarking document published in 2022.
NRW is a challenge that affects nearly every water system—public or private, in any geography. Utilities are well aware of the costs of lost water, but many simply don’t have the technology or resources needed to better identify leaks in their water infrastructure. To help water utilities identify leakage in their water distribution systems, and therefore improve the affordability and availability of water in their communities, Arcadis created the Non-Revenue Water Digital Twin (NRW-DT) technology. This innovation enables water utilities to leverage live data and technology for rapid location of leak sources and to minimize costly, time-consuming efforts to manually survey their water infrastructure.
From an idea to promising pilot tests in six months
In early 2022, the idea for a Non-Revenue Water Digital Twin was just that—an idea. The next step was to bring this idea to life. Over the course of six months, our team of subject matter experts, developers and product managers created a prototype of NRW-DT, a solution that relies on flow meters, pressure sensors and SCADA data to identify anomalies indicative of potential leaks. We tested this prototype with water utilities, of various sizes, located in the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland to determine if this solution was feasible, desirable to our clients, and viable for our business. The feedback we received from the utilities was consistent; they were interested in a solution that would find leaks across their systems, and they liked the way the NRW-DT prototype was shaping up. We then began to create a live version of the tool in the Azure Digital Twins platform and launched a pilot program.
In August 2022 we partnered with the water utility of the City of Canton, Ohio, which serves 120,000 people, to launch a series of proof-of-concept tests to pilot NRW-DT. The pilot project took place in a primarily residential area with about 200 connections. For this pilot, our primary goals were to further develop and test the proprietary leak detection algorithms, test the desirability and feasibility of new features, and test the price-point of a beta version of the product.
The leak detection algorithms showed excellent results in most scenarios, which validates the new technology’s capability to enhance leak detection. We also started exploring different ways to leverage Canton’s hydraulic model to enhance the solution by detecting with greater accuracy where leaks may be happening in the water distribution system. This pilot was made a reality thanks to the commitment of the City of Canton, which facilitated implementation of our solution in their system and contributed the expertise of their engineers and field crews to install the sensors and conduct the required tests. In 2023, we plan to partner with more utilities to help them solve challenges in water loss control with NRW-DT for their water distribution systems. If you think NRW-DT would be a good fit for your utility and would like to learn more, please reach out to me.
Successful implementation of NRW-DT platforms can potentially provide water utilities with the data they need to identify leaks or breaks in their water infrastructure sooner and more accurately, which can significantly reduce the volume of water lost. In a time when long-term drought and scarcity of clean drinking water affects large portions of the U.S. and the world, this is water (and energy) we can’t afford to lose.