City of London – Water Engineering: Using AI to Identify Leaking Water Mains

Canada’s annual water loss is estimated to be near $3 billion with a GHG footprint of about 2 million tons of CO2 and the majority of this leakage happens through the municipal water network, before water reaches your home.

This is an issue everywhere: Indeed the problem is 10 times bigger in the United States and it’s an issue the Southern Ontario City of London has addressed, offering a lesson other municipalities would do well to heed. Many cities currently manage a reduction of around  2% of this loss, others are seeing less improvement or even worsening losses  Given those numbers, a loss reduction of 50% in a 5 year plan is a revolution, but a revolution that needed testing to demonstrate to everyone that the drip, drip, drip could dry up.

In many ways the odds were stacked against the The City of London’s successful partnership with Waterlik ever happening. Waterlik, founded by Mehrdad Varedi, approached every city in Canada, with a population of more than 100,000 and of those 42 larger cities, only five expressed an interest in the program.

Some scepticism towards initiating the project seems justifiable.   The project began, after all, with a proposal from Waterlix that offered free data analysis and you know what they say, or could be forgiven for saying, “There’s no such thing as a free data analysis.”

Even the City of London wasn’t without its doubts. Waterlix’s product had been developed with open data from the city of Kitchener, but without any municipal involvement and Waterlix’s data analysis, and computational statistical approach made many City of London staff nervous. But these problems were exactly what made the arrangement so mutually beneficial. Waterlix was able to offer their services free of charge and tailored to London’s specific needs and in return London was able to provide Waterlix with the solid data and verification the company needed, all with little risk for the city.

The City of London has over 1,550km of water mains as part of its drinking water system, and the City’s Environmental and Engineering Services Department rebuilds approximately 1% of the system each year to ensure its safety and dependability. With limited resources to safeguard public health, and a mandate to operate as efficiently as possible. Each year, the City also experiences losses from non-revenue water that is lost through breaks and leakages; which also results in disruptions to those who live, work, and play in the City.

To conventionally assess the condition of approximately 205 km of trunk water main, and 1,345 km of smaller distribution lines, it would cost roughly $17 million dollars; and require years of potentially disruptive work. Waterlix’s software model identifies specific areas of the city where conditions of pipe are at critical stages of high risk of failure, allowing for a relatively accurate condition assessment to be completed within a 6-month period, with no disruption to services.

While the Waterlix product is not expected to fully replace conventional assessment, it does significantly lower costs by allowing maintenance programs to be focused on where breakage is most likely to occur.

Widespread adoption of this innovative approach could save Canada 50% of its 2 Million tCo2 and $3 billion annual water loss. The city of London is among the well managed cities with only 8% Non-Revenue Water and the value of its annual water loss is around $14.9 Million. As a result of their receptiveness to new ideas and their willingness to implement them once tested, The City of London expects to save nearly 2 Million cubic meters of water and around 8590 tons of Co2 annually after the implementation of a 5-year plan.

Let’s hope some of what London has spills over.