Plugging leaks and saving water

Almost 29 billion cubic metres of water are lost each year in Asia due to leaks and water theft from pipe networks. Sound-based technologies from international firm Echologics could help utilities and companies to locate leaks quickly and without ground excavations.

As Southeast Asia grapples with its worst drought in 50 years, brought on by the El Nino weather phenomenon that has been linked to drier weather in the region, the need to preserve water has become more urgent than ever.

Echologics, an international firm and division of Mueller Canada, Ltd. based in Mississauga, Canada, believes it can help countries and water utilities to plug one of the main sources of water losses – leaks in the pipe network – to shore up their water supply.

The firm specialises in technology, sensors and software that can locate leaks in a network to within 2 metre-accuracy. The sensors are attached to above-ground water mains, pipes or fire hydrants and do not require ground excavations.

Since its founding in 2003, Echologics has opened seven offices across the world and used its technology in more than 400 municipal and industrial projects, including in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Hong Kong.

Mark Nicol, the firm’s regional director for Asia, says that it plans to expand its footprint in Asia to other countries such as South Korea, China and Taiwan. “We’re looking at countries that have a need for our technology because of their water infrastructure challenges. Many of these countries have also experienced drought due to El Nino,” he says.

Since the latest El Nino started in 2015, for instance, nearly 30 of Thailand’s 77 precincts have been affected by drought, according to the country’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

Malaysia has also started water rationing in several states, including Johor and Perlis, to cope with prolonged dry weather. 

Even as rainfall has been drying up across Southeast Asia, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that water utilities in Asia lose nearly 29 billion cubic metres of water each year – enough to fill 11 million Olympic-sized swimming pools – through pipe leaks and water theft from distribution and transmission networks.

Just preventing half of the losses would be enough to supply 150 million people in the region with water, says the ADB.

In Malaysia, one-third of the water pumped out of its treatment plants, or about 5.7 billion litres a day, was lost through leaks in 2013. The Malaysian government has pledged to reduce such water losses, called non-revenue water, to 25 per cent of the supply by 2020.

To help Malaysia meet its target, Echologics recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Ranhill Water Services Sdn Bhd, a Malaysian firm that supplies water services to the state of Johor in Malaysia.

Echologics’ Nicol explains: “Our technology can help to ensure that countries’ water supply is transmitted efficiently, with minimal disruptions, so that most of the water goes to customers and isn’t lost en route.”

Smart and sound

Echologics has a variety of systems to suit all needs. The EchoShore-DX solution makes use of sound sensors to locate leaks in pipes that are up to 300mm in diameter. The system consists of “smart” nodes that are embedded in fire hydrant nozzles. Each node is chockfull of technology, including a sound sensor, analysis software, network hardware and an antenna.

The sound sensors record the water infrastructure’s noises and wirelessly upload the data to a secure server, where it can be analysed to find the locations of leaks to within 2m-accuracy.

“We’ve also adapted the Echoshore-DX technology so that it can be used in different types of fire hydrants across Asia,” says Nicol.

The EchoShore-TX technologies, on the other hand, is meant for pipes that are between 300mm and 3,000mm in diameter, and can be used to monitor water networks’ static pressure, flow, temperature and chlorine levels. This system can also be programmed to call, text or e-mail operators upon detecting a leak or other anomaly.

“The Echoshore-TX and Echoshore-DX technologies work on various types of pipe material, and they continuously monitor the pipes to detect new leaks as soon as they form, so that water utilities and companies can repair them immediately and avoid catastrophic failures or wastage of water,” Nicol says.

Echologics’ other offerings include the EchoShore-M system, which is a lightweight, portable and rugged version of the Echoshore-TX solution and is meant for temporary projects or to be quickly moved around a water network to multiple locations.

Our technology can help to ensure that countries’ water supply is transmitted efficiently, with minimal disruptions, so that most of the water goes to customers and isn’t lost en route.

Mark Nicol, Asia regional director, Echologics

In April 2015, Jalur Cahaya Sdn Bhd (JCSB), a water engineering services firm in Malaysia, started using this version in the Malaysian state of Selangor, on pipes that spanned 300mm to 1,200mm in diameter and were made of mild steel, ductile iron and asbestos cement.

The ongoing project has surveyed more than 2,000km of pipes and located more than 150 leaks, allowing water utilities to plug them and cut water losses by more than 20 million litres a day. The technology’s deployment required minimal site preparation and did not lead to any water service disruptions.

Another Echologics solution, the ePulse condition assessment solution, has been used in the United States, Canada and Western Europe to identify the condition of buried pipes. The technology uses sound-based sensors attached to existing contact points, such as fire hydrants and valves, or directly to the pipes, to capture how long it takes for a generated sound wave to travel along the pipe. The speed at which the sound wave travels indicates the condition of the pipe wall.

Asian expansion

Nicol says the firm is in ongoing and confidential talks with several water companies and utilities across Asia to expand the use of its technologies in the region. “The ePulse solution is already in the pilot stage in several countries in Southeast Asia,” he notes.

He adds that the firm continues to conduct research and development to improve its products. It modified its systems for Asia, for instance, so that they use 3G networks instead of radio transmission technology to upload data from the sensors.

“Different countries have different radio frequency bands open for commercial use, whereas 3G networks are fairly consistent,” he explains.

Nicol says that the firm also works with its clients to understand their future needs and to identify potential areas for development.

He sums up the firm’s ambitions: “We’re continuing to build our team in Asia, and we believe we can help water utilities across the region.”

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