Pressure is mounting for new weapons in the UK water companies' battle to maintain the nation's decaying 300,000km underground sewer system.
The system has an estimated replacement value in excess of £100bn, and regulator OFWAT has imposed a legal duty on utility companies to maintain the condition and serviceability of these assets at 'least cost' to customers.
But now, claims one senior industry expert, a tool could soon be on the market providing a step change in technology to deliver quick, reliable and cost effective information on the state of the nation's sewer network.
Ewan Group technical director Richard Long, who has devoted much of his career to the management of sewer systems, believes that water companies will soon have much greater access to good quality, objective and quantitative data about the condition of their assets.
Long has been working on project SewerBatt with Bradford University professor Kirill Horoshenkov of the Pennine Water Group.
'SewerBatt is an acousticbased system that uses sensors to measure pipe condition and provide accurate information on the state of the sewer, in real time and on a network scale, ' explains Long.
'The technology has been shown to have great potential, and the ongoing research will provide even greater insight into acoustic signal processing, with the application of mathematical techniques to link signal responses to the physical condition of the sewer, ' he adds.
Not only does Long claim the new technology is reliable and the information provided immediate, he says the potential reduction in costs required to operate an automated acousticbased sewer condition system is anticipated to be signicant.
SewerBatt offers the potential to directly assess most of a sewer network from the numerous small ex-Section 24 sewers up to the large trunk sewers in a time-scale suitable for operational and capital planning purposes.
Earlier this year, Ewan Group completed work on UK Water Industry Research's Deterioration Rates of Sewers project. This demonstrated how records of collapses and blockages in sewers, combined with asset attributes such as size, age, gradient and so on could be used to develop deterioration models that can be used to plan future operational and capital maintenance requirements.
Ewan is already working with one water company to extend this method to a fully riskedbased approach that takes account not only of the likelihood that any pipe may block or collapse, but also what the impact of that performance failure would be.
By incorporating these approaches into their day-to-day planning as well as their business planning for the regulatory cycle, water companies should be able to demonstrate that the delivery of their services achieves the right balance of cost and risk, he says.