Water main break rate holds steady in 2019 despite year of extreme weather


Water main break rate holds steady in 2019 despite year of extreme weather

Although South Australia experienced its driest year on record in 2019, the number of water main incidents last year remained steady, with month to month patterns following the same seasonal cycle since records began in 1992.

4065 water main leaks and breaks were reported in 2019* across SA Water’s 27,000-kilometre network, compared to 3970 in 2018 – a difference of 2.4 per cent.

These figures include everything from major breaks to minor leaks, damp patches and trickles on the road.

A recent independent review, commissioned by the SA Water Board, confirmed SA Water compares favourably on both the rate of water main breaks and the amount of leakage when compared to Australian and international peers, being in the best performing quartile for both measures.

The review assessed SA Water’s practices and capabilities against international leading-practice in 24 areas, determining that seven are leading in international practice, 15 are in step with industry practice and two have room for improvement.

SA Water’s General Manager of Asset Operations and Delivery Mark Gobbie said searing hot summer temperatures coupled with below average rainfall in both 2018 and 2019 resulted in high movement of underground water mains.

“Moisture levels in South Australia’s reactive clay soils, which are most prevalent in Adelaide and fostered by our arid climate, remain the key stress on our pipes and therefore the main influence behind the number of water main breaks,” Mark said.

“Last year began with the state’s driest summer since 1985-86 and then experienced some of the lowest levels of rainfall on record through much of the year, including in traditionally wetter months. So when it did rain, the abruptness of the event had an increased impact on our water mains.”

Comparatively, there was a five per cent decrease in the number of water main leaks and breaks in the state’s regional areas in 2019.

“Compared to metropolitan Adelaide, country South Australia for the most part has more stable soils, so the pipes move around less between wet and dry season transitions,” Mark said.

“We also attribute the reduction in regional water main incidents to the replacement of several previously problematic pipes. In 2019, we installed around 50 kilometres of new water main across South Australia.

“In addition to our ongoing water main replacement program, and as recommended through a recent independent review, we are actioning several initiatives to improve our approach to water main management.

“This includes installing smart sensor technology on arterial roads, changing management structures within the Adelaide metropolitan alliance and working with regulators to shape new service performance standards.

“In 2020-24, we plan to invest $27 million to expand our smart water network, which is currently operating in the Adelaide CBD and four other targeted locations around the state.

“We are also looking to extend our Community Support team to regional areas, who in addition to crews repairing a water main leak or break, provide help and advice to SA Water customers impacted by an incident.

“These projects are included in our four-year proposal submitted late last year to independent regulator the Essential Services Commission of South Australia (ESCOSA).”

ESCOSA is currently undertaking a review of SA Water’s proposal and will make its final determination in May 2020.

*Figures for 2019 are for water main leaks and break up to 31 December 2019, based on the information available to SA Water at this time. Figures cited in this media release may change due to end of month variations and alterations to reporting processes.





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