Leak Detection In Italy: Examining Historic Infrastructure

July 12, 2022
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The terrain of Italy, with its strong climatic, geomorphological, and cultural differentiation, vastly expands the challenges to creating sustainable water programs. Towns and villages in Italy are located in historical centers, millenary cities, on the coast, perched on peaks, in Alpine cities, and islands. Ancient water distribution systems a part of the Roman aqueduct connect to more recent systems to serve the residents and the many more tourists of Italy. ASTERRA’s patented Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology for pipeline assessment, leak detection, and infrastructure assessment are used to alleviate these challenges and drive sustainable water programs – particularly leak detection in Italy.

Recently, we reached out to Massimo Ramazzotto, the operational director for 2f Water Venture S.R.L, ASTERRA’s Italian channel partner to learn more about the complexities involved in the resolution of water leaks in Italy. Ramazzotto said, “Working in historical contexts consists in entering the urban and cultural heart of a city. In Italy, each city has unique characteristics from an architectural, gastronomic, and cultural point of view. Each city has its own particularities and artistic riches, which makes maintenance work often logistically complex. The flooring alone is often years old and every intervention must be weighed up. The pipelines are, as a consequence, often deteriorated and in need of urgent maintenance interventions.” In fact, the walls and floors are often decades and even centuries old.

In the Washington Post, it was reported that the water loss rate is 42% in Italy, and in some regions much higher. Italian officials and many regional utilities are working to improve this rate through their collaboration with ASTERRA and 2f Water Venture. As a part of Italy’s COVID Recovery and Resilience Plan, a 31.4 billion Euro allocation of funds is for Green Revolution and Ecological Transition, which includes water leak recovery, infrastructure maintenance, and sustainability upgrades. Although the Post article reported that Italian leak detection teams sometimes go street by street using sound equipment to listen for leaks in many regions in Italy, which is akin to finding a needle in a haystack, many regions use ASTERRA’s proven satellite technology to detect the locations of water leaks allowing teams to find and resolve leaks faster and easier.

In two case studies summarized here, water utilities used ASTERRA (formerly Utilis)-directed protocols combining the satellite image points of interest and the leak detection field crews in partnership with 2f Water Venture, which allowed them to focus on less than 5% of the total system length and maximize leaks found. Azienda Cuneese Dell’Acqua, the public company that manages the water network for 100 municipalities in the mountains and piedmont areas of Cuneo, Italy, required just nine days of fieldwork with personnel from ASTERRA, 2F Water Venture, and their own acoustic team to find 43 leaks- 4.8 per day. Acquedotto del Fiora Spa, the largest utility in the Tuscany region that manages 55 municipalities, found a total of 66 leaks- 5.5 per day.

One need only walk the streets of some of these ancient communities to see how complicated the resolution of water leaks can be. In the heart of Rome, on a busy weekday near the Pantheon, a leak detection team is struggling to direct traffic of tourists who are navigating unfamiliar streets, businesspeople walking in haste, bikes, scooters, produce carts, delivery trucks, taxis, and more, all while repairing what was ultimately a minor leak in a fairly new pipe.

Along with the busy streets, history has a role to play in Italian leak detection. The Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 B.C., still supplies water to Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain. As many tourists will attest, this fountain is sometimes shut down as teams carefully repair water leaks and maintain its infrastructure.

Repairs become much more complex with pipes 70 or 100 years old and where access points involve the ancient aqueduct system. While the aqueduct system was a feat of engineering designed by ancient Romans, modern Rome is a city, and the ancient system used water sources and gravity from a large span of land in Italy, Greece, and other regions. In many places, that ancient system meets more modern, but still old systems. This makes for weak spots where leaks may form. Water pressure may vary in the region from 1 bar to 15 bars. The complexities are endless. Ramazzotto said, “The contribution of the field technicians is therefore very fundamental, and traditional leak detection is less effective (in these areas). Using electro-acoustic instrumentation is also more complex as the access points to the network are ancient, fragile, and sparse. Trivially, operating with a geophone on a paved or cobblestone pavement is considerably more complicated than on an asphalted pavement. Skills and experience are required to be able to operate in these competitions.”

Among the regions in Italy where leaks are monitored using ASTERRA are Veneto, Lazio, Campania, Emilia Romagna, Piemonte, Liguria, Toscana, Marche, Abruzzo, Umbria, and Friuli Venezia Giulia. The complex challenges resolved include high pressures and damage to the water delivery systems as a result of earthquakes. Other complexities include leaks located in densely populated university areas, centro storico (old town) regions with historic structures, and sites of religious significance. ASTERRA’s Recover and MasterPlan satellite-based leak detection products are the standard for leak detection in Italy to efficiently locate leaks, preserve the historic structures, and provide collaborative field service for their resolution.

Check out our StoryMaps for more pictures and details.

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