Drones changing leak detection

30/04/2019 2:00 p.m.

30 April 2019

Ground-breaking drone technology has changed the future of leak detection in the Waipā district.

A trial project led by Waipa District Council’s water services team, has used a drone fitted with a thermal imaging camera – the only one of its kind in New Zealand - to locate leaks in a major water supply pipe.

The drone was flown along the water main, which runs from the Te Tahi water treatment plant to Pirongia and Te Awamutu, spotting cold water leaks against the background of the warm soil.

Water services manager Tony Hale said this project was “a game changer” for his team and pipe maintenance in New Zealand.

“The drone is far more cost effective and allows us to find leaks as quickly as possible so we can get on with fixing them. We can also cover a much larger area in a much shorter period of time.

Hale said the leaks were previously only found using sensitive acoustic devices and headphones with Council staff walking the length of the pipe listening for water leaks.

Council has now conducted two surveys using the drone. The first was carried out during the hottest week of the year in February to capture the greatest temperature difference between the ground soil and the cold water leaks.

Five potential leaks were identified – the majority of which were attributed to leaking cattle troughs and leaking service valves along the water main.

The second survey, carried out earlier this month, uncovered two further leaks due to failures in the pipe. It was conducted at 6am when the ground temperature was cooler than the water and achieved clearer results.

“The trial needs further tweaking but has the potential to save hundreds of litres of water,” Hale said.

The water main was originally installed in 1955 and is coming to the end of its life.

The information from the drone is now being used to identify and fix the leaks until the pipe is eventually replaced.  The pipe replacement project, estimated to cost $6.6 million and will take up to three years to complete, is scheduled to start in 2022.

A thermal image indicating a water leak on the road side.


The same image taken with a standard drone camera.


Page reviewed: 30 Apr 2019 4:44pm