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Thames Water launches leak offensive following year of extreme weather

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Thames Water is attempting to detect and repair thousands of leaks after weather extremes in the UK this year caused damage to the water network.

Speaking to the Press Association, the company’s chief executive Steve Robertson said that hundreds of staff had been deployed to patrol the streets at night and listen for leaks.

Thames Water recently said in its half year results that the extreme cold temperatures experienced in February followed by prolonged high temperatures from Spring onwards caused a 30 per cent rise in leaks.

The group said up to 75,000 customers saw their supply hit during the freezing cold weather and subsequent thaw in March as pipes burst.

Robertson said Thames Water was taking a raft of measures to tackle leaks and prevent a repeat of this year’s widespread water supply disruption.

He said: “We have hundreds of people every night out on the streets listening for leaks. You have to do it at night when it’s quiet - that’s how you find them.”

These teams have high-tech acoustic loggers and electronic sensors to identify leak areas and then use so-called listening sticks to pinpoint exactly where water is escaping.

While it has tried satellite imagery, drones and various new innovations, it said “nothing can beat the ear of an experienced leakage detection engineer”. 

Thames Water - which is Britain’s biggest water company, serving a quarter of the UK population - has hired an extra 600 staff to help with repairs and leak detection this year.

It repaired more than 1,400 leaks on average a week in the six months to September 30 - a 10-year high for the group.

The group has developed new techniques to better predict freezing weather and potential damage in advance, while also trialling innovations to repair pipes from the inside.

“Our ability to monitor and predict the sort of impact we have from the Beast from the East is much better now than it was last year,” said Robertson.

He admitted “lessons” were learned from the Beast from the East damage so that now the impact of a similar freeze would be “much less”.

The group is now hoping for a milder winter, admitting that otherwise it will “struggle” to meet its 2020 leakage targets.

Last year, nearly 75,000 people had their water supply interrupted due to problems with the water supply network.

In September, Labour said that the amount of water lost to leaks in the UK’s infrastructure over the last seven years would fill up Loch Ness, after calling for renationalising of the network. 

Environment Secretary Michael Gove met with the heads of a range water companies over the summer to urge them to do more about their leaky pipes.

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