Water leak detection from up high

Fluid Handling International spoke to Yolande Louvet, the initiator of the WADI project.

What is your role in the WADI project?

I am the scientific coordinator and the initiator of the WADI project. I am the advisor on Environment and Security at ONERA’s (The Office National d’Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales, the French National Aerospace Research Centre.) Department of Optics and Associated Techniques (DOTA). DOTA has recognised expertise in the field of airborne optics instruments, and it is actively involved in all scientific and technical activities of the WADI project.

Can you tell Fluid Handling how the project started?

During an info day on “airborne remote sensing applications,” a manager of the French SME Air-Marine asked me if water leaks during water transportation in rural areas could be detected using airborne remote sensing methods. I answered “Yes, they could!” I thought this idea would be very interesting for a European project related to the challenge of sustainable water resources management.

I began looking for European partners, and Air-Marine was the first to join. In 2012, the WADI consortium was unsuccessfully submitted for a European Commission ICT (Information Communication Technology) call for proposals. In 2015, with coordination by SGI (an Italian partner on the project who are experts on ground water leak detection), the WADI project won funding under the EU Commission’s “2015-Water-bdemonstration” call, achieving the maximum possible score of 15/15. We were ranked number one of 169 proposals submitted.

Now, the coordinator of the WADI Project is and ONERA continues to manage the scientific coordination of the project.

What stage is the project at now?

The project started in October 2016. ONERA and SCP (Société du Canal de Provence) partners are carrying out the first airborne campaign dedicated to determining the optimised detection wavelengths. The flights have been achieved successfully and the analysis of the hyperspectral/IR images collected is underway. The results are expected at the end of July and will define the WADI system used on an operational test campaign.

Where will this technology be most useful?

Sustainable water resource management will benefit both southern and northern countries. Indeed, our countries are faced with a scarcity of water resources and at the same time an increasing demand for water.

There is a very important point to take into account, and that is that the cost of water treatment includes an increase in electricity consumption, and this increased electricity consumption has significant environmental and economic impacts.

In some parts of Europe, especially rural areas, as much as 50% of water resources are being lost before they reach the tap. The WADI project is dedicated to water leak detection in rural areas, and to answer your question, the WADI system will be useful on different water networks (lined and unlined channels, pressurised or gravity pipes etc) and in different environments, working through a range of soil, vegetation, and climate.

How will the system detect underground leaks?

The project will use on board multispectral and infrared cameras running at the optimised wavelength. The aim is to detect direct/ indirect anomalies due to underground water leaks, such as:

• Soil moisture content

• Soil surface that has been modified by water evaporation

• Vegetation and lichen growth

• Small-to-large erosion phenomena

• Thermal soil surface and behaviour of soil thermal inertia.

All these different effects can be detected using multispectral and infrared cameras.

What are the advantages of using optical sensing on aerial platforms?

The optical sensing solution provides remote sensing detection at a long distance which permits the surveillance of all sorts of water networks (open canal, pipeline) in different environments.

The WADI system offers a fast, efficient and cheaper solution compared to the traditional terrestrial leak detection method.

WADI solution’s application will be carried out on two complementary aerial platforms. The manned aircraft is being used in long-distance and important infrastructure monitoring, whereas the unmanned platform is used for surveying branched water networks with short conduits or in particularly sensitive areas, i.e. those with a limited or difficult physical access, or located in dangerous areas.

What kinds of manned and unmanned aircraft will be used in the project?

The flights dedicated to the best wavelengths detection determination used the ONERA’s Busard aerial platform (motor glider + 2 pods for the payload), instrumented with two hyper-spectral and one IR imaging device.

The future test campaigns will use manned and unmanned aircraft provided by our Air-Marine (AM) and Galiléo Geosystems (GG) partners.

The manned platform (TECNAM P2006 T) will be provided by AM, a surveillance service provider which has a certified platform available for oil pipeline surveillance. GG will provide UAV, which will be chosen when the best detection wavelengths have been defined.

What is planned for the future tests?

The second campaigns, planned for 2018, will provide the validation flight tests of the WADI system over the SCP site. The validation tests will be supported by the traditional terrestrial leak detection method for assessment of the flights’ results.

The third and fourth (operational and surveillance campaigns) will be dedicated to testing in conditions close to the future WADI service and are planned for 2019 in Portugal over the site of EDIA, the second water network provider partner.


By Daryl Worthington 

Interview published on Fluid Handling International Volume 5 Issue 3, May 2017

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No. 689239