Ovarro’s data-driven blockage detection cuts pollution in the UK

Anglian Water has applied Ovarro’s data-driven early-warning technology across all rising main sewers, so that bursts and blockages are detected before serious pollution occurs.

The ‘PumpInsight’ project by Anglian Water and Ovarro has been shortlisted in the asset management initiative of the year category at the Water Industry Awards 2024, taking place on 4 Jul 2024 in Birmingham, England, UK.

As the first utility to adopt BurstDetect — Ovarro’s artificial intelligence (AI) led system that uses machine learning (ML) to detect rising main sewer bursts before pollution occurs in 2022 — Anglian Water also purchased BlockageDetect which analyses data from the same assets to alert to sewer blockages.

In February 2024, Anglian Water adopted PumpInsight, a secondary component platform that uses AI and ML to monitor telemetered pumping stations and detect performance issues to support predictive pump maintenance

The largest water and sewerage company in England and Wales geographically — managing a sewer network of 76,000km, which includes 6,000 rising mains — pledges in its 2025-2030 draft business plan to eliminate serious pollution and reduce total number of pollution incidents by 40%, with a strategy that includes bringing in ML.

Preventative decision-making

Water companies in England and Wales will roll out a major investment programme from 2025-2030, with plans to cut sewage spills and pollution. There will be a focus on reducing rising main sewer bursts.

Rising mains are pressurised pipes that carry wastewater from pumping stations to treatment works. They are high-risk, critical assets — if they burst, large volumes of high-pressure wastewater can spill into the environment quickly, risking ecological damage.

Technical and logistical limitations in monitoring have meant that utilities have often been alerted to bursts and leaks by members of the public. This reactive, alarm-led approach means it is often too late for water companies to take early action to limit impact.

Advances in technology mean water companies have already begun the move to proactive network monitoring to reduce pollution events. Their asset management plans for the period 2025-2030 —AMP8 — commit to accelerating this transition by implementing new tools, in systems that use data to support preventative decision-making.

The company’s 2023-2025 pollution reduction plan reports that in 2022, 9% of pollution incidents were attributed to burst rising mains

Unique algorithms

BurstDetect and BlockageDetect are cloud-based platforms that use algorithms to detect rising main bursts and blockages. The systems do this by using existing data from wastewater pumping stations, for example, by analysing filling and emptying times of a wet well in relation to the pumps and identifying any deviations from normal behaviour.

If data suggests a potential burst or blockage, an alert is sent to operators for early response. Data is presented on a dashboard accessed by the Ovarro Atrium platform.

The technology can be applied to nearly all pumping stations — including those with just basic pump status monitoring — and requires no additional hardware, making 100% network coverage possible. 

The system accepts data at a range of monitoring frequencies with algorithms being applied to understand and characterise ‘normal’ pumping station behaviour

In 2022, Ovarro wastewater systems helped Anglian Water detect 50 bursts on rising mains, each time preventing a pollution incident. To date, more than 2,000 alerts have been generated by Ovarro predictive systems with an accuracy rate of around 70%. In addition, the insights have helped inform a rehabilitation programme of 42 rising main sewers. The systems are self-learning and as the algorithms continue to improve over time, so will the accuracy of the alerts.

Gavin Russell, regional manager at Ovarro, said, “Our suite of proactive wastewater solutions —BurstDetect, BlockageDetect and PumpInsight — was developed in collaboration with UK water companies, in response to the sector’s challenge to cut pollution in a sustainable and cost-effective way.”

Pump monitoring

With the same AI and ML capabilities, Ovarro’s PumpInsight platform monitors pump efficiency changes over time, analysing data anomalies and tracking performance trends. By enabling proactive maintenance strategies, PumpInsight reduces the risk of unplanned pump failures and associated environmental pollution incidents.

Paul Louth, head of water recycling networks at Anglian Water, added, “The solutions can self-learn with feedback, enabling us to further refine the success rate of the alerts alongside our own learning of how to use the insight. Operationally, we have honed our response to large rising main events and have been able to prevent impact, as a result of the processes.   

“Moving onto PumpInsight, we have had success during a trial of this work that gives us confidence in the approach. Like the algorithms, we are learning how we can best utilise the information produced, and find new applications which will give us greater visibility of the health of our assets.

“Our focus continues to be the implementation of new smart technologies and integrating these with our business-as-usual approaches in our quest to become preventative rather than reactive. BurstDetect, BlockageDetect and PumpInsight will be a key part of this.”

Images: Ovarro