Seco - Space for clean and safe management of Pipelines Water Leakage using satellite data to provide new services

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Objectives of the service

Water is one of the most precious commodities we have, and it is fundamental to human and societal needs for good living. With the effects of climate change and an ever-growing global population, the pressure on the water resources has increased dramatically in recent years. Even in countries like the UK, where rain and hence water resources never seemed at a shortage, a severe drought like experienced in 2018 can cause issues with water supply and distribution consistency.

Space for clean and safe management of Pipelines Water Leakage using satellite data to provide new services, or simply Seco, is the provision of services to the water industry utilising the benefits that satellite technology can give in remotely monitoring assets. The three services are:

  • Water leak prediction: predictive analysis of water pipeline structural health- preventative maintenance service
  • Water leak detection: near-real time situational awareness of network water leaks and flow rate- targeted repair service
  • Water pipeline interference: early warning related to water pipeline interference- preventative maintenance service

The objectives of the study are:

  • Validate the technical feasibility of the proposed service 
  • Economic and noneconomic viability for developing this new service;
  • Understand the commercial exploitation through a rigorous route-to-market analysis

Users and their needs

The proposed services aim to deliver better informed and effective protective services than are available today by:

  • Providing water companies a service into their operational framework for managing their strategic water leak reduction targets at or above 15% by 2025 (OFWAT).
  • Allowing focused infrastructure upgrades based on greatest needs prioritisation, hence better management of maintenance cost and capital investments.

A number of stakeholders agreed to support the activity:

Water corporations: There are over 20 different water corporations in England and Wales, looking after fresh water supply and in some cases also incorporating wastewater services. Following the water industry act of 1991 most have been privatised. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, they still exist as state services and are run by the regional government.

Engineering companies: Water companies may be responsible for running and upkeep of a water pipeline network, but the initial construction, upgrades and even maintenance is often carried out by ground construction / engineering companies.

Additional stakeholders: including Regulators, Government Agencies and Consumers.

Service/ system concept

Service 1: Pipeline strain service - Intended as a preventative maintenance service, this element focuses on an EO-derived parameter of strain - differential ground movement - that can be detected and observed on a section of pipeline using satellite data (InSAR derived from SAR data).

Service 2: Pipeline interference service - Also intended as a preventative maintenance service, this focuses on identifying interference and/or encroachment along the pipeline route, based on use of change detection methodologies applied to satellite imagery. This is an ongoing monitoring activity involving both SAR and optical imagery derived detection mechanisms, independent of each other, but complimentary.

Service 3: Pipeline leak detection service - As a targeted repair service this utilises two independent detection mechanisms: optical imaging to detect anomalies in vegetation vigour and SAR to detect anomalies in soil moisture along known water supply pipeline routes. SAR enhances the visibility / exposure of the potential leakages regardless of the cloud cover and time of the day thus ensuring visibility all year round. Optical data can be collected at higher spatial resolution than SAR thus giving an advantage in busier (e.g. urban) environments.

Space Added Value

Seco utilises satellite acquired data, delivering large-scale and consistent results, giving the user the full picture at a scale in-situ methods struggle to replicate. Specifically, for this study, Earth Observation has the following advantages:

Non-invasive - Since pipeline are often beneath roads, many pipelines are difficult to physically access without disrupting traffic flow. A solution that offers the ability to monitor routes with high precision without the need for any in-situ equipment of personnel presence is therefore a significant operational and logistic advantage.

Multiple asset monitoring - covering very large areas with a single satellite image.

Repeatability and coverage rates - With revisit rates approaching every 2 to 3 hours (for SAR and optical) in the next few years, the immense collection rates begin to exceed what is possible by any other means.

Precision - Detecting very small, potentially invisible motions or activities, is a critical early warning indicator to a high value asset owner. InSAR is able to detect motion in the region of 2-3 mm.  Very subtle differential movements can be highly damaging to non-flexible materials, so this level of precision is a game changer and on a par with in-situ devices.


Current Status

The three proposed services are illustrated in the figures below showing actual case study examples by the participating companies.

Service 1 A predictive analysis of water pipeline structural health Service 2 Early warning related to water pipeline interference
Ground motion gradients for pipeline strain calculations with underlying coal mines seams.

Change Detection Map

Service 3 Near-real time situational awareness of network water leaks and flow rate.

Soil moisture dataset derived from L-band ALOS2 analysis. Leak site identified by NDVI analysis (left) and indicated on map (right).

Currently, the project consortium is engaging with stakeholders to understand their expectations, needs and requirements. They include relevant water companies and engineering services providers as well as other parties such environmental agencies, regulators, and consumers.

If Seco is of interest for your business, there is still time to be involved in the feasibility study. Please contact Maria de Farago (, David Riley ( or Tom Waddington ( for your chance to help shape the future of controlling pipeline water leaks.

Prime Contractor(s)

Status Date

Updated: 30 June 2020 - Created: 30 June 2020