United Utilities introduces sewers with 'eyes and ears' in Tameside

An intelligent sewer system that issues alerts to reduce flooding and overflows is being introduced across Tameside.

‘Dynamic Network Management’ is the latest investment from United Utilities to upgrade the drainage system that was inherited from the Victorians. The project is already underway and around 300 data-gathering sensors have already been installed at flood risk areas across the borough this year.

The sensors provide information on how the network is performing and identify issues such as blockages and sudden rises in water before serious problems arise – and they have already delivered successful results.

Mike Wood, Water and Wastewater Network Director at United Utilities explained: “The sensors act like eyes and ears for us in the drainage water network and alert us to changes, whether that is a blockage caused by an obstruction that has built up, or rapidly rising water levels.

“As the majority of the sewer network is buried underground it is impossible to know what is happening in there. Traditionally we’ve only been able to respond to problems when they happen, Dynamic Network Management changes that as alerts are issued when water levels rise, or flow rates slow down – both of which can indicate problems.

“In a nutshell it means we can manage the network, rather than the other way round.”

The data captured by the sensors is sent back to a unique digital platform that has been designed specifically for United Utilities. This uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to learn what is normal in a particular location and detect changes enabling teams to respond.

A flooding problem in Hyde was averted when a DNM sensor noticed the usual water levels had dropped. Investigations showed this was caused by a mass of tree roots that had blocked a culvert further upstream. If left, this would have eventually led to localised flooding but by detecting the changes quickly, they could be quickly cleared enabling the system to flow freely again.

Across the region United Utilities has almost completed a programme to install over 19,000 sensors – more than 900 of these will be in Tameside.

Mike added: “This investment is giving us visibility as to what is happening on our wastewater network and when, so we can detect and prevent any unnecessary issues before they become a problem for customers or the environment.”