THe DESIGN CHALLENGE:  keep it flowing

Water leakage is a large and ongoing problem for water companies with up to 21% of clean water lost through leakage - an unacceptable wastage.

Around 14.7 billion litres are produced per day with 3.1 billion litres lost (equal to 1,235 Olympic size pools worth lost each day, ref: ( 

Sponsors of the Leakage design challenge.

At Northumbrian Water Group, the problem of leakage is calculated to cost around £5.5 million each year.

A study in 2011 by UKWIR (UK Water Industry Research) showed that 13% leakage could be achieved by:

  • Quadrupling the current leak detection resources
  • A massive increase in pressure management
  • External metering of all properties
  • Continuing pipe renewals at current rates

However, this is longer term and has an impact on the economic cost model for producing clean water.  

MICROSOFT, the headline Festival sponsor are leading this Challenge.  Together we seek short to medium term solutions that with investment can achieve significant results in overcoming financial challenges of leakage detection and reduction.

What ARE our goalS?

Overall the aim of the design challange is to generate tangible improvements in performance targets in the short to medium term.

We are looking for inspiration and fresh thinking from within and outside the water industry to bring new ideas that will create impact and improvements to the overall leakage rates. The scale of this problem is significant, industrywide and international.  

We are looking for creative ways of spotting leaks: Where are the leaks now? Which part of the network? Where are they likely to appear next? We are looking for teams to develop analysis tools – aids to problem solving. 

What the design challange about:

1.     Prediction – tools and data to identify where leaks have happened and predicting where to repair and replace.

2.    Early identification – improving identification of hard to identify leaks, particularly small and evolving leaks.

3.    Making good decisions – creation of tools and systems to support decision making process around replacement versus repair

4.    Providing evidence – developing business cases for future solutions to be commissioned post-sprint

What we learned so far:

Extensive research has been carried out by UKWIR over recent years. CLICK HERE to see a recent article on leakage in the water utility sector.

What will happen after the challenge:

The output of the sprint will lead to a tangible financial difference and support for water companies in reducing their leakage. Business cases will be formed outside the hack based on opportunities generated during the hack. There may be funding for research from UK Water Industry Research group.

A longstanding problem:

Water companies have been developing solutions to this problem for many years although progress has plateaued.

Using traditional methods, leakage was massively reduced in the initial drive, but it has proven to be difficult to reduce below current levels without major additional costs to the customer.

The current solutions typically involve using the existing maintenance budget to fix problems as scheduled, prioritised by various factors including severity, location, volume, impact, etc.


Practical constraints and simple economics:

Currently not all customers are metered. Water companies therefore monitor leakage by measuring the inflow and outflow of district meterage areas (DMAs). This is tracked over time with increased usage in normal patterns across an overnight baseline being identified as leakage.

There is currently an economic threshold level reached, after which the customer is not happy at the additional costs required to reduce leakage further.


Data, processes and tools available:

Data is complex and hard to fathom using current norms. There are a lot of variables.

In addition, decision processes/ support tools tend to be topical (focussed on aspects of the problem), and not integrated.

In practical terms there are problems in identifying leakage prioritisation and supporting management decisions.  


The Design Sprint and Hackathon will interact with Data insight focus being influenced by the 'unpacking of the problem' taking place in the Sprint.

Given this the Hackathon will take place later on in the Festival week, starting on Wedesday and finishing on Thursday.