The safety of drinking water networks is closely monitored, with the aim of detecting possible contamination as effectively as possible and, once the risk is eliminated, of decontaminating the supply. Irstea researchers became specialised in the subject thanks to the SecurEau Project, which was completed in January 2013. "The aim was to improve contamination detection as quickly as possible, and then to determine what actions to implement to decontaminate the network and ensure that it was safe", explains Olivier Piller, modelling expert at the Irstea Bordeaux centre. Contamination of drinking water networks can originate from several sources : nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical.
To carry out their simulations, the experts decided to work on a specific site : Wembley Stadium, which hosted the London Olympics in 2012. "The sensors we use measure different parameters in the water such as chlorine levels, conductivity, temperature and pH. Sudden changes in these parameters can signify contamination", explains Piller.
A network of sensors to detect contamination
Irstea specialists shared their expertise in hydraulics modelling with the aim of defining or positioning sensors to detect sources and levels of contamination in an optimal fashion. Approximately 3-4 years of trials were necessary to determine the ideal sensor network. The model developed by Irstea experts has another advantage : depending on the time and position of anomalies detected in the water supply by the sensor network, it can find the source of the contamination. "All the work was done virtually, before the sensor network was installed in the drinking water system at Wembley Stadium. We then contacted the company in charge of drinking water in London and offered our system. They then adapted the solution we offered to a real network of sensors that protects the stadium", says Piller, pleased.
An additional project followed completion of the SecurEau project: SMaRT-OnlineWDN. This project aims to develop contamination detection and traceability in large-scale drinking water supply networks and not just on a specific site. It also seeks to develop an online tool for monitoring contamination in drinking water distribution networks.
The project receives an award
In January, the European project SecurEau received the Stars of Europe award from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research when the H2020 programme was launched. One of the reasons for this award was that the teams of SecurEau, which focused on the safety and decontamination of drinking water distribution systems following contamination, "opted for Europe" by participating in the previous European research funding programme (PCRDT). Irstea also participated in this project along with other research institutes, companies and the University of Lorraine, which coordinated the project.
Find out more on the SecurEau project website