Causing, reporting and fixing leaks / The service design of water

I noticed a trickle of water coming from a small metal street cover on Wilton Way a while ago. (the fainter one in the middle of the Street View, near the double yellow line of the right). Being, I expect, a pretty average citizen, I tutted, made a reference of my disappointment to the people I was with, and walked on. ‘Someone should fix that’ I though. 

Seeing it again the next day I realised how rubbish a citizen I was actually being and realised I should report it. With no idea how that was done, I Googled reporting a leak thames water and hit the top link. Bingo. That was easy. 

Seeing it was so easy I figured someone else may have already reported it so I used the “Interactive map, Thames Water LIVE” which “shows the latest leaks, repairs and incidents…”. Bingo again! There on Wilton Way it was already reported, the message at the time stating:

We are aware of a leak on Greenwood Road and one of our technicians will investigate as soon as possible. We will then prioritise the repair depending on the severity of the leak. Sometimes repairs take longer than we’d like, as we need to complete numerous checks and tests, and work with the relevant local authority to minimise disruption to our customers and local traffic. Thanks for checking if we’re aware of the leak.

Great. Job done. I felt the thanks and some solidarity with the anonymous local fellow that reported it before me. 


Days later the leak was still running so I returned to tutting and thinking less of Thames Water. Surely it can’t take much to come and open that little cover and tighten something or replace a bit of pipe? I had a good mind to take a look myself! What a waste of water. More serious tutting ensued. 

Finally, I rode past this sight:


Four people, loads of machines, a massive hole and the road blocked in all directions. Curious, and slightly sheepish to the idea it was just a case of opening the little metal cover, I asked what the deal was. 

One nice guy told me the cover was actually a gas valve, and just where the water was able to escape upwards, from far deeper down. The cause of such leaks he said was general ongoing movement and load on the road above, that this time of year it happens more and more. 

The fix then was to dig a massive hole, all the way down to the pipe and fix a sort of collar around the crack. Test it. Then refill and resurface the road. Riding past again last night after a few days, the road is reopened and the leak has stopped. 

While the story of a leak isn’t the most riveting thing ever written online, I was really impressed and intrigued by the infrastructure around such an issue. For a citizen it’s so easy just to think it’s lazy that the leak you see isn’t instantly fixed, but from finding / reporting the leaks, to assessing them, diagnosing, scheduling, organising the team and machines, approving road closures, doing the work safely, then putting it all back together, all over London 24/7/365 is a massive task. Yes, water must be wasted, but I can’t really imagine how better it could work without it costing far more. I assume. 

All that said, and recently reading more about nanotechnology, I can’t help but imagine some ultra pressurised little robots that could live down in the water pipes and be operated wirelessly to fix leaks from inside when they occur!

But again, imagine the infrastructure, investment and relative maintenance that would be necessary: Designing and manufacturing such a robout, installing a few tens of thousands of them across London, with some sort of new access pipes being needed everywhere also, plus the retraining of all staff to manage the new technology and ensure smooth running. Maybe one day. For now, I’ll go back to Thames Water LIVE! when needed, and neglecting to appreciate the even more incredible service that is having clean and practically infinite water, piped directly into my home for just a few hundred pounds per year (not to mention the other set of pipes for removal of water, and etc.). 

Feeling a bit Brilliant Kid after this post! Nice to feel appreciative from time to time though.