By Peter Koh and Chiara Robotti.
Water is precious on Sardinia, an Italian island experiencing the effects of climate change first-hand. The island, the second largest in the Mediterranean, is seeing less and less rain, which in combination with rising sea levels, threatens the availability of fresh water. Worse, in the summer of 2021, wildfires ravaged 20 000 hectares, forcing more than 1 500 residents to flee and destroying nearly 90% of the olive groves in the municipality of Cuglieri. Even the famed one thousand-year-old wild olive tree of Sa Tanca Manna was severely damaged. Fixing the island’s leaking water pipes, which lose around 60% of the water that passes through them, is therefore a top priority for Sardinia’s main water company, Abbanoa.
“Water is a vital element, a common good that we must not take for granted, but we must protect it and manage it in the best possible way,” says Antonio Mulas, financial manager at Abbanoa.
Since 2018 the company has been working on an ambitious investment plan to reduce the amount of water lost through its pipes and reservoirs. But cutting water loss is not simply about replacing old pipes. The higher the pressure in the distribution network, the more water is lost through bursts or leakages. Pipes sometimes also burst because of pressure fluctuations, which cause the pipes to expand and contract.
Abbanoa’s multi-year investment plan aims to identify and solve the main causes of inefficiency, as well as detecting leaks. In Oliena, a village of 7 000 inhabitants that served as a pilot project, new control valves helped reduce its 70% water losses by more than half. By halving the minimum level of flows at night, the energy efficiency of the water network was also greatly improved. This approach has since been extended to 100 other municipalities in Sardinia, including Dorgali and Orsei, where water losses have been cut by 44% and 53% respectively.
Digital technologies have also been deployed to monitor the entire water distribution network, supported by detailed hydraulic analysis, pressure management and air control. Smart, digital water meters, which provide a more efficient and transparent billing and administration service, have also been rolled out to 300 000 consumers, up from around 100 000 in 2018.