Many sinkholes are the result of erosion by water.  Most of that is natural.  Some of it is man-made.

Yesterday in South-East London a bus became stranded when its rear wheels fell into a sinkhole.  A 24 inch water main had burst beneath the road.  Lee High Road is part of the A20 – an arterial route from London to Kent.  It took 24 hours just to remove the coach before repairs could begin.  Supplies for people living in large parts of south-east London have been affected.  Thames Water has apologised and said the repairs were “complicated”.

This follows an incident in October in Crayford when another water main burst.  Vehicles in a car park were crushed when insulation below a car park floor were lifted by the flood water.  At the time Thames Water said “This is an extremely difficult repair, due to the location and depth of the pipe”.

Scientists have calculated a five-fold increase in the number of sinkholes in the UK.  One of the most dramatic sinkholes pictorially this year was in Florence in May.  A 200 metre long hole opened up along the banks of the Arno in sight of the Ponte Vecchio.  A water main that ran beneath the road had burst and washed away the road’s underpinnings.

These examples illustrate clearly some of the major challenges that water utilities face:

  • Population growth and urbanisation which increase the cost of damage, mean larger numbers of people are affected by each incident, and make repairs more difficult
  • Climate change which is increasing the frequency and severity of natural damage
  • Ageing infrastructure is being replaced at rates of less than 1%  globally which means that the average age of networks continues to increase; few that were installed in city centres were designed for the demands that are now placed on them

It looks like sinkholes are set to continue to give water utilities that sinking feeling.  Optimising pressures in the network, being able remotely to control it, and extending the life of assets are amongst the business benefits of i2O’s smart network solutions.