Day in the Life of a water network technician as they hit the streets to spot underground leaks 

20th March 2024

It’s 2am and all is quiet in the city centre – unless your name is Gareth Edwards.

Few people and only a rare passing vehicle are seen at this time of night. But the stillness of the early morning is when Gareth works best because he is a ‘leak spotter’ for Severn Trent, one of the most successful in the company.

The dad-of-one uses a traditional ‘listening stick’ to detect the tell-tale sound of escaping water on the underground pipe network, accessed through boundary boxes dotted across pavements and in roads. Data and electronic acoustic devices, including correlators, are also in his armoury.

So far Gareth, 42, has reported more than 330 leaks since last April, which he then passes on to Severn Trent’s repair teams.

“You can’t see the underground leaks, but you can definitely hear them,” said Gareth, whose official title is Water Network Technician

“Finding them is a little like being a detective. We use water flow data to identify a suspected leak in a District Metered Area (DMA) and you can narrow down your search with the listening stick, before using the correlators to find the exact spot.

“In the daytime you can pick up noise from road traffic and residential water usage – like flushing toilets and using washing machines. So working at 2am at night is sometimes the best option, particularly in busy areas like the city.”

Gareth is part of a hard-working and dedicated team in north Worcestershire who monitor their part of a sprawling Severn Trent pipe network. Other similar teams are dotted around the region, each playing their crucial part in early leak detection.

Former amateur rugby player Gareth joined Severn Trent some 18 months ago, having previously run his own business reading commercial water meters. Before that he had been a paint sprayer of fire trucks – a job that took him to Botswana to help renovate that country’s emergency fleet of vehicles.

He said: “Becoming a Water Network Technician was the perfect job for me. I love being outdoors and this job involves a LOT of walking - I can cover up to 20,000 steps a day.

“And there is huge satisfaction with every leak recorded. They may not be the biggest leaks, but each one found and repaired reduces the risk of a big leak – and that’s great for customers.”

Born in Ludlow, Gareth was named after one of Wales’ most famous rugby players. Like his namesake, he was himself a scrum half in a successful amateur career, playing for Ludlow RFC along with Worcester and also Droitwich RFC.

His healthy competitive nature has seen him currently competing for the most successful leak spotter across the whole Severn Trent region – with only one person ahead of him in the company.

“I am competitive, it must come from my ruby playing days,” he laughed.

“The thought of being number one in the company at identifying leaks really spurs me on. And some of my areas are now at record lows in terms of leakage, which I’m very proud of.

“But I am part of a team and there is a lot of teamwork involved in this job, including others identifying suspected leak areas from data and also the repair teams coming in to fix them.

“I also really enjoy passing on my experience to new staff. I’ve had young apprentices spend time with me and they are now doing really well in their own areas.”

As we walk the streets of Worcester checking for leaks with the listening stick at the boundary boxes, people stop and say hello, others ask what we are looking for. Gareth speaks to them with informal, reassuring cheeriness.

“You meet some really nice people doing this work,” he said.

“One woman recently opened her window to ask what I was doing, so  I explained it all to her. She said, ‘That’s really interesting, I had no idea. That will give me something to tell my husband at dinner tonight – we haven’t spoken in days!”

Gareth’s day normally runs from 7am to 3.30pm, with occasional 2am starts for which he teams up with fellow Water Network Technician Adam Mapp.

As well as spotting leaks, Gareth also helps identify high usage hotspots and is occasionally called in to help Severn Trent teams as they carry out large repairs.

But most of his time is spent outdoors, walking the streets or fields in search of more leaks.

He said: “No two days are the same in this job and that’s another reason why I love it.

“One day I might be sweeping a whole area for leaks, another day I might be sent to investigate a leak in a customer garden or to deal with meter faults, or assisting one of our repair gangs.”

Away from work, Gareth enjoys camping trips with his young daughter, attending music festivals and is currently renovating a VW T4 van. He is also a massive Wales rugby fan – a country whose national symbol is a leek of a different kind.

By the end of this particular 12-hour day, Gareth had spotted two confirmed leaks, plus another suspected one. He had also identified potential leakage on one private property.

Yet, while others might be planning for bed after such a successful shift, he is already planning for tomorrow – and another day working his magic with that trusty listening stick.