Over the past few decades, significant progress has been made in providing water supply and sanitation services to the masses in various developing countries. However, even with the increasing network of water supply, the ability of an existing and new infrastructure to efficiently deliver services can get hampered due to a lack of effective and well-resourced operations and maintenance (O&M) framework. Inefficient O&M of water and wastewater systems can often lead to a vicious cycle of service providers being unable to perform, eventually leading to poor service delivery.
The advantages of improving the O&M of water and wastewater systems include a reduction in operating costs, an increase in revenue streams and an improvement in the ability to consolidate and expand service delivery. Hence, advocating the importance of essential O&M activities for water and wastewater systems among key stakeholders and supporting their implementation within an enabling policy framework greatly help service providers in the long term.
Impact of O&M and asset management on the water sector
O&M and asset management practices are becoming an important aspect of managing water resources as clean and reliable water is an essential resource in the twenty-first century. The introduction of O&M and asset management in water network management has had a positive impact on both customers as well as urban local bodies (ULBs).
Consumers have benefited from efficient O&M and asset management practices as service providers can now cover more area, supply better quality water and quickly resolve consumer grievances. Besides, consumers in slum areas and other untapped areas have gained from better O&M and asset management practices as they now receive regular water supply.
Further, O&M practices have facilitated a reduction in the spread of waterborne diseases as healthy drinking water is being made available to the masses. Earlier, people living in slum areas used to suffer on the health front as they received water supply from unreliable sources and were exposed to various waterborne diseases. With the improvement in O&M practices, water utilities are now able to cover such areas and provide clean drinking water.
As far as ULBs are concerned, there has been an improvement in service levels and revenue collection from water services due to greater coverage and better data collection efficiency. Several ULBs are now setting up digital tools that help them track and monitor various activities and resources. These digital management tools help the ULBs improve customer service, provide up-to-date data on maintenance histories, allow for efficient resource planning, increase the frequency of planned maintenance, and provide a framework for the ULBs’ asset management programme. Many local civic bodies in the country are adopting digital solutions and have succeeded in making the solutions a part of their daily O&M work practices.
Best practices and technological advancements
In order to provide regular and safe water to people and ensure financial sustainability, water utilities need to adopt certain practices that will help them in the long term. Best practices for water utilities include reduction of non-revenue water (NRW), adoption of smart solutions and efficient collation of data to promote better operations.
One of the major issues faced by water utilities on the financial front includes the high rate of NRW. The rates of NRW vary from area to area but findings confirm that in most water utilities these charges are unduly high. In areas where consumption is not metered, NRW cannot be measured accurately. Hence, it is necessary for water utilities to cover more and more areas with metered connections in order to significantly reduce NRW rates and increase revenue.
Water utilities in India are now willing to adopt new technologies that will help them improve their operations. Technologies such as remote sensing of water, which can help with water accounting, and internet of things, which enables smart irrigation and water quality control and facilitates the development of complex models for water management are being adopted extensively by water utilities. In the arena of technology upgradation, the private sector is also playing a key role in the water sector due to the limited resources available with ULBs. One such example of the private sector venturing into the water supply sector is Veolia Water Technologies partnering with ULBs in New Delhi, Nagpur, Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum, Gulbarga, Bijapur and Bengaluru. The company designs, builds and operates water treatment plants and provides drinking water on a 24×7 basis in these cities.
The road ahead
At present, water utilities are unable to meet the challenge of greater demand for water resulting from increasing urbanisation and rising population. As a result, there is a greater need for adopting O&M and asset management practices as they enable utilities to serve more efficiently. Developing countries offer tremendous scope for technological advancements in the water sector due to a major portion of the population still receiving unregulated supply.
Going forward, the private sector is expected to play a pivotal role in the development of the sector by helping utilities in deploying more advanced technologies and rehabilitating the existing water supply network.