Utility Initiatives: Recent measures and future plans of key water ULBs

Recent measures and future plans of key water ULBs

Water utilities across the country are recognising the importance of proper water supply management, and have been adopting various initiatives to operate more efficiently. Urban local bodies (ULBs) in major Indian cities have started deploying advanced technological solutions to ensure greater efficiency in water supply management. Technologies such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, geographic information systems, satellite surveillance and remote sensors are being actively deployed by ULBs.

Many water utilities are also working towards increasing their metered networks to monitor water consumption, reduce water losses and increase revenue collection. The adoption of smart meters is also gaining traction in key Indian cities with high populations. These meters are enabling utilities to charge users based on their actual consumption and promoting water conservation. Further, smart meters are enabling utilities to measure water consumption remotely and ensure service continuity during the Covid-19 pandemic, as door-to-door meter reading has become difficult.

Another major initiative being undertaken by various ULBs is the conservation of fresh water through measures such as mandatory rainwater harvesting (RWH) and use of recycled wastewater for non-potable purposes. RWH is a traditional means of water management, and one of the most effective in densely populated cities. In a bid to create greater awareness about the importance of freshwater conservation, RWH campaigns are being organised by the Ministry of Water Resources in several cities. Besides, city corporations have passed various regulations to make sure that RWH is undertaken on a large scale at the community level.

ULBs are also looking at new business models to ensure the profitability and viability of water and wastewater projects. In this regard, ULBs have started working with private players to take advantage of their technical expertise and financial resources. So far, the involvement of the private sector in water supply management has been fruitful, as ULBs have been able to increase their network coverage and improve their service quality.

Technological advancements

On the technological front, several Indian cities have been introducing digital solutions in water and wastewater management. In Karnataka’s Koppal district, ABB has agreed to provide digital water management solutions. The project is being led by L&T Construction for the Karnataka government, and will be using ABB’s end-to-end solutions to help the local water authority to track, measure and optimise water use in the district. The solution includes 635 flowmeters and a SCADA system to monitor and analyse daily flow consumption patterns. It will also identify possible leaks and notify the central control room on a real-time basis. Currently, ABB flowmeters are also operating in cities such as Delhi, Bengaluru, Surat, Ranchi, Kolkata, Udaipur and Chennai.

The union government has also directed all users drawing groundwater to install water flow meters to reduce misuse. It has been stated that a penalty will be levied on any user drawing groundwater without a digital meter. In September 2020, the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) issued a set of guidelines to control and regulate groundwater extraction in India. Moreover, the CGWA called for the installation of digital water flowmeters with telemetry systems.

The Delhi Jal Board has decided to establish a state-of-the-art real-time monitoring system for the city’s water supply infrastructure, and ensure the proper functioning of water treatment plants through the SCADA system. The SCADA system will provide details such as pressure and flow of water at important locations in the city’s water supply system. DJB is planning to install about 3,200 flowmeters for water auditing of primary and secondary systems up to the district metered area level. Currently, around 3,192 flowmeters have been installed and are being integrated with the SCADA centre.

In March 2021, the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) decided to install 300 water meters per month. The development came in light of HMWSSB’s efforts to accelerate the free water supply of 20,000 litres per month. The free water supply scheme will only be extended to households with functional water meters.

Further, in a bid to keep a check on the quality of water being supplied, the Jal Jeevan Mission partnered with the Indian Council of Medical Research and launched an online portal that enables users to get the quality of their drinking water tested through a network of 2,000 labs across the country. The online portal has been developed by leveraging the technical capacity built for Covid-19 testing and surveillance. The Water Quality Information Management System ensures that adverse test reports are automatically flagged up to state- and central-level authorities, and corrective action is taken at the source of the supply of the drinking water.

Financial initiatives

Over the past few years, water utilities in the country have been raising funds from different sources. The Vadodara Municipal Corporation is planning to issue bonds in order to raise money for fund development works sanctioned under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation And Urban Transformation. The civic body has received favourable credit ratings from two agencies and is now seeking approval from the state government to float its municipal bond and mobilise Rs 1 billion.

The Telangana government has also proposed a new policy decision of funding municipal bodies through municipal bonds. The government has asked several ULBs in the state to raise funds through bonds or pool funding, and list out the works to be taken up using these funds. Once credit ratings have been assigned for the ULBs, the authorities are planning to prepare a preliminary shelf of projects for raising funds.

Further, the Ghaziabad Municipal Corporation raised Rs 1.5 billion through the issuance of India’s first green bonds. The capital thus raised is proposed to partially fund the tertiary sewage and water treatment plant in Ghaziabad, which will entail a total investment of

Rs 2.39 billion. The tertiary treatment plant will benefit industries in the city. The corporation also received Rs 195 million as incentive from the central government for raising funds through municipal bonds. Kanpur, Agra and Varanasi are expected to be the next cities in the state to issue such bonds.

Future outlook

With rapid population growth and dwindling freshwater resources in the country, ULBs are expected to enhance the adoption of innovative technologies and service delivery improvement mechanisms. Technology advancements are expected to play a vital role in ensuring efficient urban service delivery. To this end, the private sector will act as a catalyst through its financial muscle and technological know-how.

Wastewater recycling and reuse are also expected to gain traction in the coming years given the depleting levels of groundwater. The Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) has started using sewage-treated water to clean roads and dividers at various places in the city, as a part of the Cleanliness Survey 2021. The NMMC has C-Tech-based sewage water treatment plants. C-Tech is considered to be one of the most advanced cyclic effluent treatment technologies in the world.

So far, private entities have not received satisfactory returns on their investment in the urban water supply sector. Going forward, ULBs across the country are expected to formulate a holistic policy framework to promote greater involvement of the private sector in water supply management through better returns on their investment.