Growing Together: Public-private partnership key to enhancing water network management

Public-private partnership key to enhancing water network management

With the growing consumer demand, urban water supply systems have been struggling to provide adequate, reliable and safe drinking water. Some of the major steps that need to be taken in order to meet consumer demand in an urban water systems are equitable supply of water at different levels, leakage minimisation, pressure and asset management, development of better water supply infrastructure and groundwater pumping.

At a recent conference organised by Indian Infrastructure, government and industry stakeholders Nicolas Bockhoff, chief operating officer, SUEZ; Rajiv K.N., additional chief engineer, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB); and Sanjoy Roy, chief executive officer, Orange City Water Limited (OCWL), discussed at length the benefits of and key learnings from 24×7 water supply projects, the achievements of urban local bodies, and the experience of private sector participation in water management.

PPP experience

In a bid to improve customer service and expand the water supply network, private participation in the sector has been increased significantly over the past few years. SUEZ is one such private player that has ventured into the water supply sector. It has a presence in five continents.The company has been providing water supply services in India for over 40 years. SUEZ India has worked on various projects in cities such as Delhi, Coimbatore, Davanagere, Bengaluru, Mangalore, Udupi and Puttur. In Delhi, the company has been able to increase its revenues from Rs 75.6 million in 2012 to Rs 615.7 million in 2019. Further, it has added 51 per cent more connections and increased the volume billed by 67 per cent. It has also been successful in achieving less than 10 per cent non-revenue water (NRW) in areas with 24×7 water supply.

It is essential to understand that operations and management (O&M) in water supply projects is as important as civil works. Hence, design and O&M costs should be at least 50 per cent of the work value. A strong O&M system is imperative to improve key performance indicators. Private players add value in a water supply project by improving operational efficiency, delivering superior service and ensuring greater customer satisfaction. They also bring in better, more efficient management practices along with much-needed capital investments.

Emerging markets should initially focus on four main performance indicators: service coverage of piped networks, NRW reduction, improvement in water quality and resolution customer complaints. In order to get better results in public-private partnerships (PPPs), contracts should include performance-based incentives and penalty criteria as they promote a good balance between infrastructure creation and O&M in projects. O&M contracts such as “one city-one operator” are emerging as promising models in the Indian context. Moreover, all stakeholders in a project should have specific responsibilities in order to efficiently achieve the common long-term goal. Further, there are various misconceptions about PPPs and their functioning, and it is essential that these be addressed by educating stakeholders about the benefits of various PPP models.

Centrally sponsored schemes such as the Jal Jeevan Mission, the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation and the Smart City Mission are expected to provide several opportunities for private players in the water sector. Some other important areas with business potential are 24×7 water supply, rural water supply and decentralised solutions, desalination and sewage treatment plants, and interstate effluent treatment plants. Further, technology penetration in the sector has opened up new avenues for private players in the water sector.

24×7 water supply

Improving water access and service delivery is part of India’s larger urban development agenda. Nagpur was the first city in India to deploy the concept of privatisation of water supply. It outsourced its water supply to a private operator under the PPP model for 25 years. The ongoing Nagpur 24×7 water supply project, being implemented by OCWL, aims to provide 100 per cent safe drinking water, 24×7, to the population of the city, including slum dwellers, within five years. Its targets also include progressive NRW reduction and 100 per cent metered connections.

The project has benefited the water supply system by reducing NRW levels from 67 per cent in 2012 to 43 per cent (of which 28 per cent are leakages and 15 per cent are commercial losses) in 2021, increasing revenue generation, volumes billed and customer count, and also improving water supply to the entire city. Further, it has improved asset management and the complaint redressal system, and has ensured that the water is distributed equitably across the city. The network length has increased to 3,900 km in 2021 from 2,100 km in 2011.

The project has achieved success through initiatives such as conducting 24×7 water supply trials in the first stage, implementing an initial performance improvement programme, using advanced technologies and methodologies, incorporating asset rehabilitation plans, district metered areas and sub-zone formations, identifying and resolving water pressure issues, resolving contamination issues, preparing strong ground-level management, and ensuring equitable distribution of water. The technological and methodological advancements deployed under the project include supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system implementation, a geographic information system (GIS), and a tank cleaning system that was developed in-house.

Some common issues faced during the implementation of the project were mismatches between ground conditions and drawings, a collapsing sewer network, unidentified and illegal connections, and refusal to cooperate in rehabilitation work. In OCWL’s view, developing a single GIS database for all utilities, increasing 24×7 water supply systems in the country, further reducing water losses, improving revenue collection systems, and developing a slum policy and a legal policy for water theft and meter tampering will help wade through the water crisis in India.

Initiatives for improved water supply

BWSSB is responsible for water supply and sewage disposal in Bengaluru city. The utility works towards providing adequate water supply in order to meet the demand, and is involved in preparation and implementation of plans and schemes for augmenting water supply and safely disposing sewage. The Cauvery river is the only source of water for Bengaluru, supplying approximately 1,450 million litres per day (mld) to nearly 12.9 million people. The average per capita consumption of the city is 108 litres per day, and the cost is around Rs 41 per kilo litre.

BWSSB has taken appropriate steps such as rainwater harvesting, wastewater reuse and reduction in NRW and leakages to ensure the judicious use of the present freshwater resources. The utility has successfully reduced NRW from 42 per cent in 2012 to 35 per cent in 2020. It aims to bring the number down further to 30 per cent by 2030. It has five operational water reclamation plants of 90.5 mld capacity. They help meet the requirement for non-potable water. BWSSB has also undertaken various information technology initiatives such as online water connection registrations; Sajala, a web-based billing application; a centralised SCADA monitoring centre; a complaint management system; a vehicle tracking system; a real-time online water quality monitoring station; a water information hub; and GIS implementation. The key challenges faced by the utility include growing population, depleting water sources, a polluted waterscape, loss of water through NRW, rising costs and ageing infrastructure.

BWSSB has many long-term and short-term plans for its water supply and sewerage network. As per estimates, BWSSB will be able to meet the city’s water demand of 2,140 mld by 2023. In addition to this, it plans to generate $34 million in revenue, treat 1,800 mld of wastewater, enable cyclical urban waterscape management, rejuvenate urban water bodies, and implement tools and technology for indirect potable reuse by 2023. Further, it has plans to enable energy recovery through bio-solid management, and expand its water and wastewater networks to newly developed peripheral areas by 2030.

Summing up

By 2050, India’s total water demand will increase by 32 per cent. The over-exploitation of groundwater, heavy NRW losses and limited reuse and recycling of wastewater are the root causes for the precarious tilt in the water balance. It is essential to cover the whole water cycle, from collection to discharge, together with water network and customer management, in order to meet the increasing water needs of cities. Private water operators bring technical expertise to infrastructure projects and improve operations and services. Going forward, it is imperative that both public and private players as well as other stakeholders work together and manage water supply systems efficiently, sustainably and equitably.