Technology Uptake: Increasing digital penetration in the water sector

Major instability issues and imbalances are faced by the water sector in India due to heavy non-revenue water losses,  overexploitation of water resources, limited reuse and recycling of wastewater, and technological backwardness in all of these aspects. The overburdening of water resources in urban centres demands innovative digital interventions by the city authorities.

Water supply network management has been advancing steadily with the uptake of sm­art meters in several Indian cities and their upgradation with newer technologies such as low power, wide area networking (LoRaWAN). Water consumption data and leakage detection have also become paramount as the problem of water shortage has been getting aggravated in many cities. To this end, the development of in­te­grated mobile interfaces for reporting water usage by consumers is gaining grou­nd in the se­ctor. Meanwhile, wastewater treatment is be­ing addressed with the adoption of better technologies such as sequential batch reactors (SBR), moving bed biofilm reactors, and intelligent self-administered self-monitored automatic chemical dosing (ISASMA-CD) in sewage tr­eat­ment plants (STPs). Sewer pum­ping statio­ns (SPS) are being automated with the enablement of internet of things (IoT) interface, making them more effective in water monitoring stages. These industry efforts are further being backed by the central government throu­gh various programmes.

Indian Infrastructure highlights some of the technological advancements undertaken in the water supply and wastewater treatment segme­nts for effective water network management…

Water supply

Under the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), the central government’s national programme for the wa­ter sector, measures are being taken to leverage technology for creating solutions for providing water across the country. In this regard, the Public Health Engineering Department of Jhar­khand has undertaken the training of women from various village communities in the state for the testing of water quality with the help of handheld devices. These devices, called field test kits, will ensure timely surveillance of wa­ter sources. Similarly, the Ministry of Jal Shakti has collaborated with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Institute, Chandigarh, for monitoring water supply in identified villa­g­es in the country with the help of IoT-based systems. It has installed these systems in around 100 villages and plans to have all the remaining villages covered under it. This would help record the water supplied and water drawn from the ground along with keeping a check on revenue generation.

The prevalence of old water pipeline infrastructure across most Indian cities also adds to the pressure on the water supply network with its associated water losses. The city of Panaji loses 38 per cent of its water in the supply network owing to this issue. To streamline the water loss data, Panaji’s Public Works Department awarded a contract to water management company Cranberry Analy­tics in Octo­ber 2022 for the replacement of 3,094 consumer-grade me­chanical water me­ters with LoRaWAN-enabled ultrasonic smart water meters. These meters would be equipp­ed to analyse the misuse of do­mestic water through the daily water consumption data. This would be useful in planning the water distribution network and reducing wat­er wastage more effectively.

In another development, the Kerala Water Authority has launched two digital mobile applications with the help of the Kerala Develop­ment Innovation and Strategic Council to make the use of water meters more user-friendly. The­se applications, which were made accessible starting November 1, 2022, enable consumers to read meters on their own, calculate bills instantly and pay bills online, as well as help avoid fraudulent entry by mandating the upload of a picture of the geotagged meter when the reading entry is made by the user. The Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) also enabled a similar self-billing system for its domestic users in July 2022. The HMWSSB has planned to install automated ultrasonic meters for all high-consumption and non-domestic consumers.

As a response to the water shortage problem in many parts of Bengaluru, AquaKraft has introduced the first digital water bank in March 2022. Based on blockchain technology, this integrated platform for all the water reso­urces will allow users to update the amount of surplus water they have saved. Other innovative interventions include the atmospheric water generators deployed at Chennai airport and the Alandur and Koyambedu metro stations to convert air into drinking water. They have made use of reverse osmosis technology to provide potable water at the concourse level of 41 me­tro stations in Chennai, at an estimated cost of Rs 0.6 million.

Wastewater treatment

Wastewater management is gradually growing with the development of better technologically equipped STPs. To further accelerate the movement of the JJM in this direction, IIT Gu­wahati is conducting high quality empirical and applied research for the treatment of wastewater and its supply to rural areas. It has developed various prototypes to eliminate iron, arsenic, fluoride, and other contamina­nts from drinking wa­ter with a patented water treatment technology. Furthermore, in August 2022, the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) introduced ISASMA-CD technology at four STPs at Ya­mu­na Vihar and Okhla to treat water. This technology has been helpful in the reduction of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and the total suspended solids (TSS) to standard levels. It works on artificial intelligence software that enables the monitoring of real-time data and the health of the plant. After the installation of the technology, both plants were brought down to the prescribed standard for wastewater, that is, less than 10 parts per million (ppm). For instance, the Yamuna Vihar Plant earlier recorded 125 ppm BOD and 90 ppm TSS levels, and after installation of the technology, these levels were reduced to 8 ppm BOD and 7 ppm TSS levels.

The DJB has also decided to automate 116 SPSs in Delhi by installing IoT devices to prevent overflow and allow timely discharge from these pumps into STPs. In the absence of the­se, the city faces problems of sewage overflow and sewer line blockage. Once the SPSs are installed, the information will be sent to the DJB through a monitoring device as soon as the sewer water crosses the threshold level in the tanks situated at these stations. This would ensure there is no additional pressure in the sewer line, improve the performance of Delhi’s STPs, and keep the drinking water supply safe from getting mixed with sewage lines.

In another development, the Society for In­novation and Entrepreneurship at IIT-B has launched N-treat, a sustainable technology for the in-site treatment of sewage in Mumbai. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has initiated efforts to prevent sludge and se­wage from 25 storm water drains between Bandra and Dahisar from being discharged into the seawater. It is a seven-stage process of treatment that makes use of gates, silt, traps, screens, a curtain of coconut fibres for filtration, and disinfection with the use of sodium hypochlorite. It is installed in the nullah channels on the site itself without the requirement of additional space. N-treat is touted as a cost-effective solution without the need for manual pumping, thereby saving electricity and reducing maintenance costs. The BMC plans to use this technology for a collective water flow of around 0.11 million kl per day.

In sum

As the challenges in the water sector unfold with increasing urbanisation its new technologies are also making headway in network management. To promote innovations in the sector, the government is encouraging private sector participation through initiatives such as the Pitch-Pilot-Scale Start-Up Challenge, announc­ed on September 9, 2022, by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. It aims to address the challenges in the sector by identifying viable technological and business innovations with financial support of up to Rs 2 million each to the selected start-ups. While the city authorities would get the necessary boost in this process through initiatives under government programmes such as the JJM, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transfor­ma­tion 2.0, and Swachh Bharat Mission, it is important that more independent research organisations come forward in innovating solutions for achieving the collective goal of safe drinking water for all.