Stable Supply: Water network management trends and outlook

Urban water supply systems have been struggling to provide adequate safe dri­n­king water in response to the rising co­n­sumer demand. Equitable distribution of water at various levels, reduction in leakag­es, pressure and asset management, developme­nt of better water supply infrastructure, and groundwater pumping are some of the essential measures that need to be taken to satisfy consumer demand in urban areas. Over the years, the central and state governments have been taking measures to improve water network management in the country. A number of flagship programmes such as the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) have been focusing on investments in the urban water sector to maintain and improve the water network in India.

Indian Infrastructure takes a look at some of the recent trends, developments and outlook for the sector as well as the measures ne­e­ded to improve water network management…

Trends and developments

Technology adoption

An important goal of India’s larger urban development plans is to improve water access and service delivery. Technology penetration is play­ing a major role in achieving this. Over the years, implementation of information technology in water network management has made pro­­gress. Many water utilities and urban local bodies (ULBs) have taken steps to modernise their distribution network by adopting a host of automation and digital solutions such as smart metering, GIS-based asset mapping and real-time data acquisition systems. Advanced real-time measurement systems, sensor technologies, and advanced supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are also be­ing adopted more commonly for water treatment and management.

Public-private partnership

Private sector participation in the water sector has increased significantly in the past few ye­ars in an effort to enhance customer service and expand the water supply network. A number of projects are coming up on the public-private partnership (PPP) model. The PPP model works throughout the project life cycle, including project planning, development, and operations and maintenance (O&M). India has, for instance, managed to implement several sewage treatment projects in the cities along the Ganga river using the hybrid annuity model (HAM) concession agreement, a type of PPP arrangement. Under these contracts, 40 per cent of the project cost is paid upfront towards construction and the remaining 60 per cent is paid during the course of the contract period based on various performance and service-lin­k­ed outcomes. This PPP model has helped in expeditious implementation of projects and in bringing in private financing in the sector.

O&M in the water sector

O&M in the water sector is as important as the civil works. A strong O&M system is imperative to improve the key performance indicators. Ma­ny new contracts have been awarded to ma­in­tain the ageing infrastructure in the sector, im­prove water network management and contribute to the sustainability of water and wastewater services. Many upcoming projects now include a clause for O&M for at least 10-15 ye­a­rs from the time of signing the initial contract for construction.

Recently, a joint venture of SUEZ India Pri­va­te Limited and SUEZ International was aw­arded a project for the implementation of the Worli Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF), which is a part of the Mumbai Sewage Disposal Project in Maharashtra. The scope of the project, being implemented on a design-build-operate basis, includes the design and cons­truction of a 500 million litre per day (mld) WWTF with O&M for a period of 15 years.

NRW management and smart metering

The water sector in India experiences non-revenue water (NRW) levels of about 40-45 per cent. The major causes of NRW include ageing infrastructure, poor O&M, underregistration of customer meters, illegal connections and thefts, and unbilled authorised consumption. Most cities have non-metred water supply connections while partially metered water connections are available in a few cities including Del­hi, Nagpur, Bengaluru, Chennai, Pimpri-Chin­c­hwad and Ahmedabad. With the introduction of government programmes such as AMRUT, the JJM and the Smart Cities Miss­ion, during the past four to five years, steps have been taken to ensure 100 per cent metering of water supply and the replacement of manual meters with automated metering infrastructure.

In a bid to achieve 100 per cent metering of water supplied, Indore Smart City Develop­me­nt Limited is planning to install radio frequ­ency smart water meters in over 24,000 hou­seholds at an estimated cost of Rs 520 million. These households are set to receive water from the Narmada River. The initiative is aimed at making water bills more accurate, with the aid of radio frequency meters. In addition, the adoption of this technology will ease bill generation and collection. The Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation has also announced the installation of smart water supply systems, including SCADA, and 113 bulk flow meters at an investment of Rs 53.6 million to address water supply distribution issues in the city. Ad­ditionally, 79 bulk flow meters will be procured and installed later.

24×7 water supply

In most parts of the country, water supply is intermittent. However, the idea of continuous water supply has been receiving attention in the last few years. The government is making efforts to ensure 24×7 water supply to every household across the country. There are a number of programmes being undertaken at the central and state levels to ensure this. ULBs and city corporations are also concentrating on providing consumers with constant wa­ter supply throughout the day.

Many new projects are coming up in this segment. One such project is the 24×7 Mani­majra water supply project announced by the Municipal Corporation of Chandigarh. The project will involve new waterworks to ensure continuous supply of water in the city. It envisages an additional storage of 4 million gallons of wa­ter, the installation of more than 13,000 smart meters, the construction of around 20 km of water lines, and the development of an automated monitoring system for the water network, among others.

In another development, the Tiruchi Muni­cipal Corporation is working on a water supply project to ensure 24×7 drinking water supply to residents by March 2023. At present, the corporation is ensuring drinking water supply in all wards for one to two hours daily. The demand for drinking water in the city is around 130 mld. As part of the project, which is at the initial sta­ges at present, the corporation will ensure that everyone uses a water meter before project implementation begins. The project will entail an estimated investment of Rs 1,000 million and is expected to benefit around 0.12 million people. It is expected to be completed by the first half of 2023.

Future outlook

The implementation of continuous water supply projects, involving improvements to the existing water infrastructure and a reduction in leakage and NRW through technological interventions, is key to ensuring better water delivery throughout the country. The government, along with the lo­cal administration, is undertaking several measures to improve the water network in the country. However, successful and timely execution of the­se projects still remains a key concern. Typi­cally, 24×7 projects are more prone to delays due to factors such as encroachments, pipeline leakages and protests.

According to India Infrastructure Research, more than 600 water and wastewater projects with a capacity of over 35,000 mld are in the pipeline. Of these, the maximum number of pro­jects, involving a capacity of over 28,000 mld, have been planned for the long run (2026 and beyond). They are expected to attract huge investments and create many opportunities for all stakeholders.