Water Losses: NRW impact and reduction initiatives

High levels of non-revenue water (NRW) pose a significant challenge to India’s water sector. NRW refers to the water that is lost or wasted during distribution before it reaches the end user. This issue has serious implications as it results in both financial losses for water utilities and higher operational costs. The revenue losses incurred due to NRW can strain the financial sustainability of utilities and restrict their capacity to invest in essential infrastructure upgrades and maintenance. Further­more, elevated NRW levels exacerbate water scarcity in areas that already face water shortages, leading to social and economic distress.

According to industry estimates, the curr­e­nt average NRW level in India stands at around 38 per cent with several cities reporting even higher levels. Cities such as Kolkata and Ban­ga­lore have NRW levels, reaching approximately 50 per cent. Several factors contribute to this issue, including pipeline leakages, unauthorised water connections, inaccurate metering and billing, and inadequate maintenance of existing infrastructure.

In recent years, the government and water utilities have taken several measures to add­ress this issue, such as implementing advan­ced metering infrastructure (AMI), leak detection systems and pressure management systems. The government’s flagship schemes such as the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the Smart Cities Mission also prioritise the improvement of wa­ter supply infrastructure and reduction of NRW levels in urban areas.

Challenges in NRW reduction

The reduction of NRW faces several challenges in many parts of India. Funding constraints re­duce the capacity of water utilities to invest in necessary infrastructure upgrades. Further­mo­re, the technical capacity of water utilities and their staff is often inadequate, impeding the im­plementation of effective NRW reduction st­ra­tegies. Illegal connections and water theft are widespread issues that make it difficult to ac­curately account for water consumption and bill for the supplied water. Other contributing factors include low water tariffs, inadequate data and monitoring systems, and social and cultural factors that influence water consumption patterns and behaviour such as the perception that water is a free resource.

Initiatives to reduce NRW

The regular monitoring and reporting of NRW levels is crucial to identify areas that need im­pro­vement, and guide policy and investment decisions in the water sector. A holistic and in­te­g­ra­ted approach involving water utilities, governme­nt agencies, civil society organisations and the pu­blic is necessary to overcome these challen­ges and achieve sustainable NRW reduction.

The implementation of smart water metering, among other advanced technologies, has em­erged as a crucial strategy to reduce the NRW level in India. Many cities across the country have already adopted various technological solutions such as smart water meters, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and pressure management systems.

Smart water meters are increasingly being adopted to provide accurate measurements of water consumption in households and commercial buildings. These meters provide preci­se readings of water usage, enabling utilities to bill customers with greater accuracy and id­entify leaks and water waste. They are complemented by SCADA systems, which allow real-time monitoring of water supply systems. This integration enables utilities to efficiently detect leaks, manage water distribution and monitor pressure levels to ensure the optimal performance of the water supply network.

Nashik Municipal Smart City Development Corporation Limited has entered into a partnership with a Mumbai-based agency to install 7,447 SCADA-based water meters in high-consumption areas, including hotels, commercial complexes and industries. On similar lines, Satna Smart City Development Limited has collaborated with Yokogawa India Limited to dep­loy water operations management solutio­ns to minimise water loss in the city’s water transmission network. The integration of SCADA with hydraulic modelling will help optimise the water distribution network, identify leaks and manage water demand fluctuations.

Trichy Municipal Corporation is also planning to launch a pilot project for smart water meters in 13 wards of Zone V in Trichy, Tamil Nadu. These smart meters will be installed on non-domestic water connections to calculate water charges based on actual usage, with wa­ter consumption data sent directly to a centralised system through an internet connection at the end of each billing cycle. The water supply network will be monitored and regulated from the existing SCADA control room in the city.

In another development, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board is planning the replacement of mechanical meters in Ban­g­alore with digital meters to reduce NRW levels. These digital meters are expected to be in­tegrated with the SCADA system to provide day-to-day real-time readings.

Besides, pressure management systems are being implemented in various Indian cities to reduce NRW levels by regulating the water pressure and preventing leaks and burst pipes caused by high water pressure. To this end, Shimla Jal Prabandhan Limited has received approval from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs for the implementation of a 24×7 continuous pressurised water supply system in Shimla. The estimated cost of this project is Rs 4,920 million. Meanwhile, the Pune Municipal Corporation is implementing a 24×7 water supply scheme to provide continuous pressurised water supply and a SCADA system to monitor unaccounted water.

Automatic meter reading (AMR) equipped with wireless communication technology has also been widely adopted in Indian cities such as Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore to reduce NRW levels and increase water supply efficiency by enabling remote water usage data collection, leak detection and efficient billing. These meters help in reducing NRW levels by providing accurate measurement, detecting leakages and enabling remote monitoring, thereby minimising revenue losses and promoting efficient water management.

The Nagpur Municipal Corporation has successfully reduced its NRW level from 41 per cent in 2021 to 39 per cent in 2022 by replacing old pipelines and implementing house-to-ho­use connections. The Delhi Jal Board has ac­hieved significant NRW reduction in areas such as Malviya Nagar (67 per cent to 33 per cent), Na­n­gloi (79 per cent to 53 per cent) and Va­sa­nt Vihar (24 per cent to 48 per cent). This has be­en possible due to the implementation of a district metered plan and installation of smart water meters across these areas.

Future outlook

Despite the challenges and complexities involved, it is crucial to reduce NRW levels to en­sure a sustainable water supply for India’s rapidly growing urban population. Although NRW levels are expected to remain high in the near to medium term, there is increasing focus on water conservation, demand-side management and sustainable water governance for long-term NRW reduction.

The government has set a target to reduce NRW levels to below 20 per cent. In order to achieve this target, many urban local bodies are implementing 24×7 water supply schemes.

Technology can play a significant role in re­ducing NRW by improving the efficiency and accuracy of water supply systems. Some of the­se technologies are SCADA, smart water meters, AMR water meters, IoT sensors and GIS technology. The utilisation of IoT sensors for real-time monitoring and control of water supply systems can help in the detection of leaks, monitoring of water quality and optimisation of water distribution. The technology plays a crucial role in reducing water losses and improving the efficiency of water supply systems. GIS technology can be used to map water supply systems, identify areas with high NRW, and prioritise repair and maintenance efforts. Cities such as Shimla are actively using GIS technology under the 24×7 water supply scheme.

Reducing NRW levels in India requires a co­mprehensive approach that encompasses ad­equate funding, technical capacity building, and the implementation of effective policies and regulations. While challenges persist, initiatives such as the Jal Jeevan Mission, AMRUT and the Smart Cities Mission, and the integration of technology represent positive steps forward. Continued and sustained efforts in these areas will be vital to ensure the sustainability of water supply and management in India.