The government and industries are making concerted efforts to ensure water security. There is growing focus on achieving 24×7 water supply in urban and rural areas, and on recycling and reusing treated wastewater to reduce the pressure on freshwater resources. Digitalisation is also emerging as a key pillar for achieving water resilience and improving operational efficiency. However, many challenges still remain. Leading experts comment on sector developments, the technological initiatives undertaken, and the key trends expected in the future…
How has the water sector evolved over the past few years?
The Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB) has played a pivotal role in addressing the escalating water demand of Hyderabad city. This pursuit has entailed the creation of an extensive network of service reservoirs and expansion of pipeline infrastructure, among others. HMWSSB has been instrumental in ensuring steady water supply within the jurisdiction of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and its adjoining areas. This encompasses around 1.3 million water supply connections. The water supply volume stands at 602 million gallons per day, sourced from prominent reservoirs including Osmansagar, Himayatsagar, Manjira, Singur, Krishna and Godavari. Some of the noteworthy projects include the Sunkishala intake well near Nagarjunasagar (in progress), along with Mallanna Sagar and Konda Pochamma Sagar under the Kaleshwaram project. These are poised to ensure uninterrupted water supply to citizens of the Hyderabad Urban Agglomeration, even during periods of drought. Similarly, Hyderabad is on track to achieve the distinction of being a 100 per cent sewage treatment-compliant city.
The water sector has witnessed significant advancements over the past few years. Central government initiatives such as the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) and the establishment of the Ministry of Jal Shakti have been remarkable. Some of the key milestones achieved under these initiatives are:
- Water conservation: There has been a notable shift towards promoting sustainable water usage and reducing wastage through conservation measures.
- Public-private partnerships (PPPs): Collaboration between the public and private sectors has increased, leading to innovative projects and improved service delivery.
- Smart water management: Smart technologies are being adopted to monitor water infrastructure, detect leaks and optimise water distribution networks.
- Reuse of wastewater to support a circular economy: Reusing treated water for domestic purposes such as flushing and gardening, as well as for industrial purposes such as cooling the chambers of power plants, has helped shorten the gap between demand and supply of potable water. This has turned a vicious cycle into a virtuous one.
- Desalination: Desalination plants are being implemented to augment water supply.
The city of Pune, also known as the “Oxford of the East”, is a hotspot for the IT sector, attracting masses from across India. With a burgeoning population of approximately 6.9-7 million at present, the city has moved up the ladder to house Maharashtra’s largest municipal corporation, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). It added 23 new villages to its administrative limits in 2017, followed by 11 villages in 2021. This expansion has led to an unprecedented rise in the demand for water. The majority of the water supply in Pune is met by four major dams in the city – the Kharakwasla chain, which includes Khadakwasla, Panshet, Warasgaon and Temghar. In addition, Pune’s requirement is met from Bhama Askhed and partly from the Pawna river. The total storage capacity of these dams is approximately 33 thousand million cubic feet.
Bhandari Swagat Ranveerchand
Kerala is considered the land of water resources, with high rainfall and many rivers, backwaters, lakes and streams. However, the state frequently faces drought and acute water scarcity in several districts. Groundwater in 60 per cent of Kerala’s aquifers has dropped by 50 cm, and it is going down further. The state is perceived to have a higher water demand than the national average because of established social norms and the demand for better hygiene and sanitation. According to the 2011 Census of India, based on the distance from water sources, 78 per cent of the people in Kerala accessed drinking water from their own premises, 14 per cent from nearby premises and 8 per cent far away from the premises.
At present, approximately 47 per cent of urban households and 50 per cent of rural households in Kerala are serviced by tap water connections. The remaining population depends on unprotected wells, tanks, rivers and streams, which are not clean or safe enough to drink. To ensure complete rural population coverage, the JJM was launched to provide functional household tap connections (FHTCs) to all rural households. At the time of its launch, the number of rural households with tap water connections stood at 1.75 million (24.75 per cent) as against a total of 7.07 million households. In a span of 34 months, an additional 1.77 million households have been provided tap water connections in Kerala. Similarly, the AMRUT 2.0 was launched with the aim of making cities “water secure” by providing FHTCs to all households in urban areas. Out of approximately 2.50 million urban households, 1.17 million households have FHTCs. Moreover, Kerala has approved a project cost of around Rs 20.13 billion for 209 water supply projects. The number of new tap water connections approved in the State Water Action Plan for Kerala is around 0.46 million, while 0.88 million connections need to be approved to achieve full coverage. With JJM being implemented, there will be 100 per cent coverage in rural areas.
What are the steps being taken to address the challenges facing the sector?
HMWSSB’s vision has a global outlook while appreciating the local situation and challenges pertaining to water, civil infrastructure and population density. It is aimed at contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. We intend to focus on the reduction of non-revenue water (NRW), resource efficiency, and green initiatives to ensure sustainable water supply and treat wastewater as a resource.
Amidst all the pathbreaking initiatives, the sector is still faced with challenges, such as:
- Water scarcity: Growing demand and diminishing freshwater sources are leading to water scarcity in many regions.
- Ageing infrastructure: Many existing water systems require upgrades and maintenance to ensure efficiency and prevent water losses.
- Climate change: Altered weather patterns affect water availability and pose challenges for water management strategies.
- Water pollution: Contamination of water bodies necessitates robust water treatment and pollution control measures.
- PPP promotion: Good contracts with entities such as NMCG are required at the state and urban local body (ULB) levels to promote PPP.
One of the biggest challenges faced by the city is the inequitable supply of water due to its saucer-shaped geography. The marginal parts of the city, located on high contours and at the tail-end of the geographical extent, receive insufficient water supply under low pressure for only a few hours per day. Meanwhile, the central parts of Pune are provided with ample water supply with adequate pressure. To address this issue, PMC is working towards adjusting the water supply to the optimum level for all residents in the city through its ambitious first-of-its-kind project, the Equitable 24×7 Water Supply Scheme. It aims to ensure a safe and equitable water supply throughout the day for the next 30 years. Under the scheme, 82 water reservoirs are being constructed, with approximately 44 already completed. The water distribution network is being enhanced by laying a water pipeline of 1,550 km in length. Moreover, new pumping stations are being built to allow pressurised water supply, along with the installation of bulk flow meters. These meters are also being connected to business centres and will help in conducting water audits and checking water losses across the city, thereby reducing the extent of NRW.
Bhandari Swagat Ranveerchand
Managing limited water resources and the water infrastructure is a paramount concern. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges that the sector faces, which brings in fiercer and less predictable conditions such as extended droughts and heatwaves, increased hurricanes, wildfires and severe winter storms. The future requires skilful and creative stewardship of our most vital natural resource, as well as innovative approaches to maintain a strong and resilient water infrastructure.
- Source sustainability: Due to the peculiar nature of Kerala’s topography, runoff velocity is high and rainfall reaches the ocean within hours without being stored as subsurface water. Despite the state having numerous streams and 44 major rivers, many of them run dry during summers. Additionally, heavy rainfall and flooding from damaged water sources carry runoff and waste into streams and lakes, contaminating water supply.
- Operations and maintenance (O&M): O&M is a crucial element of sustainability and its improper application can lead to failure of water supply and sanitation service facilities. Frequent failures result from poor planning, inadequate cost recovery and outreach inadequacies. Negligence and delayed implementation of proper O&M have adversely affected the credibility of investments, service functionality, the well-being of rural population and further development of projects. Other challenges encountered in O&M include the growing population and higher demand, rising energy costs and contamination due to pipeline leakages. Further, maintaining consistent quality of drinking water remains a significant challenge.
- Ageing of assets: The ageing of infrastructure puts an upward pressure on costs, reduces operational efficiency and even causes failures in water supply systems. The first water supply project in Kerala was commissioned in 1914, which is now over 100 years old. Several water supply projects in the state have exceeded 50 years of service, leading to frequent service breakdowns. The lack of funds for rehabilitation of existing ageing assets is a major challenge for the state.
- NRW: It is assessed that on an average, up to 40 per cent of water is lost in the network due to leakages and other types of NRW. These losses cost substantial amounts of money, not only in lost revenues but also in the expenses for treating and pumping water that leaks into the ground.
- Shortage of skilled labour: Kerala is experiencing an increasing shortage of adequately trained and skilled labour to effectively maintain water supply schemes and assets. Without a sufficient workforce, maintaining operational and quality standards of the supplied water becomes difficult.
- Water management: The lack of proper water management results in inequitable distribution, with marginalised and rural communities facing greater challenges in accessing clean water sources and sanitation facilities.
What are the technological initiatives being taken to increase operational efficiency?
HMWSSB embarked on a digital transformation mission to improve operational efficiency, enhance the customer and employee experience, augment asset management, and ensure data availability for all informed decision-making, by leveraging Industry 4.0 technologies.
- Mini sewer cleaning jetting machines: Mini sewer jetting machines are being introduced to reduce sewage problems, especially in small lanes and streets, which are generally neglected, and also to improve the quality of life.
- Sewer Croc Robotic technology: To clean choked sewer lines and manholes, Sewer Croc, a robotic device armed with metallic cutters, is sent into sewer lines. Mounted on a wheel-base, the Sewer Croc cuts and chops the accumulated waste in the lines with blades.
- Naanyatha application: Naanyatha is a unique initiative to improve the feedback mechanism in water quality aspects. Under this initiative, a mobile application has been built, which is currently in use by nearly 1,100 water sample collectors across the city. The team collects water samples at various consumer supply points and reservoir locations and tests for chlorine adequacy, using readily available kits.
- Annual maintenance system (AMS): To ensure electronic monitoring of works and speed up immediate execution of small O&M works, HMWSSB has initiated AMS in the O&M of water supply, sewerage and electrical operations. This ensures ready availability of agencies to take up small works and geo-tag all the works in HMWSSB.
- LoRaWAN: LoRaWAN enables deployment in private networks in a cost-efficient and secure manner. HMWSSB has fixed LoRaWAN compatible automatic meters to high-value connections and set up gateways at strategic locations to receive meter reading data from automatic meters without human intervention. Currently, the pilot is under evaluation for further scaling.
- Online continuous effluent monitoring system (OCEMS) technology: This is set up as per the guidelines of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) at all sewage treatment plants (STPs) to obtain real-time data on STP outlet parameters such as BOD (biochemical oxygen demand), COD (chemical oxygen demand), TSS (total suspended solids), pH flow and the daily quantity of treated water. The system transmits real-time data to the concerned stakeholders through specifically designed mobile applications and websites.
- Quick Identification of Water Pollution Source Technology: This cutting-edge tool is designed to navigate the hidden labyrinth of Hyderabad’s water supply lines, identifying pollution sources and leakages, and assessing the longevity of ageing pipelines.
- Self-billing: HMWSSB has introduced a self-billing mobile app for the convenience of consumers, through which they can generate their monthly bills and make payments through a digital platform.
To increase operational efficiency, we have started working on the deployment of internet of things (IoT) devices and using data analytics to monitor water infrastructure in real time, enabling quick responses to issues. In addition, data loggers, GIS mapping and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) are the new staples in the routine operations of water and wastewater management.
Several innovative measures have been adopted by PMC to effectively regulate the water supply in the city. First, the automation of valves has made it possible to release water at stipulated timings. An actuator is installed on the valves to remotely operate them, turning them on and off at preset times. This helps in controlling water release without extra, unnecessary supply. Second, electronic flow meters are being used to measure the amount of water consumed and provide associated readings instantly. Third, PMC is actively installing automated water meters in the city. Approximately 260,000 of these meters are planned to be installed, of which 128,000 have been installed so far. Furthermore, the ground staff is making use of hand-held devices that can capture meter readings within 300 metres of their path. Antennas are used to capture real-time readings of nearby households and send them directly to the electronic server. The remote access of these automated devices has minimised the need for manual intervention, which has made water supply system operations more efficient. Moreover, PMC is incorporating technologies such as the IoT and SCADA into their water supply systems.
Bhandari Swagat Ranveerchand
- Ensuring a seamless citizen interface: Kerala has adopted various mechanisms to ensure effective service delivery and grievance redressal. The 1916 call centre of the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) serves as a crucial communication hub, connecting the public with the authority to address water-related queries and service requests. The progress of rectified complaints is monitored regularly. So far, 95.46 per cent of registered complaints have been resolved. Additionally, a web-based application, “E-tapp”, has been developed for availing of new water connections and consumer services. This has considerably simplified connection procedures and increased transparency.
- Automation of pump sets for improved scheme operations: Kerala aims to automate all pumping stations to enhance service delivery and the operation of water supply schemes. So far, 1,301 out of 2,381 pumping stations have been automated. Automation will allow operators to manage pump houses from a central control room or even through mobile devices. Automated systems will help in minimising downtime, reducing O&M costs, optimising energy use and preventing equipment failures, among others.
- Community engagement and women as change agents: To increase awareness among rural communities about the importance of using safe drinking water and water conservation, non-governmental organisations have been engaged as Institutional Support Agencies in gram panchayats. Various activities are conducted in gram sabhas to create awareness among the rural populace. For instance, water sources in villages are tested on-site with field testing kits by engaging women’s self-help groups such as Kudumbasree. Approximately 5,000 Kudumbasree women have participated in these efforts.
- In-house adaptive research: KWA has developed several innovative systems through in-house adaptive research, including a “flow failure alert system” and a “chlorine dosing alert system”. They have been implemented to enhance network management, and improve the safety and management of resources.
What are the key practices being adopted for wastewater reuse? What initiatives are being taken to achieve a circular economy?
In Hyderabad, the wastewater management system was established in the core city area in 1940 and scaled up gradually to extended areas with a suitable sewerage network of laterals, branch sewers and trunk sewers. To avoid water logging in low-lying areas, stormwater nalas were also developed and upgraded by GHMC to prevent water stagnation. Also, to prevent sewage discharge into water bodies, diversion schemes under the beautification of water bodies have been taken up in the city.
The circular economy is a system of resource utilisation where reduction, reuse and recycling of elements prevail. The concept aims to focus on make, use, reclaim, reuse and recycle unlike the linear economy approach of take, make and dispose. It enables significant revenue generation through the optimisation of products and services.
- Use of recycled treated water: Treated water from existing STPs is reused for non-domestic purposes such as gardening, industrial and commercial uses. The treated water let into the Musi river further becomes the primary source for agriculture downstream. At present, about 130 mld of treated wastewater is let into lakes for rejuvenation and to maintain lake hydrology. About 500 mld is being let into the Musi river for providing environmental flows. GHMC is also using the treated wastewater for gardening purposes on central medians of roads and parks located within a 5 km radius of STPs.
- Sludge as a resource: The treatment of sewage leads to the formation of sludge as a byproduct in STPs. Currently, about 70 mt of sludge is produced in Hyderabad per day. This sludge is being sold to three private agencies, which process the sludge to form compost and market it along with urea for agricultural purposes.
- Methane gas production: Methane gas is generated from STPs at Amberpet and Nagole on account of the up-flow anaerobic sludge blanket technology. On an average, 7,000 cubic metres per day of raw gas is generated at both STPs in Hyderabad. This biogas is sold to authorised agencies and the processed gas is supplied to petroleum companies.
- Hydropower generation: At Amberpet and Nagole, there is a free fall of treated effluents at the outlet, with a static head of 3-5 metres. This static head can be used for generation of hydropower in a small quantity by installing suitable screw turbines. HMWSSB is exploring power generation with interested private investors.
- Solar power plants: Rooftop solar power plants with a total capacity of 31.12 MW are proposed to be set up at 71 locations, on pump houses, reservoirs, STPs and buildings of HMWSSB. This is proposed to be undertaken through Telangana State Renewable Development Corporation in the renewable energy service company mode.
Wastewater reuse is a multi-dimensional concept. I have always been an advocate of its use to ensure a sustainable urban water management cycle. Sewage needs to be seen as an asset, available within the boundaries of a city. Effective implementation of key practices in this regard can turn the “cost centre” of a ULB into a “profit centre”. Key practices for wastewater reuse include…
- Advanced treatment processes: We employ cutting-edge technologies for wastewater treatment, ensuring that the treated water meets quality standards for various purposes. This boosts reliability and generates a cascade effect that will help reuse stand the test of time.
- Industrial reuse: Treated wastewater is supplied to industries for non-potable applications, reducing freshwater demand. This is the most important link in the virtuous cycle that I mentioned above.
We are aware of our responsibility, as a corporate body, towards the environment. Inducing a circular economy is the need of the hour to make sure we do not exploit our natural resources to the extent of irreversible damage. Our initiatives to adopt/promote circular economy principles include the use of eco-friendly products that minimise environmental impacts, and the reuse of treated water.
The rampant exploitation of the groundwater in Pune is alarming. PMC has been exploring alternative sources of water to meet the projected water requirements of the city. The use of treated wastewater is one of the key methods being promoted by PMC in various ways. In the construction sector, it has mandated developers to utilise treated wastewater for their activities. The treated wastewater is supplied from 10 STPs spread across the city through tankers. The treated water is duly tested and utilised for this purpose. Further, a mobile application has been introduced to facilitate this service. Developers can register on this application for their various construction sites and request the supply of treated wastewater. They will only be charged for the transportation charges of these tankers. Moreover, PMC is vigilant in checking the misuse of drinking water by residents. It has taken action against residents for using potable water for non-drinking purposes.
The decentralisation of STPs is another important move towards promoting a circular economy. Mini STPs are being established in housing societies with connections to their plumbing systems. In a similar stride, PMC is ensuring the complete treatment of domestic wastewater before discharging it into the Mula-Mutha river. The river is one of the 302 polluted river stretches in India, identified by the CPCB. The improvement project for this is being carried out with funding support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency and targets the treatment of approximately 80 per cent of domestic wastewater before its discharge into the river. The project also plans to set up 10 new STPs, thereby creating an additional treatment capacity of 396 million litres per day to cover sewage generation up to 2027. It also aims to install a centralised monitoring system to check the functioning of STPs, along with the mapping of sewerage facilities using GIS.
Bhandari Swagat Ranveerchand
Kerala is planning to adopt Johkasou technology considering its high population density and low land availability. This will help promote water reuse.
What are the key trends that will shape the sector going forward?
The Telangana government has taken up the construction of 31 new STPs with 1,259.5 mld capacity at a cost of Rs 38.66 billion in order to achieve 100 per cent sewage treatment in the city by end-2023. This would largely abate the pollution of the Musi river and other water bodies. Further, the intake well project that is currently in progress at Sunkishala will enable the drawal of raw water from the Nagarjuna Sagar reservoir below minimum draw-down level, which, in turn, will provide a sustainable source of raw water to the city even during three continuous drought years. Through this mega engineering project and other planned projects, Hyderabad’s citizens can be assured of water supply for at least the next 50 years.
Looking ahead, several trends will influence the water sector. These include:
- Decentralised water solutions: Smaller, localised water treatment plants to meet specific community needs. This will help the consumer move closer to the source, hence, reducing transportation cost.
- Water-energy nexus: Integrating water and energy management to optimise utilisation.
- Digital twin technology: Creating virtual models of water systems for better monitoring and decision-making.
- Circular economy adoption: Encouraging sustainable water use and resource recovery.
- Ground water demand: Supply control and monitoring.
- Cropping patterns modification: To conserve ground water and industrial treated water for agriculture.
Promoting the use of alternative water sources is one of the main strategies that will shape the future of Indian cities. The projected population of cities is expected to surpass the existing capacity of water resources and, therefore, PMC considers the supply of treated sewage and wastewater as the primary focus area. Global cases, such as the City Councils of Sydney and Singapore, are excellent examples for Indian cities to examine. They have achieved desirable standards of treated sewage for drinking purposes. Further, the prevalent issue of NRW in most Indian cities can be addressed by resolving hurdles related to the equitable, regular and efficient distribution of water.
Bhandari Swagat Ranveerchand
- Improved public service delivery: This will entail initiatives such as increased customer engagement in water management initiatives, development of user-friendly websites and mobile apps, regular maintenance, implementation of robust water quality monitoring programmes, and real-time monitoring using SCADA systems and IoT-based sensors.
- Timely completion of projects: This can be achieved through project planning and scheduling, better resource allocation, stakeholder engagement, risk assessment and management.
- Financial self-reliance and sustenance: Achieving financial self-reliance is crucial for the sustainability and effectiveness of water supply management. This can be achieved through 100 per cent water metering and billing, leakage reduction, cost efficiency, energy efficient practices, utilising NRW sources, long-term financial planning, etc.
The way forward is ensuring 100 per cent FHTCs for both rural and urban households, fostering public participation in all aspects of water management, implementing preventive and curative maintenance of water infrastructure, creating a regulatory commission to oversee production, tariff fixation and interstate water sharing, establishing quantity and quality standards, and ensuring 24×7 water supply in cities.