Digital water infrastructure to help India become water independent

Smart water meters for efficient use of scarce water resources (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Smart water meters for efficient use of scarce water resources (Image Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The rising water crisis in India

India continues to be worse off as compared to other countries in terms of access to safe water according to the UN-Water Index with over 120 million households in India still lacking access to safe water. The situation threatens to worsen further with India’s overall population expected to touch 1.6 billion by 2050, and with the pandemic further increasing the pressure on the already strained water resources.

By 2030, India’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6 percent loss in the country's GDP. It is not surprising that the WWF’s Risk Filter analysis has projected a bleak scenario for India, with 30 Indian metros and Tier 1 categorised cities being qualified as ‘high risk’ and extremely ‘susceptible to water risk “in the next few decades”.

COVID-19 impact on Indian water economy- current concerns and why it matters!

Handwashing, basic safety and health protocol under COVID-19, means daily use of 20-40 liters of water per person for handwashing at least 10 times a day, instead of the average five times. A  five member family would need 100-200 litres of water per day only to wash hands. This would further generate around 200 litres of wastewater per day that would translate to a 20-25 percent increase in water demand and generation of wastewater from human settlements.

The pandemic threatens to further put immense pressure on overstretched water utilities, Jal boards, Jal Nigams, public health engineering departments who have been taking considerable efforts to meet current water supply gaps.

In a country where annually 600 million people experience water shortages, about 2,00,000 die due to inadequate water supplies and 163 million people lack access to clean water, the novel pandemic outbreak has highlighted the significance of water all the more.

If India fails to supply adequate clean water necessary for human survival, vulnerability to COVID-19 and other illnesses will continue to be very high in the future. The ramification that limited access to safe water and sanitation can have on Indian society would be severely detrimental.

It is critical that Indian water utilities adopt a smart approach to water management in Indian cities and uncover the unlimited potential that digital technologies can offer to transform the city water network systems.

It is time that they get empowered to become more resilient, innovative and efficient, when arriving at effective and economically viable strategies. At a time when the Indian Government plans to deliver the Smart Cities Mission to drive economic growth, improve quality of life of people through local development and smart technology, such a deployment is essential.

India’s mission to lead the change in building a water smart and resilient India essentially needs understanding and discussion around the critical challenges and how smart water meters and digitalisation of water can lead the way, more so given the implications of the pandemic.

Digital infrastructure for water sector transformation in India

Digitalisation provides diversity and modularity, by combining water as per usage with digital control to support data-driven models that can help integrate and optimise smart pumps, valves, sensors and actuators. It can also enable each device to “talk” to each other, or for that matter to the utility and customers, and send real-time information that can be accessed and shared over the cloud.

The five ways in which digital water infrastructure can drive the water sector transformation in India includes:

By early leakage detection and prevention: Smart water meters enable the utilities to detect leakages earlier than usual and monitor usage to aid enforcement efforts. Leakage, apparent losses and rising non revenue water (NRW) has been a major concern for Indian utilities. Under these conditions, it would be possible to detect such leaks early, skip unnecessary costs on repair/replacement and generate more savings by deploying smart water meters.

Accurate meter readings and no maintenance hassles: Unaffected by trapped air, sand or particles within the water, which ensures accurate readings from the beginning until the end of its service life, and subsequently preventing unplanned maintenance costs, smart water meters are the best when it comes to long term investment.

Increased customer service and satisfaction: Trials in the industry have shown that consumers receiving regular, accurate billing do not call their suppliers as often to question or dispute bills. This has a direct cost saving for utilities and improves customer satisfaction. The high accuracy of the smart water meters improves the accountability of non-revenue water due to no pipe rupture or undetected leakages which in turn helps to generate error-free and correct billing.

Reduces Non-Revenue Water (NRW): Adopting smart water infrastructure and management would mean smart real-time monitoring, metering at various levels and automation that will overall ensure a reduction in systems losses and renewed sentiments for water recycle and reuse, to improve efficiency and reduce water stress. Through the use of smart meters, utilities can exercise better control over water consumption patterns even at individual households. All of these together will be able to address the prevalent NRW challenge effectively.

Provides a wealth of data: The data collected helps water utilities to manage distribution networks more efficiently to conserve water, to provide accurate billing to customers and to inform them about leaks, fraud or unusual usage patterns well in advance. It can also help to arrive at strategic decisions, improvise on business models and services to better the water supply, water conservation efforts and overall customer experience.

Government Initiatives for efficient water management and improving water infrastructure

The Government has introduced a series of initiatives to create awareness about water conservation, including the Jal Jeevan Mission, under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, which aims to promote water conservation in 256 of India’s most water-stressed districts.

The ‘Jal Shakti’ ministry aims to provide piped water supply to every household by 2024 as well as fight India's water woes. By 2050, the water requirement in a high use scenario in India is likely to be 1,180 billion cubic metrics (BCM), whereas the present-day availability is 695 BCM. The total availability of water in the country is lower than this projected demand, at 1,137 BCM, according to NITI Aayog’s report.

To combat the situation, support from Government to facilitate policies at central and state level that encourage deployment of smart water solutions for judicious use of water is needed. India needs to derive key insights from successful global smart water management use examples and implement best practices in Indian cities.

With Pune poised to become the first city in India to deploy smart static water meters aligned to the country’s Smart City Mission, India has already raised the bar in adopting smarter technology to save the water economy. Going forward, India needs more cities to understand, adopt and retrieve the benefit of digital water infrastructure.

Digital Water infrastructure for a smarter world

Although India’s digital water journey has gained considerable momentum over the last few decades, critical water challenges like climate change, increasing urbanisation, ageing infrastructure is yet to be addressed to holistically accelerate this momentum.

A comprehensive digital roadmap that can bring to affect the real benefit of digitalisation is what India needs now.

Amit Vaidya is the Director of Metrology Business, Sensus, a Xylem brand, India.