Does 24x7 water supply help reduce water storage or hoarding in urban areas?

Water, a valuable resource (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Water, a valuable resource (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Urban water supply can be classified into two categories -- formal and informal.  A formal system usually means piped delivery, at least partly treated, and regulated by a utility. An informal system usually includes a set of alternative water delivery mechanisms and practices which are largely unregulated by the state.

The paper titled 'Storage and non payment - Persistent informalities within the formal water supply of Hubli Dharwad, India' published in the journal Water Alternatives, informs that water supply systems in developed countries that include piped and treated water have a wide outreach and have expanded to serve urban centres and their growing populations. In the process of doing this, they have gradually replaced informal and unregulated systems of water distribution.

On the contrary, urban water supply in developing countries have limited outreach at present. However, they are being expanded with the following assumption: that as pipes get laid; as water gets treated; as services improve from intermittent to continuous supply; and as billing and metering expand, fewer and fewer consumers will rely on informal systems of accessing water such as neighbour's taps, vended water, street-corner hand pumps, storage containers and illicit connections.

Expanded urban water supply and its impact on informal water procuring practices

The paper examines this hypothesis by presenting the findings of a pilot project implemented in Hubli Dharwad city that aimed at expanding and increasing the formal piped water network in the city and evaluating the impact it had on existing informal access practices. The project, called the Karnataka Urban Water Services Improvement Project (KUWASIP), was a public-private partnership (PPP) that aimed at improving reliability, convenience, water quality and utility revenues.

Hubli-Dharwad’s piped system provided intermittent water, and residents coped with this discontinuous supply by buying water from tankers, carrying water from public borewells, storing water at home or accessing unauthorised connections for which they did not pay. KUWASIP regularised all old water connections and brought continuous water delivery to 8 out of 67 wards in Hubli-Dharwad since 2008, covering 10% of the residents.

A survey was conducted to compare the water use practices in the rest of the city with those that were a part of the 24/7 zones. Its aim was to assess whether increased water supply and regularisation had led to increased reliability and convenience, and had thus prevented people from using informal coping practices of home storage and illicit piped water use.

Findings of the pilot project

The survey found that the 24/7 effort did not help stop some of the informal practices; storing water, and accessing water without paying still persisted. This suggested that:

  • Convenience needed to be defined from the point of view of the water users;
  • The projects cost benefit analysis needed to also account for barriers posed by household-level infrastructure in accessing water;
  • Water users placed a high value on convenience and affordability relative to other dimensions of water service such as water quality or continuous availability;
  • Developing trust between water users and providers was necessary, for the reduction of 'overlapping strategies' and, relatedly, of non-payment..

Storage in Hubli-Dharwad continues and people consider it to be a reliable and convinient means for accessing water. The study found that non-payment continued as lower income customers found it difficult to pay, especially when in default, and stealthily protected their access to water.

The study concluded that there could be limits to the extent of formalisation in a city transitioning from intermittent to continuous water supply. These limits depended on consumer habits, consumer values, the history of a city’s water supply and accidents of infrastructure.

Please download the complete paper below.