Sustaining water quality in water supply initiatives

The workshop provided inputs into the newly formed committee for “Standard Operation Procedure for Quality Testing of Drinking Water Samples at Sources and Delivery Points”
30 Jan 2024
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Sector partners come together to supplement the efforts of the government on water quality and surveillance (Image: Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia)
Sector partners come together to supplement the efforts of the government on water quality and surveillance (Image: Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia)

In alignment with the prevailing national focus on the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) and water quality improvements, as well as with the objective of garnering increased awareness regarding water data and infrastructure sustainability, INREM organised a one-day workshop in Kolkata on December 21, 2023.

The insights and recommendations generated during this workshop are intended to provide valuable guidance to the Rural WASH Partners Forum (RWPF) in their discussions with both state and central authorities.

Pradeep Singh, Director of the JJM, delivered the keynote address to inaugurate the conference. He delineated the advancements achieved in water quality testing within rural regions, underscoring the transition from periodic assessments to the real-time availability of data online. Singh highlighted the need to finalise testing protocols and enhance community participation and awareness.

He introduced the Citizen Corner tool on the JJM dashboard, affording villagers access to water quality information. “Citizens can view the status of water quality tests, ensuring transparency and fostering confidence in the water supply system,” he said. In his address, Singh presented a series of recommendations and a call to action for diverse stakeholders involved in water quality management.

These encompassed the reinforcement of testing and reporting mechanisms, active community engagement and education, the formulation and enforcement of rigorous water quality standards and regulations, and the encouragement of innovation and research in water testing technologies and treatment methods. “While we've made considerable strides, the focus now shifts to ensuring the safety and reliability of water supplied through pipelines under the JJM. This transition prompts questions about recalibrating testing protocols and empowering communities to instill confidence in the water supply system,” he said.

To address these challenges, a technical group has been formed to provide recommendations on finalising Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for ‘Quality Testing of Drinking Water Samples at Sources and Delivery Points’. This committee includes two working groups focusing on the technical and community aspects. The Director encouraged collaborative efforts to contribute to the refinement of this critical operational framework.

The presentation on Madhya Pradesh Jal Jeevan Mission (MP JJM) by Ravindra Pare (Consultant SE, MP PHED), Jitendra Mavi (EE, MP PHED, Jhabua), and Atul Shrivastava (SE, MP PHED) highlighted the crucial findings and effective methods derived from a pilot initiative focused on enhancing water quality monitoring and surveillance in Madhya Pradesh. The project covering Jhabua and Sehore districts, involves collaboration with various stakeholders (PHED, UNICEF, INREM and other line departments), to improve water quality through a community-based approach, emphasising sustainable water quality surveillance. The district collector's leadership was commended for initiating consultations with different department officials to ensure convergence.

The presentation introduced a WhatsApp based chatbot feature - OurWater Bot for water quality information and testing data submission, bridging the gap between the community and knowledge. The role of health workers and the Community Health Officers (CHOs) was discussed, emphasising their role in providing information on water-borne diseases and conducting water quality testing in front of the community.

Biraj Boruah, Deputy Director of JJM Assam, along with Hemant Sarma from Assam PHED, delineated the digital transformation strategy for comprehensive water governance in Assam. This initiative centers around the JJM Brain, an all-encompassing software platform designed for managing Piped Water Supply Schemes (PWSS).

JJM Brain, an acronym for "Building Reliant and Analytical Information Network," is spearheading the digital water stack for holistic water governance. This initiative represents a pivotal step towards obtaining a digital water stack that holds potential applications at the national level. Although currently in the developmental phase, JJM Brain has already been rolled out with some ancillary features.

The speaker delved into the background of JJM Brain, explaining its workflow and the design process involved in capturing specific data during the execution of JJM schemes. The aim is to ensure that data related to various activities, undertaken by contractors and third-party inspection agencies, is accurately captured in real-time and at runtime. He highlighted that over 10,000 contractors successfully adhered to assigned tasks, contributing to accurate data capture and subsequent approvals.

E Nandakumar, ICCW, IIT Madras, in his presentation explored emerging trends in water data, digital twins, and sensor innovations, underscoring the significance of disruptive technologies in ensuring clean water. The focus was on research in low-cost sensors, real-time monitoring, and hydroinformatics to achieve sustainable water solutions.

The presentation featured technological advancements, including online fluoride sensors, mobile water quality monitoring units, and wastewater-based epidemiology for insights into community health. Nandakumar emphasised the pivotal role of digital twins and hydroinformatics in studies concerning the water-health nexus, advocating for evidence-based policy inputs and the implementation of technology to enhance water management.

The presentation by WaterAid India provided a comprehensive overview of community-led water quality surveillance, emphasising the crucial choice between an extractive and participatory approach in data collection. It highlighted the dual verticals of a structured government process and an informal community involvement system. The implementation in Madhya Pradesh showcased successful integration with panchayat raj institutions and District Departments but also addressed challenges such as variations in testing results and centralised government system issues. It emphasised the need for community involvement to strengthen informal processes, creating a robust check on formal systems, despite persisting challenges in data integration.

The presentation by AKRSP(I) dealt with its operating model that facilitated inter-departmental convergence, trained community members, and establishment of a decentralized lab. The prevalent bacterial contaminations led it to design community-owned mini drinking water systems, including community standpost and tap connections to households. This laid the foundation for the Bihar Har Ghar Nal program, an early starter to JJM. Challenges include difficulty in reporting, unwillingness to pay for water quality testing, and the need for accountability in contractor-managed schemes. Despite obstacles, AKRSP(I)'s efforts show positive outcomes in testing, training, and community engagement.

Piramal Foundation in its presentation discussed its experience of installing IoT-based real-time filtration units to provide safe drinking water in villages. This journey continued until 2020 when the JJM mission prompted them to reevaluate their approach. Recognising that indiscriminate water disposal harms the environment, the organisation shifted its focus towards sustainability. Its field experiences in Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and MP underlined the need for capacity building, efficient testing, and tailored processes for varied water sources. Challenges include the need for standardised bottle usage, ensuring ISO compliance, and efficient management.

The presentations by other RWPF Partners such as Water for People and Megh Pyne Abhiyaan (MPA), emphasised on community based approached for water quality monitoring and surveillance.

INREM Foundation, as the coordinator for the water quality and surveillance theme under JJJM within the Rural WASH Partners Forum (RWPF) and with support from the European Union (EU) and Arghyam, considers this workshop a pivotal moment for discussions on water quality data, particularly in the context of water supply programs.

Areas such as data quality, transparency, access, community involvement, and, significantly, the implementation of measures to enhance water quality are essential domains that necessitate considerable adjustments. The recommendations put forth in this workshop, aimed at informing policy formulations, are anticipated to contribute significantly to enhancing the sustainability of water supply programs.

Suggestions for the technical group on finalising SOP

The workshop provided specific suggestions for Working Group 1, addressing the technical aspects of water quality data and monitoring. In the realm of Field Test Kits (FTKs), concerns were raised about their lack of standardisation, usability issues, expiry problems, wastage, and potential chemical hazards. Despite these challenges, FTKs were recognised for their significant role in community mobilisation and visually conveying the concept of safe water.

The proposal advocates for the continued use of FTKs until rural communities widely accept the importance of safe water, emphasising issues like local communication of FTK data, referrals for lab samples, and Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) access for FTK data.

Turning to Mid-range Sensors, the discussion highlighted a gradual shift toward sensor-based water quality testing, but challenges related to cost and reliability currently hinder feasibility. The need for market support from venture or public funds for promising products was underscored, and obtaining such sensors within a three-year timeframe is deemed crucial for sustainable high-density data collection.

In the realm of Data APIs and Open Standards, concerns were raised about the user-friendliness of data accessibility within the Water Quality Management Information System (WQMIS) beyond the dashboard. The introduction of the Citizen Corner was welcomed for enhancing data accessibility, and a shift towards advocating for Open APIs, rather than building solutions, was proposed to address a wider use case. The recommendation emphasised designing a set of Open APIs to foster the solution ecosystem and improve access.

Addressing human resource issues and best practices, sustaining the human resource base in laboratories emerged as a significant challenge due to low salaries and temporary contracts. States with best practices were encouraged to serve as examples for hiring long-term staff with appropriate salary structures. A proposal for a state-wise HR best practice report for labs was put forward to address these human resource challenges.

Lastly, the discussion on sampling strategies emphasised the need for a rational and contextual approach, moving away from ad-hoc recommendations. Factors such as population density, contamination risk, local geology, climate, and health data should inform a more intelligent water sample suggestion system for each laboratory. Integration of health data and specific information on local outbreaks was suggested to further refine this approach, with the overarching goal of promoting resource efficiency, reducing public health risks, and improving accountability within the laboratory system.


The presentations, videos, reports and future follow-up directions for this workshop are hosted here

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