The concept of 24×7 water supply projects in Indian cities are gaining attention. These projects encourage municipal agencies to identify leakages and system inefficiencies, map water pipeline network, conduct water audits, introduce advanced water meters, adopt volumetric billing practices, and develop effective communication strategies for creating awareness among the masses. Different IT solutions help utilities to streamline operations and re-engineer their services. Sector experts share their views on the current state of IT adoption, its role in the 24×7 water supply system, key benefits and challenges faced in implementation…
What are the key features of a 24×7 water supply project?
The key features of a 24×7 water supply project include providing round-the-clock water supply at a desired pressure so that uncontaminated water is available to citizens. It also demonstrates the use of the hydraulic model, best pipe material, providing service connections to households and installing automated meter reading (AMR) devices. Also, a 24×7 water supply system provides the pilot area with a low non-revenue water (NRW) distribution network and improved service levels.
24×7 water supply is achieved when water is provided continuously to every customer for 24 hours every day in a year through a secure and robust transmission and distribution system. This requires a leakage-free distribution system with metering and billing of water consumption on a volumetric basis. 24×7 water supply also implies safe and continuous distribution of uncontaminated water and deployment of pipes with a smaller diameter for reducing the project cost. It also requires 100 per cent metering and an automated reading system (as meters would need to be read at least once a month and bills issued at least once every two months).
A 24×7 water supply system entails the replacement of water supply lines to reduce leakages and NRW in the system. It also requires the installation of AMR to capture readings automatically and generate bills, thereby reducing consumer complaints. Water auditing and hydraulic monitoring further assists in reducing NRW levels. Geographic information systems (GIS) are deployed to map all water components to help field managers in managing system components.
The key features of a 24×7 water supply project include providing consumers with uninterrupted water supply at a desired pressure, and preparing a water waste reduction plan to decrease NRW to below 30 per cent by reducing leakages and unmeasured supplies. It also entails achieving 100 per cent metering with good quality meters, improving the billing mechanism (meter reading and bill generation and distribution) to reduce the cost of collection and providing better services to consumers. A 24×7 water supply project should adopt best engineering and design practices for upgradation of the existing network. Moreover, emphasis should be laid on operations and management (O&M) by a single agency through a performance-based contract against the defined level of services. The project also requires regular water audits for the improvement of service levels, renewal of assets and pipelines for better efficiency, establishment of IT systems to provide better consumer service, and an O&M strategy devised through innovative automation tools as well as technologies.
What are the IT solutions currently in use for 24×7 water supply projects? How has been the experience in improving operational efficiency (continuity of water, increase in water supply and cost recovery)?
The 24×7 water supply system in Malkapur town is the first initiative in India where the entire town is operating on a 24×7 basis. Under the system, high density polyethylene pipes, medium density polyethylene pipes and AMR devices have been deployed for water distribution. These components have made the system leak proof. The use of AMR devices for bulk metering has made it possible to record consumption using hand-held devices. Further, a telescopic tariff system has been successfully deployed. The water system has been designed through hydraulic modelling, using the WaterGems software. In addition, the installation of bulk meters at the outlet of the elevated service reservoir (ESR) along with pressure sensors at strategic points in the distribution network has made it possible to calibrate the hydraulic model. The system has helped in identifying leakages and water-related issues through pressure sensor readings transmitted to computers through GSM communications at a fixed time interval and comparing it with the standard pressure range.
A 24×7 water supply project requires constant monitoring of pressure and flow levels in the distribution system. To this end, remote monitoring through supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems becomes useful. In addition, a 24×7 water supply system requires 100 per cent metering, implying a shift from a manual system of billing to a fully computerised one. An AMR system also needs to be deployed to increase efficiency. However, since none of the large cities has 24×7 water supply, the demand for such technologies is yet to fully materialise.
There are several technologies such as field instrumentation with programmable logic controller-based systems and SCADA for real-time monitoring of various process parameters such as water quality (pH, turbidity and residual chlorine), process variables (flow level and pressure) and control elements (electric actuators for valves). These systems are integrated on a real-time basis using wireless local area networks, wireless broadband and GPRS communication for data transmission to the master control station. There is a centralised SCADA-based master control station where all the data and process variables are assimilated and analysed on a real-time basis and archived. The control station is also equipped for situation analysis. Regular automated emails are generated to keep the authorities informed about the water system. It also allows various authorities to extract data independently.
Specific to the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), the implementation of a SCADA system has now started benefiting the overall management of water supply. SCADA has helped in monitoring the amount of water supplied and consumed, and technical and commercial losses in the water supply system. SCADA provides real-time information, which has helped PCMC to analyse the issue of inequitable distribution of water and reduced the number of customer complaints received, especially during the summer. In addition, SCADA facilitates monitoring of the ESR with a point-based communication system, online complaint redressal, calculation of water distribution through ESRs and bypass valves, and real-time monitoring of the system. It also helps in taking proactive measures in case of any discrepancy between the benchmark service levels and water supply parameters.
The key IT solutions that are currently deployed include network modelling, GIS mapping of assets, IT applications for metering, billing and collection, complaint management system, consumer self-service portal, mobility, and establishment of water kiosks.
What are the issues faced in deploying IT solutions (manpower capacity, cost constraints and transfer of assets)? How can they be addressed?
Some of the key technologies that have been deployed are as follows:
- Monitoring the pressure through sensors and comparing it with calibrated hydraulic models to plug leakages.
- Remote automation of pumps using the GSM communication system. Also, the pure water pump is designed to start automatically when the water reaches one-third the height of the MBR and stop when the water reaches its maximum level. This helps in reducing water wastage and remote monitoring of the system.
- A Drive-By RF system is being used for reading AMR devices. The meter generates an optical signal of the registered dial. The unit (dialog in the present case) collects the pulse from the meter and stores the counting result in the unit memory. The data is downloaded through a cellular connection from the unit to the local gateway and the entire data is analysed by the software. This reduces the billing cycle.
A 24×7 water supply system will make certain activities redundant while some will become more manpower intensive. For instance, 24×7 water supply will eliminate the need for valve operations for regulating supplies to different parts of the city. A fully metered system will make project developers responsible for meter reading and issuing accurate water bills at least six times a year. AMR systems can ease the process of meter reading. But in cities where this system has already been adopted, remote reading of meters is made inoperative due to tampering. This defeats the purpose of installing expensive meters with AMR facility. In case of no tampering, the manpower required for reading meters can be considerably reduced and the possible revenue leakage due to inaccurate reporting can be avoided. These benefits may possibly outweigh the higher capital costs incurred for installing AMR systems.
The key challenges faced in a 24×7 water supply project include different technologies used in meters/household units, unavailability of cost-effective solutions and reluctance in the adoption of technology by consumers. In addition, the slow rate of project advancement by water boards is a cause of concern.
What are the current practices for metering and NRW reduction? How can advanced IT solutions help in improving billing as well as collection processes?
The meters used for consumers are usually mechanical; this requires separate manpower to visit the meters around the city and take the readings manually. This system faces several problems like generation of bills on historical estimation and human errors while billing, which lead to inaccurate billing. In this regard, AMR technology offers a solution that automatically collects data from water meters. AMR systems contain an integrated meter transmitter and a receiver unit that accurately transmit the consumption data. This data is then sent to a central database for billing and analysing. Advantages of deploying these meters in Malkapur include accurate data reading, identification of malfunctioning meters and time saving as readings can be directly transferred to computers for generating bills. In addition, to facilitate easy payment of water bills, the civic agency has set up six collection booths. This has increased collection efficiency to 93 per cent and O&M recovery to 100 per cent.
Many cities are slowly adopting metering. However, areas with a metered model in place are impacted by the non-functionality of meters and/or improper billing practices. Many cities often fail to deploy proper systems and processes for achieving 100 per cent metering and billing levels. Non-functional meters result in billing being undertaken at historic consumption levels. This not only results in revenue loss for the city, but also proves to be a hindrance in maintaining the metered consumption data and NRW levels. The lack of water consumption data further implies that sewage generation cannot be estimated. Cities do not fail because of IT solutions not being in place but due to their inability to adopt systems and processes required for carrying out operations efficiently.
As far as metering is concerned, PCMC has established district metering areas (DMAs) for better administration and accountability, set up a call centre facility for consumer convenience and deployed helium leak detection technology for leakage detection. This has resulted in 100 per cent metering of water connections. Further, SCADA is being installed for managing system efficiency. PCMC has outsourced the meter reading and billing functions. It is also planning to issue monthly bills for commercial connections and bimonthly bills for residential connections. Though PCMC has installed water meters for almost 78 per cent of the water connections, the extent of revenue loss due to discrepancies in meter reading or non-functional water meters is not known. The civic agency needs to conduct a sample survey of metered water connections across different wards of the city to ascertain the level of revenue loss.
Technical or real losses can also be determined by establishing DMAs and measuring the loss in the system by calculating the difference between the water released from the ESR and the water received by the end-consumer. PCMC is in the process of mapping the NRW level in the city by creating a separate DMA and thereafter measuring the losses through the SCADA system, and conducting a primary survey in the pilot area.
There are different types of meters – AMR, non-AMR and AMR-ready – which are available in various sizes. These meters use manual radio frequency identification (RFID) and GPRS-based methods to read data. The use of advanced technology enables meter reading through RFID/GPRS and reduces the turnaround time for the billing cycle. An efficient NRW technology should include monitoring trends in usage vis-à-vis collection, and plans to reduce water losses. The technology brings new tools and techniques to identify leaks and damages in the water network and reduce water loss, which impacts the NRW. Advanced technologies provide consumers with the facility to pay bills and manage their accounts on the go. This facility of receiving bills or registering complaints through mobiles or portals will increase consumer-provider interactions.
What are the key challenges faced in the implementation of 24×7 water supply systems? How can IT solutions help in addressing these challenges?
Some of the key enablers for a 24×7 water supply project are a strong will of the political and administrative wing, leakproof pipelines, good quality meters, pressure sensors, readiness to adopt telescopic rates for demand management, transparency and consumer awareness, hydraulic designs and modelling, and experienced agency selection. Successful implementation has led to reduced water requirement, electricity consumption and operation cost. There has also been an increase in consumer satisfaction and revenue collection. In addition, NRW has been significantly reduced and now stands at 9-12 per cent. The AMR system has reduced the chances of human error and possible exploitation of consumers by meter readers.
Primary surveys undertaken in a 24×7 water supply pilot project area such as in Yamunanagar revealed key issues in service delivery that need to be addressed. These included inadequate pressure in some areas, odd supply timings, lack of detailed system planning, product and technology selection, need for benchmarking the water supply system on the parameters based on population density in individual wards, and lack of details on unaccounted/unplanned valve operations. Further, the survey underlined the effects of power cuts on the water supply system. There were a large number of unauthorised connections, leakage in public taps located in slum areas and wastage of water due to low water tariffs. However, these challenges have been tackled to some extent through the implementation of the SCADA system under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
The common challenges in the implementation of a 24×7 water supply project include high NRW, inequitable water supply, unaccountability at various levels, inefficient systems to supply water to slum areas, inadequate water coverage and inefficient water supply management during peak summers. Also, there have been cases of old and inefficient assets, unavailability of capital that is required for expansion of infrastructure and lack of professional expertise. Low tariff rates and poor billing mechanism also act as impediments.
However, water boards need to take steps to ensure 24×7 water supply. IT will play a key role in this by standardising processes and helping utility service providers to forecast and manage water networks in a more efficient way.