Urban Water Management: Best practices and technologies in Southeast Asia

Best practices and technologies in Southeast Asia

Recognising the need for modern infrastructure facilities and improved service delivery, many Southeast Asian countries have turned to advanced technological solutions for efficient water supply management. Over the past decade, most governments have launched projects to deploy advanced flow and pressure management systems, leak detection devices, and asset management systems. The results of these initiatives have been quite encouraging. Cities like Singapore, Manila, Bangkok and Penang have been witnessing impressive growth rates on most key parameters. These include bill collection efficiency, reduction in non-revenue water (NRW), water availability and quality, metering of connections and leakage control.

Some of the successful initiatives are the GeoViewer Online system installed in Manila, integrated water leakage management applications (iWLMAs) deployed by the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (MWA) in Thailand, and water network management and water quality monitoring systems in Singapore.

In addition, a few cities in the region have engaged private entities to improve service delivery and introduce professional and technical expertise in water supply management. This has resulted in some noteworthy improvements in operational performance, such as reduction in water losses, expansion of the customer base and improvement in billing and revenue collection mechanisms. Some of these deals involve the privatisation of water supply services in Penang (Malaysia), Metro Manila (the Philippines) and Bangkok (Thailand).

Smart Utilities takes a look at some of the best practices in urban water supply management adopted by leading economies in the region to improve access to water supply…

R&D investments yield effective water treatment solutions in Singapore

Although Singapore has limited freshwater resources, it has managed to provide piped water access to all its residents. The development of alternative processes such as the production of NEWater (reclaimed wastewater), desalination and variable salinity has helped the city state reduce its dependence on the diminishing freshwater sources. Currently, about 55 per cent of the country’s total water demand is met through these processes.

Singapore’s national water agency, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) has been actively involved in  augmenting the existing water supply system and identifying alternative sources of supply. In 2002, PUB launched a research and development (R&D) programme to formulate cost- effective and advanced water treatment solutions for meeting the growing demand. Over the past decade, the water agency has undertaken over 300 R&D projects worth S$200 million.

The utility has adopted an integrated water network management system that comprises a good quality network, active leakage controls, accurate metering practices, strict legislation on illegal siphoning and customer relationship management. To enhance the performance of the transmission and distribution network, PUB constantly identifies leak-prone water mains for replacement under the Mains Renewal Programme. In addition, the utility conducts regular workshops to ensure that in-service testing of meters is carried out periodically in order to verify their accuracy. Highlighting the success of the agency’s initiatives, Chong Hou Chun, director, Water Supply Network, PUB, says, “PUB has created sustainable work processes that have, in turn, enabled Singapore to achieve an unaccounted-for-water rate of about 5 per cent, one of the lowest in the world.”

PUB has also taken initiatives to improve customer satisfaction. It has developed a mobile application called MyWaters, for IOS, Android and Windows phones. This application provides SMS alerts to the public pertaining to water levels in dams, flood situation, etc. A computerised billing mechanism incorporates an investigation and report system that can be used to verify meter readings.

Its accomplishments notwithstanding, the Singapore government continues to improve water supply services. Since 2006, the government has invested more than S$470 million in strengthening research and technological development in the water supply industry. The city state has attracted some of the world’s dominant players in the water supply sector, such as Israel-based Desalitech, US-based Xylem and Germany-based Siemens, thus enabling it to gain access to advanced technologies and best practices in urban water management. At the same time, domestic companies like Hyflux Limited and United Envirotech have expanded their portfolio by venturing into water-related projects outside Singapore.

Privatisation strategy pays off in the Philippines

The private sector has played a prominent role in the development of the water supply industry in the Philippines. The government has relied on private players to improve service provision and bring in professional and technical expertise to manage infrastructure facilities. Metro Manila, the national capital region of the Philippines, has developed one of the most successful privatisation models in the sector. In 1997, the government privatised the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System. The privatisation process involved the auctioning of two 25-year concession contracts through competitive bidding. The Manila Water Company (MWC) was selected to provide water and wastewater treatment and distribution and collection services for the east zone, while Maynilad Water Services was chosen for the west zone. Both the concessionaires have been making substantial investments in improving and expanding their infrastructure facilities.

One of the notable initiatives of Maynilad has been its aggressive NRW reduction programme. In 2013, the company invested about PHP 2 billion on this programme to reduce physical and commercial water losses. The company used several advanced leak detection technologies such as Bentley’s WaterGEMS technology, Sahara®’s mobile leak detection system and the Aquascan Trunk Main leak noise correlator to detect leaks in its distribution network. Maynilad also established a geographic information system (GIS) department to update and validate the geographical locations of its pipes and laterals. This system enables the company to locate and decommission deteriorated pipes, search for possible leaks and measure the extent of its pipe-laying activities efficiently.

MWC has also made changes in the operation and management of water supply services. The level of system losses, as measured by NRW, has declined to 12.2 per cent. The company has installed i20 Water’s advanced pressure management solutions to lower energy consumption and save a significant amount of water through reduced leakage. MWC follows a billed volume maximisation system that combines adjusting operations based on consumer demand and savings on power cost by optimising the settings of water facilities. MWC has also set up an enterprise GIS to better manage its water supply and wastewater operations. GeoViewer Online, a web-based GIS application. has been developed to provide information on asset management, network efficiency, project proposals and reports. A customer care and billing system has been integrated with GIS to improve customer service.

The two companies have expanded their footprint in the Philippines, with the acquisition of major stakes in cities/areas outside their legislative jurisdiction.

Public and private sector collaboration in Thailand

In Thailand, the two main agencies responsible for the sourcing, production and distribution of piped water are MWA and the Provincial Waterworks Authority (PWA). While MWA provides piped water to Bangkok, Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan, PWA serves provinces outside Bangkok. In addition, local authorities are in charge of supplying non-piped water to rural households.

The government has also engaged private sector companies to supply bulk water, manage water treatment plants (WTPs) and distribution systems, reduce water losses, increase water production capacity, and introduce advanced technological tools at waterworks. In addition, PWA has set up water supply companies in collaboration with district and subdistrict administrative organisations to provide drinking water services to municipalities and small islands. A few of these water supply companies, such as the East Water Group and Thai Tap Water Supply, have prospered as a result of the privatisation. These companies have entered into long-term contracts with large industrial corporations for the construction and operation of wastewater reclamation plants, desalination plants and other water supply facilities. These projects have proven to be profitable due to the huge difference between the purchase and supply price of water.

Further, MWA has undertaken some notable initiatives to improve water supply. The civic agency has developed an automatic water quality monitoring system for real-time monitoring of treated water at its WTPs. A 24-hour call centre service registers consumer complaints related to water works. MWA has set up about 621 district metering areas, and installed remote terminal units and a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system to monitor water loss and manage consumption. It has also developed advanced software called iWLMA to manage the operation of the water reticulation system. The iWLMA provides eight modules that seamlessly interact with one another at various levels for effective water loss management. These modules include annual water balance, leakage management, night flow analysis, field services and support management, pressure management, infrastructure information management and management report.

PWA has also endeavoured to improve water quality and availability. It has installed a SCADA system to monitor water quality on a real-time basis. Through its partnerships with foreign utilities, such as Ranhill Utilities Berhad of Malaysia and the Water Corporation of Western Australia, PWA has sought to improve its water treatment and distribution operational efficiency by organising training programmes and adopting best practices.

Private sector measures to enhance water supply in Malaysia

Although the country is endowed with abundant freshwater resources, Malaysia faces spatial and seasonal variations in water availability. Due to the rising population and excessive pollution in waterbodies, the per capita water availability in the country has been decreasing.

The Malaysian government has introduced several policy, regulatory and institutional initiatives to improve water supply. It formulated the National Water Resources Policy in March 2012, which is aimed at ensuring adequate water supply and identifying alternative water sources. The integrated water resource management (IWRM) strategy has been incorporated into the country’s five-year development plans to manage the water demand of various competing sectors. Various training programmes and courses on IWRM have been introduced.

In addition, private players in big cities such as Kuala Lumpur have entered the sector to ensure the availability of safe drinking water for all. Companies such as Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang (PBAPP) and Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor Sdn Bhd (SYABAS) have made some noteworthy changes in the operation and management of water supply services. PBAPP, the private water operator in Penang, has invested in the rehabilitation of the existing pipeline system and the replacement of faulty meters. These moves have improved billing efficiency, as well as enhanced the accuracy of consumption measurement and NRW analysis.

Moreover, it imposes a water conservation surcharge on domestic consumers to discourage excessive consumption of water. The company is also working in collaboration with the local authorities to install water-saving devices throughout the state. PBAPP has also established the Penang Water Services Academy to conduct special training programmes and industry courses for its staff.

SYABAS, the private operator of the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur water distribution networks, has leveraged new technologies to raise the overall efficiency of the water industry. The company uses a computerised framework – the Integrated SYABAS Water Management Information System – to integrate all processes including supply, operations and maintenance, billing and collection, technology, R&D, and staff training. It has also developed a GIS-based mapping and water distribution asset registration system to improve network efficiency and asset management.

Moving forward with technological innovations 

Rapid population growth, combined with declining freshwater water resources in the region, is expected to drive the adoption of innovative technologies and the improvement of service delivery mechanisms. In order to provide sustainable water supply services, most governments have launched projects to incorporate advanced technologies and information systems into their water distribution networks. For instance, in December 2013, the Federation of Thai Industries and the Manufacturing Association of Israel signed an MoU to promote collaboration and the exchange of knowledge and experience in the field of water technologies. Earlier, in August 2013, the Philippines government partnered with the AECOM Technology Corporation to support good governance and expand the country’s water supply capacity. AECOM will provide innovative technical solutions to local stakeholders to help them improve their access to water services.

Further, water utilities/companies are employing advanced technology solutions to improve water supply management and streamline service delivery. Singapore’s PUB is working on a real-time water quality monitoring system that provides access to water quality data. As a part of the system, wireless sensor networks are being installed at different locations to collect a large volume of data based on different parameters of water quality and transmit it to a central server. PUB is also developing a smart water grid for the real-time acquisition of hydraulic and water quality information with monitoring and modelling applications. In the Philippines, MWC is stepping up efforts to fully integrate GIS with enterprise asset management by end-2014. Meanwhile, Maynilad is installing a telemetry system for centralised data acquisition and monitoring of different facilities throughout the distribution system.

Going forward, as most governments strive to improve infrastructure facilities to meet the increasing demand for water, better technologies and processes are likely to be developed. However, the success of these initiatives will depend on the capacity and financial health of utilities and local bodies, quality of manpower, rational tariff structures, and consumer awareness and adaptability to new technologies.