The Kerala Water Authority (KWA) is the principal supplier of quality drinking water and wastewater services in the state, serving a customer base of more than 1.8 million. Even though most parts of the state have abundant water resources, its water distribution system has been stressed due to the rising proportion of water losses as a result of leakages, theft and inaccurate meter readings. Despite KWA incurring huge expenses on water supply operations, its revenue generation has remained fairly low.
To address these issues by detecting leakages and other losses, the authority has adopted a number of innovative and effective solutions. The key technologies that have been adopted include Sahara® leak and gas pocket detection (Sahara®), SmartBall® water main leak detection (SmartBall®), and analytics and mobility solutions. These solutions have helped KWA effectively reduce manual work and improve transparency in the delivery of services.
NRW management initiatives
Over the years, KWA has undertaken several initiatives for improving the city’s water supply. However, the high proportion of non-revenue water (NRW), which has been estimated at 50 per cent of the total water supply, continues to be a major problem. According to the latest report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Thiruvananthapuram alone has an NRW component of 40.76 per cent. During 2013 and 2014, KWA’s NRW Management Cell introduced some advanced leakage detection technologies to eliminate physical leakages in the water supply network.
Prior to this initiative, KWA started carrying out water audits through the NRW Management Cell to determine the level of revenue loss from leakages, theft, etc. The water audit conducted by KWA in Thiruvananthapuram estimated the revenue loss from NRW to be more than Rs 260 million in 2012-13. Meanwhile, a water audit of the supply schemes in Kochi recorded a water loss of 50 per cent during transmission. About 20 per cent of this was due to theft, 20 per cent due to incorrect meter readings, and the remaining 10 per cent due to unattended water leaks in distribution lines. To conceptualise an appropriate leakage detection mechanism as well as track, record, map and repair leakages in the pipeline network in a proper manner, KWA decided to engage Delhi-based Four ITS Private Limited, which executes its work through Canada-based Pure Technologies and Manila-based Maynilad Water Services, Inc.
The primary objective of this endeavour was to control frequent leakages in the water supply system by adopting advanced detection technologies like Sahara® and SmartBall®. The SmartBall® leak detection system comprises an instrument-filled aluminium alloy core capable of detecting and locating small leaks and air pockets in live water mains. It is inserted into a pipeline so that it can travel with the water and collect information on leakage points. The cost of one such device is about Rs 650,000. The Sahara® leak detection technology, on the other hand, is a wired technique to detect air traps, leaks and unauthorised tappings. The technology involves shooting videos of pipe interiors with the use of sensors, which comprise small drag chutes that use the flow of water to draw the sensors through the pipeline, recording visuals on the way. The cost of this technology is estimated to be Rs 900 per metre.
KWA implemented these two technologies in phases. In the first phase, they were deployed to detect leakages in a 20 km pipeline stretch in Thiruvananthapuram, a 10 km pipeline in Kochi, and a 6 km pipeline in Pathanamthitta. Later, KWA allowed the inspection of another 110 km stretch of pipelines. During 2013-14, a total of Rs 30 million was released for the implementation of these technologies.
This project has helped KWA efficiently track and repair leakages in its transmission network. The technologies have facilitated the monitoring of small leakages in large transmission pipelines and also helped the authority understand the non-utility of the criss-cross connection at Peeroorkada, which was hampering the flow of water to the Observatory reservoir. It had earlier been believed that a block between Peroorkada and Vellayambalam had obstructed the flow of water but the tests conducted with Sahara® technology proved that the main reason was the criss-cross nature of the connection.
KWA has also launched a scheme to install bulk meters across various locations in the state for assessing and checking leakages in the water distribution network. The authority is planning to replicate the model adopted by the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) for tracking revenue loss. KSEB had installed meters in transformers to compare the rate with domestic connections. KWA has proposed the installation of meters at all the major water treatment plants in the state with a treatment capacity of over 5 million litres per day. For this purpose, it has been estimated that about 1,800 meters will be required. To begin with, the authority plans to install only 147 bulk meters in Thiruvananthapuram, Kottayam, Ernakulam and Kozhikode. They will be installed at the entry levels of major tanks at the Observatory, PTP Nagar, Peroorkada and various other locations in the old transmission lines. Apart from assessing the total volume of water that is released, they will also measure parameters like pressure, pH and flow.
The authority is also undertaking dedicated efforts for reducing water losses in cities that have an NRW component of more than 30 per cent. In 2014, KWA started preparing a three-dimensional map of the pipelines in Kochi’s distribution system, based on the geographic information system (GIS). At present, the city has a total distribution network of 1,500 km. The GIS-based map will not just aid the measurement of overall production and distribution through the transmission mains but also help correlate it with the actual amount of revenue collection to determine the city’s NRW component. In the long run, this is expected to increase operational efficiency and enhance customer satisfaction.
To further reduce the level of transmission and distribution losses in Thiruvananthapuram, KWA is deploying IBM’s analytics and mobility solutions. As part of the initiative, a water management centre will be established using IBM’s intelligent water software. The aim of this will be to bring all the distribution and consumption data from the meters to a central dashboard where water usage can be effectively monitored and managed. The advanced system will provide the authority with a unified and real-time view of the transmission and consumption of water across the city. It will be equipped with smart sensors that send alerts and notifications to engineers in the event of any change in the usage or consumption pattern. These smart sensors will be installed throughout the water treatment process, enabling KWA to measure water turbidity, salinity, conductivity, and pH and chlorine levels on a real-time basis.
KWA has been deploying advanced IT techniques and solutions over the past one or two years with the aim of curbing transmission losses and reducing the average rate of NRW. Since the majority of these initiatives are currently at the initial implementation or planning stage, they are yet to show any significant impact on the water supply system. In the near future, these initiatives are expected to significantly reduce leakages and water theft, and improve the operational efficiency of KWA’s water supply system. The successful implementation of these initiatives will also expand the scope for other technologies and solutions for improving water supply.