Enhanced Delivery: Advanced technologies help improve water supply reliability in the Philippines

Advanced technologies help improve water supply reliability in the Philippines

The significant economic and population growth in recent years has led to water supply becoming one of the foremost concerns in Cebu. The island city in the Philippines is served by the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD), which has been facing issues in measuring various parameters of water supply, like flow, overflow and leakage. Large quantities of treated water are lost due to overflow and leakage. The uneven distribution of water supply (in terms of hours and pressure) and an acute dependence on groundwater resources are the other factors affecting its operations.

Over the past decade or so, MCWD has managed to improve its operational performance and service delivery by reducing water wastage, rehabilitating infrastructure, and monitoring resources. The non-revenue water (NRW) component of the total water supply has declined to around 24 per cent, while the national average is about 38 per cent. Its production capacity has increased at a compound annual growth rate of about 3 per cent, from 166,120 cubic metres per day in 2006 to over 210,000 cubic metres per day in 2014. This is despite the absence of any increase in water charges during the period under consideration. In January 2015, the water distribution rate, which had previously been 43 per cent, increased to 46 per cent.

Improving water supply

The city’s main source of water supply is groundwater drawn from wells. It also taps surface water from dams constructed along the major rivers. However, the groundwater resources that meet more than 75 per cent of the total demand are nearly completely utilised.

Over the past few years, MCWD has been actively working to expand its water supply area and increase water production to meet the needs of the growing population. To reduce excessive groundwater extraction, it has invested in the monitoring and efficient utilisation of groundwater resources. The utility conducted a water pressure monitoring and supply management study to ensure equitable distribution of water in Metro Cebu, the city’s main urban centre, and further improve MCWD’s system recovery rate. It also established water laboratories to test the quality of water produced by treatment plants.

With the objective of improving the reliability of water supply and reducing NRW, MCWD commenced a massive rehabilitation programme to plug and replace obsolete mains and pipelines. The utility also became a part of the Asian Development Bank’s Water Operators’ Partnership Programme in June 2008. Under this, MCWD worked with City West Water, a water utility in Melbourne, Australia, to improve its operational performance and reduce the level of NRW. In August 2014, it adopted the stub-out system for meters, which involves a single meter stand that supports multiple meters, reducing service lines and the possibility of leaks in the pipeline network. By doing this, MCWD was able to reduce its NRW from 30 per cent in 2009 to 24 per cent in 2014. In addition, it replaced old pumps with newer, more energy-efficient ones to cut down on power usage.

The utility also adopted strategies to improve the efficiency of water use by introducing a groundwater model, which is a scientific tool to forecast groundwater supply through the regular collection and monitoring of data from MCWD’s service areas. This has helped the utility keep a tab on groundwater utilisation and plan water supply expansion projects. MCWD also introduced the first radio-based supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system in the Philippines to monitor the operations of some of its well fields.

The utility’s endeavours to monitor water resources and rehabilitate pipeline infrastructure are part of its overall efforts to reduce the exploitation of freshwater resources. In this regard, the Japan International Cooperation Agency signed a grant agreement with the Philippines government in April 2015 for providing up to 1,165 million yen as assistance for the Project for Improvement of Water Supply System in Metropolitan Cebu Water District. Under this, a SCADA system will be installed to provide real-time information on parameters like flow meters, pressure gauges, water level gauges and non-suspension piping construction. This will help MCWD to continuously monitor water supply, optimise water distribution and resolve customer grievances in an efficient manner. The system is expected to be operationalised by February 2016.

The above-mentioned project has been jointly awarded to Yokogawa Solution Service Corporation and Hitachi Limited. As per the contract, Yokogawa Solution Service will be responsible for engineering the SCADA system, setting up a water leakage management system, and installing flow meters and other types of field instruments at 143 locations. Hitachi Limited, on the other hand, will function as the liaison with MCWD and oversee the implementation of the project.

To ensure that the SCADA system is properly established, the project has a provision of technical support for water distribution management and the operations and maintenance of installed equipment utilising technologies that are employed by Japanese municipalities. The SCADA system will enable MCWD to continually monitor the status of water supply operations throughout the Metro Cebu district system via a central server.

It will also allow MCWD to identify areas with low water pressure and act on this information promptly, as well as remotely switch on or switch off pumps and close or open valves. Through the system, the utility will be able to deliver prompt responses to consumer enquiries and complaints. Another tangible benefit of the SCADA system is the increase in the awareness and alertness of the staff regarding the difficulties in supplying water.

The way forward

Water demand is expected to rise in tandem with population growth and economic development. With this in mind, the utility has formulated ambitious plans to expand the capacities of its existing infrastructure facilities as well as enhance access to water supply. MCWD plans to increase its water service connections by 15,211 in 2015 and 15,589 in 2016. It also plans to reduce NRW to 23.11 per cent in 2015 and 21.49 per cent in 2016.

Using the revenue accrued through tariff revision, MCWD is planning to increase its water production capacity by 29,500 cubic metres in 2015 and 17,000 cubic metres in 2016. The pipeline network is also expected to increase by 41.98 km in 2015 and 4.62 km in 2016. Meanwhile, MCWD plans to increase its water service coverage to 60 per cent of the domestic water demand and 80 per cent of the commercial water demand by 2020. These targets can only be achieved by adopting better technologies and improving management systems.

In the long term, these initiatives are expected to strengthen the water supply system and enable effective delivery of services. The utility will have to continue keeping a sharp eye on its operational efficiencies and expand its customer base to grow profitably.