Investing in Technology: MWA’s initiatives improve water supply in Bangkok

MWA’s initiatives improve water supply in Bangkok

In Thailand, the two main agencies responsible for the sourcing, production and distribution of piped water are the Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (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 primary sources of drinking water in Thailand are surface water and groundwater. Currently, about 48 per cent of the population has access to piped water. Salinisation is a major problem in the north-eastern and southern parts of Thailand, which is caused by the intrusion of saline water into the aquifers due to excessive groundwater withdrawals. Further, high loading of pollutants from industrial activity has contributed to the degradation of water quality in the country.

Over the past decade or so, MWA has managed to bring some noteworthy changes in the operation and management of its water supply services. As a result, water sales increased from 1,282.4 million cubic metres (cum) (74.7 per cent of the total water production) in 2011 to 1,406.3 million cum (76.6 per cent) in 2015. The number of water connections also increased from 2.02 million  to over 2.23 million during the same period. Total revenues increased at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.22 per cent during 2011-15, while the total expenses recorded a CAGR of 1.78 per cent. Moreover, the non-revenue water (NRW) component of the total water supply declined to 23.37 per cent – the lowest in the country.

Measures to augment water supply

MWA has taken a number of steps to better manage its water treatment plants (WTPs) and distribution systems, reduce water losses and increase its water production capacity. Advanced IT solutions are being deployed to monitor water flow and pressure, manage water infrastructure, curb leakages, register complaints and improve customer satisfaction. The authority has also constituted an Information Technology Strategic Planning Subcommittee, which is responsible for providing in-depth IT information and recommendations, directing and formulating IT strategies to promote good governance, and monitoring IT administration.

These efforts are showing results. MWA’s total water production increased to 1,835.1 million cum in 2015 from 1,715.8 million cum in 2011. On an average, it produces 5.03 million cum of potable water per day. About 70 per cent of the water is sourced from the Chao Phraya river (Bhumibol and Sirikit dams), while the remaining 30 per cent comes from the Mae Klong dam. MWA serves a population of over 8 million through a distribution network of more than 33,180 km.

The authority has undertaken six water supply improvement projects to augment its water distribution system. Under these projects, MWA has set up four WTPs, at Bangkhen, Mahasawat, Samsen and Thonburi, with a maximum production capacity of 5.9 million cum per day. It is currently implementing the seventh and eighth water supply improvement projects.

To reduce excessive water consumption and wastage, MWA has invested in revamping the existing pipeline system. It has implemented works to replace obsolete pipelines to increase water pressure to 8.82 metres and reduce water loss to 23.37 per cent. MWA has replaced about 99 per cent of the old water supply pipelines that have been in service for years in order to enhance the quantity and quality of water supply and reduce the NRW. In addition, the authority has introduced the JD7 pipeline inspection and assessment technology to identify leakages in the water distribution network.

It has also developed an automatic water quality monitoring system for real-time monitoring of treated water at its WTPs. A 24-hour call centre service has been introduced to register consumer complaints related to water supply. The agency has adopted the water leakage application system for integrated water leakage management. In addition, district metering areas have been formed to ensure efficient monitoring of the water supply system.

Moreover, MWA has introduced a real-time monitoring and management system to reduce water losses resulting from damage to pipes and equipment, and inaccurate water meters. It uses Yokogawa’s STARDOM FCJ controllers along with pressure transmitters, magnetic flow meters and ultrasonic flow meters at key points throughout its distribution network. This enables MWA to collect data from widely dispersed block stations and monitor leakages using a leakage check algorithm. MWA also uses ABB’s water leakage management software to determine water loss levels in district metered areas across the Greater Bangkok area. This enables the authority to monitor flow and pressure data at 1,000 measuring points and transmit it to a central control centre. It also helps in tracking leakages at joints and fittings as well as large-scale bursts. These technological solutions have helped MWA reduce the level of NRW from as high as 40 per cent in 2000 to 23.37 per cent in 2015.

Further, MWA uses geographic information system-based maps for the installation of new water pipelines and replacement of obsolete or faulty pipes. The authority has also launched the onMobile application that allows customers to report and send photographs of damaged or leaking pipelines. The application locates the exact area of damage and notifies the maintenance section of the MWA branch for further action. It also provides information pertaining to water cuts, weak water flow areas, location of MWA branch offices and customer data.

In an attempt to improve revenue collection and promote transparency in its operations, the authority has undertaken and planned several IT-related initiatives. It has set up eight drive-through payment service stations, where people can pay water bills and service fees. The customer can also obtain information regarding pending water bills, temporary water suspension and other information via email or sms.

The way forward

With water demand slated to rise in tandem with population growth and economic development, MWA has formulated ambitious plans to tap other surface water sources like the Upper Chao Phraya river basin in Chainat and expand the capacity of its existing infrastructure facilities. MWA plans to invest 45 billion baht over the next seven years to increase production and storage. It has also started discussions on a 30-year plan to forecast water demand, identify water sources and prevent salt water intrusion.

In December 2015, MWA awarded the contract to develop and operate a 110,000 cum per day capacity filtration facility to TTW Public Company, Mitsui & Co. and CH. Karnchang Public. The plant, which will be based on membrane technology, is expected to start operations by 2017. Further, the authority is planning to invest in the water supply system through the ninth water supply improvement project. The objective of this project is to ensure adequate quality water supply as well as to enhance stability in the water production and transmission system. The project is expected to be completed by 2022. These projects will offer significant market opportunities for technology and IT solution providers.

The IT initiatives taken by MWA have played a vital role in managing and improving Bangkok’s water supply system. The success of these initiatives will act as a catalyst for other technological initiatives aimed at improving the management of water resources and increasing customer satisfaction.