Bringing Down Losses: ULB initiatives to reduce NRW

ULB initiatives to reduce NRW

Non-revenue water (NRW) is one of the biggest challenges faced by urban local bodies (ULBs). The factors that contribute to this are tampered or damaged meters, worn-out pipes, water theft, unmetered water connections, etc. This leads to high NRW levels, which currently average 40-45 per cent.

Speaking at a recent webinar on “Reducing NRW: ULB’s Perspective,” hosted by Indian Infrastructure, Shalabh Kumar, member, water supply, Delhi Jal Board (DJB);  M. Satyanarayana, executive director, Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB); Rajiv K.N., additional chief engineer, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB); Pradipto Sarkar, director, NJS Engineers India and Amit Vaidya, strategic accounts director, Sensus – A Xylem Company discussed the state of water supply, current NRW levels, initiatives taken to reduce NRW, and future plans and strategies. Excerpts from the discussion…


Delhi has a population of around 30 million, besides floating population. Of the total water demand of 1,150 million gallons per day, DJB has a supplying of 935 million gallons per day, resulting in water shortage. The current revenue collection of DJB is around Rs 18.60 billion per annum. This is largely due to a large number of unmetered water connections. The sanctioned water connections in the city stand at 2.5 million.

DJB has been undertaking a plethora of initiatives to reduce NRW levels. In 2012, it awarded the contract for distribution and revenue collection three areas (Malaviya Nagar, Vasant Vihar and Nangloi) to private contractors on a pilot basis. As a result, the NRW level in Malaviya Nagar reduced from 45 per cent to 30 per cent.

With assistance from the Asian Development Bank and Japan International Cooperation Agency, DJB has divided the entire city into 1,010 district metered areas (DMAs) to reduce NRW. Of these, work on 160 DMAs has already been awarded. Besides, consultancy works for around 598 DMAs have been awarded and are expected to be completed by end 2020. The board aims to bring the NRW level from the current level of 45 per cent to around 10-15 per cent. It plans to install smart meters in DMAs and integrate them with a centralised monitoring system in a span of two years.

One of the biggest challenges faced by DJB in project implementation is detecting the actual sources of NRW. Due to many unstructured and unauthoried colonies, dividing the city into DMAs has been another challenge. With Delhi being a Union Territory, DJB has to secure approvals from various departments for implementing projects. Inter-departmental coordination issues further add to bottlenecks, often leading to project delays.


The city of Hyderabad has 100 per cent house-to-house connections. Apart from the core city area, adjoining municipalities spread over an area of 496 square km also come under the purview of HMWSSB. An additional area on the outer ring road of the city has been added under HMWSSB for water supply. The major sources of water supply for Hyderabad are the Krishna and Godavari rivers.

As per water supply norms, HMWSSB supplies 150 litres per capita per day (lpcd) of water in the core city area and 135 lpcd in other areas. The city has a revenue billing system and is able to bill a quantity of 317 million gallons of water from 1.08 million household connections (domestic, commercial, bulk and other categories). As per data from the last 12 months, NRW levels in the city ranged from 27.27 per cent to 36.6 per cent. In particular, NRW levels stood at 28.64 per cent in March 2020.

As part of its future plans, HMWSSB aims to reduce the overall NRW levels in the city to 10 per cent, besides ensuring 100 per cent metering, geo-tagging every household and sending SMS alerts for providing water supply information. One of the most successful initiatives undertaken by HMWSSB has been awarding the management, operations and maintenance contract of water treatment plants (WtPs) to private contractors. By engaging private players, HMWSSB has been able to achieve optimum efficiency levels along with ensuring ideal functioning of WtPs. Besides, phase-wise installation of automatic meter reading (AMR), radio-frequency identification and a global system for mobile communication meters have helped HMWSSB in maintaining its efficiency levels.

HMWSSB has also undertaken a number of smart initiatives to keep NRW levels low. The key ones are mapping the entire pipeline network and dividing them into hydraulic zones, mapping revenue generation docket-wise and matching supply dockets with revenue dockets, and auditing water use efficiency of households, among others. Besides, HMWSSB has engaged non-governmental organisations and undertaken door-to-door campaigns for spreading awareness about water conservation.


BWSSB has a total service area of 800 square km, with 200 square km being recently added. In the 600 square km area, BWSSB has around one million metered water connections. The bulk water supply which the city gets from a distance of about 100 km is also metered. BWSSB supplies a total of 1,440 million litres per day of water to its population of 13 million.

BWSSB aims to service the recently added 200 square km of area and expects an additional five million connections by 2025 from that area. It also aims to increase its revenue from the current levels of Rs 14.40 billion per annum to Rs 18 billion per annum. With regard to NRW, the city corporation intends to reduce it from 35 per cent to 25 per cent by 2030.

BWSSB is optimistic about the achievement of its NRW target on the back of the projects undertaken to serve the core areas during 2013-15. The scope of work of the projects involves three years of capital work and five years of maintenance, which is scheduled to be completed by end-2020. Another initiative undertaken by BWSSB to reduce the NRW level is the replacement of old pipes. It is planning to replace the old pipes in the 200 square km city area soon.

In order to detect the sources of NRW, BWSSB undertook an extensive study on about 150 square km area with 5 lakh connections in 2013. The study found that one of the key reasons for high NRW level is extremely old water connections and pipes. In fact, 8-9 per cent of NRW in the area is due to leakages from old pipes. Leakages from old reservoirs and faulty/old meters with a slow reading process are other reasons for high NRW levels. To tackle this problem and calculate actual water consumption, BWSSB has proposed to replace all meters once in seven months.

So far, BWSSB has installed 1,200 DMA meters and 8,000 AMR meters for apartment and bulk connections. The city corporation has also installed a centralised supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) monitoring system, which directly records readings from DMA and AMR meters and provides useful insights.

In sum

Greater automation and the adoption of smart technologies is of utmost importance for reducing NRW. This would not only bring down physical losses but also ensure accurate water billing and reduce unmetered and illegal water connections. Accurate billing based on actual consumption would, in turn, ensure transparency and enhance the revenue generation capacity of ULBs. Other than smart meters, digital initiatives such as the installation of SCADA can improve the operational health of ULBs by controlling water flow at source. Timely completion of projects is equally important for achieving ambitious targets and plans.