Building Resilience

Smart and sustainable water management solutions for cities

Water is the most essential compound that exists in the universe. It is re­quired in every industry, every community and every local ecosystem. According to the UN-Water Index, India is inferior to other co­untries in terms of access to safe water, with over 120 million households in the country still lacking access to safe water.

The water infrastructure in most of the Indian cities is old with vulnerable water distribution networks and ageing pipelines that are well beyond their life cycle but still in use. As of date, traditional water resources in India are facing serious challenges. Many large cities in India in­clu­ding Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hydera­bad have been affected by the shortage of water. The severe water crisis in Gurugram is known to all. The situation is deteriorating faster than ex­pec­ted and it is projected that more than 40 per cent of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030. Digital technologies are now being recognised as an imperative for sustainable water management as they enable water operators to build resilience. It is essential that cities develop smart and sustainable water management methods to ensure that water is distributed equitably.

At a Smart Utilities conference, “Digital Tech­nolo­gies for Water Network Management”, in­dustry experts spoke about the technological ad­vancements and digitalisation initiatives undertaken in the water sector. Excerpts…

Digital technologies such as internet of things (IoT), big data, artificial intelligence (AI), block­chain and machine learning (ML) can help in smart water management. The aim is to enable re­a­sonable and sustainable use of water resources through information and communication techno­logies to provide real-time, automated data, which will help resolve water-related challenges.

Digital interventions in water management can be implemented throughout the entire value chain, right from the sourcing of water to treatment, supply and getting the recycled water back to the natural resource. In terms of raw water intake, IoT-based sensors can be deployed for autonomous operation of water treatment plants and pumping stations. Water pumps that are ins­talled can be equipped with smart sensors. Other technological advancements that can be undertaken in­clude mapping of the water pipeline through the geographic information system (GIS), asset in­for­mation tagging and database creation, and in­tegration of water distribution systems into a centralised control room with the help of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA).

Government initiatives

The government has launched many prog­ram­mes to ensure that water in the country is supp­li­ed and consumed judiciously. With the launch of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation and the Smart Cities Mission in 2015, many urban local bodies and water autho­rities took initiatives to deploy digital technologies in the management of water infrastructure and distribution. These include the deployment of smart water meters and flowmeters, and use of smart water leakage detection techniques in or­der to enable real-time monitoring of the water infrastructure. Smart water meters allow water authorities to gauge the real-time water requirement of households.

Under the Smart Cities Mission, a handful of cities have introduced IoT in their industrial wa­ter network management. They have deployed 3D network modelling solutions, which revolve around data-driven decision-making, enabling industries to manage their water resources better based on real-time information.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is working on deploying advanced, efficient and smart water technologies that can help deliver 300 million litres per day (mld) of drinking water supply to its 20 million inhabitants through effective monitoring and control. Schneider Electric is the main tech­nology provider to MCGM and provides au­toma­tion solutions to the centralised command centre of the corporation. The­se solutions are expected to improve operations, ensure effective business decision-making and streamline processes. They will also help in the integration of existing treatment pl­ants with the new command centre.

Nagpur has added some digital functionalities in its water network management. These include a 24×7 free helpline, an online bill payment facility, GPS tracking of tanker movement, and annual tank cleaning through indigenously developed technology. It has also mapped its water assets using GIS. GIS data can be used to obtain a route map of pipelines for new projects and augmentations. The city, however, faced some issues in the implementation of digital solutions, such as availability of expert manpower and cost escalations.

New initiatives

Technology companies, in collaboration with wa­ter utilities, have started introducing innovative digital solutions in India and internationally. For instance, IBM, in partnership with the Ban­galore Water Supply and Sewerage Board has collected data from every working flowmeter and prepared a real-time view of flowmeters, tra­cking key performance indicators such as the latest flow rate, total flow throughout the day and average total flow in a week. This enables the water utility to improve its efficiency. In an­other development, Hitachi has deployed solutions that apply information and control systems to coun­ter leaks in Japan.

The Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City) in India has been included in the central go­vernment’s Smart Cities Mission statement and guidelines as a model city for greenfield development. The city understands the importa­n­ce of 24×7 uninterrupted and reliable water supply to all consumers. As part of its smart water supply initiatives, the GIFT City aims to minimise interruptions/breakdowns, maximise reliability, and improve planning and scheduling of maintenance activities with state-of-the-art distribution auto­mation. Due consideration has also been given to providing water metering facilities. The city has deployed an IoT-controlled system for water management. It conveys potable water by pumping from the water treatment plant to the underground tanks of various individual buildings through the utility tunnel. Further, the entire water network in GIFT City is installed with motorised control valves, level transmitters and flowmeters. For providing potable water supply, the water collection system inside a developer’s building is equipped with a level transmitter, level switches and motorised valves. The open/close feedback of these three signals is connected to GIFT City’s IoT system for monitoring purposes. The moto­ri­sed valves in buildings will remain in an open po­sition till the water collection sump level is above 90 per cent, and will automatically close after that. The sewerage management system in the city is also connected to an IoT-controlled system.

The way ahead

Water utilities in India are currently at a criti­cal juncture wherein they are focusing on enhan­cing the existing infrastructure to improve the resilience of key operations, provide better services to their customers, enable equitable supply and curb water wastage. The government and policymakers are also taking a number of short- and long-term steps to increase water security and self-sufficiency in their economies. Digital interventions will have a positive impact on the water network of the country. They will help in better monitoring, reduce non-revenue water, en­able efficient and effective pump control, br­ing down energy costs, allow predictive management of assets, and reduce leaks and bursts.

Net, net, GIS mapping, SCADA, AI, ML and other emerging digital technologies have the potential to transform the functioning of water utilities by en­hancing the day-to-day water management and tackling the long-term water security challenges. Along with the implementation of digital techno­l­ogies, it is imperative that the water utilities chalk out a road map for digitalisation with customer and business outcomes as the focal points.