Factors such as leakages and non-billed consumption due to damaged meters have become a key concern for many Indian cities. These factors result in a mismatch in water supply and consumption levels, thereby resulting in high non-revenue water (NRW). In India, the share of NRW in the total water supplied ranges between 40 per cent and 45 per cent on an average.
Currently, the majority of Indian cities have non-metered water supply connections. Water utilities charge either a fixed water tariff based on the ferrule size or a fixed percentage of the property tax. Cities such as Delhi, Nagpur, Bengaluru, Chennai and Ahmedabad have partial metered water connections. Most urban local bodies have installed manual water meters which are currently lying dysfunctional. In the past four to five years, with the launch of government programmes such as AMRUT, the Jal Jeevan Mission and the Smart Cities Mission, initiatives have been taken to ensure 100 per cent metering of water supply as well as the replacement of manual meters with advanced metering infrastructure.
Many city corporations have started taking up projects to improve the water supply system by adopting smart metering solutions. The Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) has installed around 0.3 million new water meters and replaced over 680 km of pipelines under the 24×7 water supply project. Further, the NMC is planning to install around 60,000 new meters in the city. In another development, the Nashik Municipal Smart City Development Corporation has planned to replace 7,000 old water meters with new supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) meters as a pilot project in industrial areas within the jurisdiction of the Nashik Municipal Corporation. This number was later increased to 12,000 water meters for commercial consumers in the city. In May 2022, the municipal corporation issued a work order to a Mumbai-based agency to install these SCADA water meters. The work on the water meters is planned to commence in the next two months and is set to be completed within the next two years. If this pilot project is successful, then the water meters of nearly 20 million residential consumers in Nashik will be replaced with SCADA meters.
Pending for over four years, the Noida Authority plans to install smart water meters in Noida under a pilot project. The objective of the project is to end water wastage and bring in more transparency in the billing system. The authority plans to install 5,000 smart meters under this project. In December 2021, Bengaluru-based company BCITS Private Limited was finalised to execute this pilot project. Apart from providing smart water meters, BCITS will also set up the entire advanced metering infrastructure in the city. This infrastructure would help make the entire procedure and billing process technology-driven. The authority has set aside a budget of around Rs 95 million for this project.
In a bid to achieve 100 per cent metering of water supplied, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) plans to review its existing policy on water meters. It intends to replace older meters with AMR meters. Between 2010 and 2016, the BMC installed 95,000 AMR meters in the city. Following a spike in complaints about the faulty reading from mechanical meters and cases of theft, the corporation decided to revise the rules and penalties for testing, repair and theft of water meters in the city. Under the revised rules, if there is any doubt that a meter is not working properly, or has been tampered with, the meter will be removed by the BMC for testing. The cost of meters ranges from Rs 11,000 to Rs 23,000 depending on size (15 mm, 20 mm and 25 mm). Meters for 80 mm lines cost around Rs 69,000.
In an attempt to increase revenues, the Hyderabad Municipal Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMSW&SB) has decided to fix AMR ultrasonic meters for all high-consumption and non-domestic consumers. It is expected that these meters will help in securing accurate readings and in improving revenues. The mechanical meters that are currently in use do not provide accurate reading and can also be tampered with. By installing these state-of-the-art meters, physical visits to the premises of consumers to take the reading can be avoided. The responsibility of maintaining these meters will be entrusted to private agencies for five years. Despite it being mandatory to have AMR meters in every household, only a few residents have complied with this key norm in the city. As per the HMSWSB, currently, only 0.38 million out of a total of 1.2 million households have AMR meters in the city.
In another notable development, the Kerala Water Authority has started a new facility that will save meter readers from the tedious job of making door-to-door visits to take readings and hands out bills manually. Users will now know the water bill on their mobile phones with the help of self-reading software and can pay the amount online. Further, in June 2022, the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation (CCMC) floated a tender for procuring, installing and maintaining SCADA systems and bulk flow meters in the added areas of the city. The number of wards in the CCMC was raised from 60 to 100 about a decade ago. The civic body found it difficult to supply adequate water to the 40 newly added wards. Smart water supply systems including SCADA and bulk flow meters will be installed at an estimated investment of Rs 53.6 million to sort out the water supply distribution issues in the city. The scope of work includes installing and maintaining a total of 113 bulk flow meters with SCADA systems. In addition to that, 79 bulk flow meters will be procured and installed later.
Smart water meters help monitor water usage in real time. Over 420 houses in an apartment in Bengaluru recently adopted smart water flow meters that are helping them check their water usage. These smart water meters have helped resolve another issue of a common bill footed to every household in the apartment. With these individual meters, each household gets charged separately depending on its respective consumption level. Following this, the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board introduced regulations that require individual flats in apartments to install internal water meters, to ensure that the resource is used judiciously.
To address the erratic water supply problem in the country, continuous water supply projects need to be implemented. These projects should undertake improvement of the existing water infrastructure, leakage detection and NRW reduction through adequate technological interventions. India aims to bring its NRW levels below 20 per cent in the coming years. Water authorities across the country have started taking initiatives to reduce NRW levels, plug leakages and get rid of illegal connections, using advanced techniques such as advanced metering infrastructure systems. These modules can take readings of water consumption on an hourly basis to ensure that the pressure is at a safe level. As a result, the amount of water that these water utilities must pump and treat to meet the growing demand will be reduced.
Going forward, remote monitoring and control technologies such as SCADA and AMR ultrasonic meters should be used to not only conserve and maintain the quality of water but also to create a sustainable and scalable water economy for water utilities in the future.