Harnessing Data: Focus on the digitalisation of water supply systems

Focus on the digitalisation of water supply systems

Water, one of the most abundantly ava­i­l­able natural resources, has unfortunately also become the most abused resource of the planet. India is endowed with 4 per cent of the world’s total available fresh water. The main source of fresh water in the country is the annual precipitation in the form of rainfall, snowfall and melted glaciers. Of the annual precipitation of 4,000 bcm, only 1,150 bcm of fresh water is retained on the land surface, with the remaining being lost due to evaporation and surface run-off. Sector-wise, 75 per cent water is consumed by agriculture and irrigation, 8 per cent by industry, 7 per cent by the residential sector and the rest by the environment, navigation, and other sectors.

The trends in water supply in India show an increase from 72,075 mld in 2015-16 to 90,585 mld in 2020-21, registering a compound annual growth rate of 4.68 per cent. As per the latest updates, 600 million people in India are still facing water shortage; 163 million still have no access to safe, clean drinking water; and 6 per cent of the country’s GDP is likely to be affected if the water situation is not corrected. With the growing demand for water in the country, it is essential that initiatives such as 24×7 water supply, and sewage and septage treatment and management are incorporated in a significant manner.

At a recent webinar on “Smart Water Supply Infra­structure”, organised by Indian Infrastruc­ture and Bentley Systems, various industry ex­perts discussed the Atal Mission for Reju­ve­nation and Ur­ban Transformation (AMRUT) 2.0, highlighted the emerging needs and requirements, and ass­e­ssed the scope for adoption of digital technology solutions to meet the mission objectives. Excerpts…

AMRUT was launched as the first focused national water mission in 2015, with a total mission outlay of Rs 1,000 billion. It aimed to facilitate ease of living for citizens in 500 cities by providing tap and sewer connections. With the launch of AMRUT 2.0 in October 2021, the need to work on water conservation, irrigation, rainwater harvesting, wastewater treatment and desalination of seawater was brought into focus. The mission aims to make around 4,700 towns “wa­ter secu­re”. It mandates access to clean water for all citizens, rejuvenation of wa­ter bodies, better management of aquifers, and reuse of treated wastewater, thereby promoting a circular economy of water. AMRUT 2.0 also promotes public-private partnership (PPP). Cities with million-plus populations have been mandated to take up PPP projects worth a minimum of 10 per cent of their total project fund allocation. These projects can use the annuity/hybrid annuity/ build-operate-transfer model.

Focus on 24×7 water supply

Under AMRUT 2.0, all 500 AMRUT cities are ma­n­dated to undertake reforms through 24×7 water supply projects with the “drink from tap” facility. Each project should cover at least one ward or district metered area (DMA) with at least 2,000 households. The budget of such 24×7 water supply projects should be 20 per cent of the project fund allocation for water supply projects in AMRUT cities. Additional funds will be ad­missible in the form of reform incentives.

The key technical tools that are essential for transformation to 24×7 pressurised water supply systems include hydraulic modelling, geographic information system (GIS) mapping, and implementation of DMAs and 100 per cent metering. While GIS helps find illegal connections, hydraulic modelling helps in rehabilitation of the water network. DMAs and metering will enable pressure management, leakage ma­nagement and measure consumption, and help in revenue collection. Implementing a 24×7 water supply system also helps in the reduction of non-revenue water (NRW) by 15 per cent. At present, only two towns in the country have successfully implemented continuous water supply. Malkapur is the only town that has had sustained 24×7 water supply for the past 10 years, while Puri has recently switched to a 24×7 water supply system.

Recently, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs set up a National Task Force to create mo­mentum to achieve the goal. In order to ensure that 24×7 water supply, systems are in place in at least one DMA with 2,000 households. But action needs to be taken at the state and city levels as well, for which task forces should be set up at each level of governance. The state task force (STF) should carry out GIS and hydraulic modelling training for the city task force (CTF), thereby building capacity amongst all stakeholders. The STF should also create adequate provisions for this in the state’s budget. It should make policies to enable 100 per cent water metering throughout the state and regulate tariffs using telescopic rates based on volumetric consumption. Metering is a key as­pe­ct of 24×7 water supply systems, as it helps measure the consumed water.

The CTF should take actions at the city level and hold training programmes for engineers and staff. Detailed procedures should be outlined for the initiation of 24×7 water supply in a single DMA and highlighted as an immediate task, and work should be carried out accordingly. It should also appoint consultants for the preparation of the detailed project report (DPR).

The consultant should be tasked with preparing GIS-based asset management of the entire water infrastructure, depending on the type of data available with the city. The existing data network should be converted into a GIS-ready georeferenced format so that infrastructure de­velopment decisions can be taken. GIS mapping will en­sure that areas for laying new pipe­lines are easily identified. It will also help in creating zones and DMAs. GIS mapping should essentially digitise building structures, ward bo­undaries, operational zones, location of ta­n­ks, and critical points such as nodes at the highest elevation and the farthest place. These are essential to create and design a supervisory control and data acquisition system. GIS-based hydraulic modelling involves GIS, data feeding, and analysis and design of distribu­tion network. The consultant should record base­line values of NRW, and demand in operational zones and DMAs. All this will help in preparing an extensive and elaborate DPR. Further, in order to enable the implementation of a 24×7 water su­pply system, digital twin technology can be deployed. A digital twin in a water system can be implemented right from the planning stage, proceeding to design and ultimately to the modelling stage, where analytics is done, before construction is carried out. Bentley has introduced a plug-and-play digital twin system, thereby reducing the requirement of lavish infrastructure. A laptop, a web interface and a web browser are the key requirements for this system. It enables more control over operation and maintenance activity by using data from various sources. It can be used to maintain the wa­ter balance of operational zones, and the entire system can be monitored.

Pain points and the road ahead

One of the key challenges encountered by private players in the implementation of water infrastructure projects is the lack of availability of utility maps of existing pipelines and water infrastructure. Getting hold of the right data is very challenging. It is essential that water utilities provide pipeline maps to private players so as to ensure that proper infrastructure creation is possible. Digital integration of water assets is also lacking at the local level and information regarding level sensors and pressure sensors is lost, which makes controlling and monitoring of assets and the network difficult. Further, PPP-based implementation of 24×7 water supply po­ses some practical challenges, as free water su­pply is sometimes provided due to political considerations. This makes it difficult for a private player to extract revenue and ensure proper ope­ration and maintenance.

Going forward, it is essential that digital and te­chnological innovations are implemented in the development of water infrastructure. The launch of AMRUT 2.0 is expected to provide a much-needed impetus to the same. Further, 24×7 water supply is a people-centric initiative, whi­ch ma­kes it essential to focus on communicating with and involving people while carrying out such as project. Other important aspects that should be focused upon include the collection of data through 100 per cent me­tering, asset management, making water ch­argeable, water rejuvenation, rainwater har­ve­sting, and reuse and recycling of wastewater. It is essential that digital in­formation is available, collected, tapped and us­ed in decision-making procedures. Along with infrastructure creation, impetus should given to service delivery as a final outcome.