The journey towards the digitalisation of water supply systems in Himachal Pradesh started a long time ago. The Jal Shakti Vibhag of Himachal Pradesh initially deployed digital solutions under the first fully automated water supply scheme. Commissioned in 2008, the scheme served more than 100 households. Under the scheme, the operations of pumping stations and storage tanks were controlled by sensors, facilitating the monitoring of water levels and ensuring water supply across the state. At present, the state’s water utility department relies on digital output instruments such as rain gauges, flow meters, sensors and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. It further plans to incorporate the geographic information system (GIS) for asset management, utilising drone surveys and hydraulic modelling.
Digital output instruments
The installation of digital instruments in the water supply network first started with the National Hydrology Project in Himachal Pradesh. In this project, automatic rain gauges and flow meters were installed to collect the state’s environmental data. Instruments such as pressure transmitters, voltage ampere meter calculations, level sensors and terrain sensors are also being employed by the department to check and monitor some critical indicators of water quality, and optimise pumping operations and electric panel controls. The Jal Shakti Vibhag is planning to incorporate various other instruments such as acoustic devices and pressure monitoring for real-time detection of leakages, and smart meters for measuring water consumption and revenue collection. Currently, smart meters are only being used for water network flow measurements.
The department primarily employs SCADA for basic applications such as monitoring of pumping stations, water treatment plants (WTPs), tube wells and water intake structures installed on small rivers and water streams in the state. In the case of intake structures, SCADA is primarily used to switch operations on and off, and check variations in turbidity and flow during the monsoon and winter seasons. Further, there are plans to expand its application to water pressure management, control of sewage treatment plants (STPs), management of data on reservoirs and the environment, and correction in water treatment processes.
There is need for the systematic use of GIS in the water supply schemes of the Jal Shakti Vibhag. So far, it has been deployed by Shimla Jal Prabandhan Nigam Limited for the development of its customer database as well as hydraulic modelling. However, its application is yet to be explored throughout the entire state. The water utility aims to implement GIS-licensed tools for asset mapping, integrated water network modelling, environment data analysis, and overall management. As part of its efforts, it plans to deploy GIS in the Himachal Pradesh Rural Drinking Water Improvement and Livelihood Project (HPRDWILP) for asset management by 2025. The initiative is aimed at providing residents with an adequate water supply while ensuring the financial sustainability and operational efficiency of the project.
Other digital solutions
The Jal Shakti Vibhag has planned digitalisation initiatives to enable data acquisition in the water sector. At present, the department’s software base is primarily related to supervisory controls. It plans to integrate the existing software with both GIS and SCADA systems. This integration can enable smart metering, and improve billing and collection methods. Further, this integrated system can improve cloud-based data management, hydraulic design and optimisation. The data can be better analysed for improved decision-making and risk management of projects.
Furthermore, drone surveys were carried out to address the prevalent water crisis in Shimla in 2018. These drones assessed infrastructure changes and bulk water requirements for contour mapping and, ultimately, the creation of a hydraulic model for the city. The water demand data from different parts of the city was collected to form a customer database. This was used to develop a water pipeline network that could meet the varying water requirements across the city.
Challenges and the way forward
The department has been facing several challenges in the digitalisation of the water network. A key challenge is the selection of appropriate technology, which is critical for the effective operations of STPs and WTPs. This selection is constrained by the cost economics of various technologies. The lack of performance evaluation metrics, proper benchmarking systems and pricing mechanisms make it difficult to achieve the financial sustainability of these smart technologies. Further, the department faces the challenge of preparing detailed project reports that integrate digitalisation with the planned water infrastructure.
Another issue is choosing the right method for material procurement. The existing standard procurement methods do not allow flexibility in selecting high quality products. Currently, the utility uses two methods of procuring pipes for projects – annual tendering and independent procurement by contractors. The latter is used for projects with longer durations of five to seven years, wherein the contractor can choose materials on the basis of the project’s requirements and feasibility. There are committees in the state that are working towards developing a better procurement and maintenance system, but it is a time-consuming process. Therefore, the right support from experienced operators is necessary.
There is also a major concern regarding the security of these digital systems against cybercrimes. The department is in the process of developing a robust safety system to prevent sensitive data breaches. To overcome these challenges, the Jal Shakti Vibhag is looking for better support and knowledge sharing from industry players. These players can help create sustainable water systems that operate efficiently in Himachal Pradesh’s diverse environmental conditions, with temperatures ranging from minus 40 degrees Celsius to plus 42 degrees Celsius.
Moreover, there is no proper assessment of non-revenue water (NRW) in the state at present, primarily due to the early stage of smart metering in various areas. Earlier, NRW was reported to be 43-45 per cent in Shimla for six wards, and above 40 per cent for the entire state. However, recent changes in water pressure and quantity have likely increased NRW to 50 per cent. Therefore, reducing system leakages and associated water losses is a major concern that needs immediate attention.
The Jal Shakti Vibhag is focusing on addressing the emerging digital requirements for the sector’s future growth. It is planning to invest around Rs 570 billion in the asset management of water infrastructure under the Jal Jeevan Mission. This will include asset mapping and creation of a proper customer database. Under the HPRDWILP, it plans to set up an integrated command and control centre where the collected data can be centrally analysed. This project is planned to be awarded by the end of 2023, with the goal of making it operational by 2024. These steps are poised to drive the digital transformation of the water network in the state. n
Based on a presentation by Dr Dharmendra Gill, Engineer in Chief, Jal Shakti Vibhag, Himachal Pradesh at a recent India Infrastructure conference