Intelligent water and wastewater management for smart cities

In June 2015, the ‘100 Smart Cities Mission’ was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, earmarking ₹98,000 crore for the development of 100 smart cities in India and the rejuvenation of 500 others . However, as the number of people migrating to cities from rural in search of economic prosperity and higher standards of living grows rapidly, there is an increased imbalance in the pattern of resource consumption.

In June 2015, the ‘100 Smart Cities Mission’ was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, earmarking ₹98,000 crore for the development of 100 smart cities in India and the rejuvenation of 500 others[i]. However, as the number of people migrating to cities from rural in search of economic prosperity and higher standards of living grows rapidly, there is on increased imbalance in the pattern of resource consumption. 

The description of a smart city is based on a city’s ability to respond as promptly as possible to the needs of citizens. Quality of life and city development are profoundly influenced by the core systems of a smart city, including transport, government services, education, public safety and health. Therefore, water being at the core of public health and safety, needs a strategic focus to ensure quality water for all.

Key challenges in India

In a country as densely populated and widely distributed as India, urban planning departments are faced with a complex set of challenges. According to data collated by the World Resources Institute, India ranks 13th among the world’s 17 most water-stressed countries, with more than 80 percent of its available ground water withdrawn[ii]. India’s surface water is also highly contaminated, with around 70 percent of it estimated to be unfit for consumption[iii]. Furthermore, nearly 40 million liters of wastewater enters India’s rivers and other water bodies every day, only a fraction of which is adequately treated[iv]. This is a major challenge which compounds India’s water crisis and further affects its already dwindling freshwater supply. The current scenario highlights the need for a focused and strategic long-term approach for the management of water in India, particularly in its cities. 

Planning for water management in smart cities

There are multiple factors to be considered while planning and implementing intelligent water and wastewater management systems in smart cities. The approach must be comprehensive and robust, capable of addressing the unique challenges of today while preparing for the needs and contingencies of tomorrow. 

  1. Accessibility and optimal utilisation of resources: A key hallmark of a smart city would be the equitable and responsible allocation of resources, including water and electricity. This also includes access to adequate sanitation and solid waste management. Smart cities must ensure accessibility to resources while maintaining emphasis on the mindful consumption of natural resources, to ensure availability for the generations to come. 
  2. Anticipating future demand: India is projected to become the world's most populated country within a decade. By 2030, urbanisation is expected to go up to 50%[v]. Therefore, it is necessary for urban planning departments to consider the future needs to manage and monitor resource consumption in the present day. 
  3. Offsetting the impact of climate change and Covid-19: While we are witnessing the devastation Covid-19 is causing to human life and the economy, experts from the United Nations say that climate change is a far greater threat than the coronavirus[vi]. In addition to building measures that mitigate the impact of climate change over the coming decades, it is also necessary to address the immediate effect of Covid-19 on our limited water supplies. 

Currently, we are witnessing regular sanitisation drives in industries and offices, frequent cleaning in homes, and increased hand-washing. A family of five is reported to need 100 to 200 litres of water per day only to wash hands. This would result in the generation of around 200 litres of wastewater per day, which amounts to 20 to 25 percent increase in water demand and generation of wastewater from human settlements[vii]. Therefore it is critical to consume water carefully and judiciously during these times.

  1. Sustainable & intelligent technologies: Smart city planning would also involve the deployment of sustainable technologies that can help the city remain ‘water-positive’ through all seasons. These solutions need to be intelligent and embedded through the entire system from water supply, distribution, wastewater and treatment. 
  2. Reusing and recycling: Another important feature of smart cities is the proliferation of recycling amenities, which encourage and promote the repeated use of resources before they are disposed. 
  3. Individual responsibility and accountability: Smart cities need to drive the responsible use of water through intelligent tracking systems that monitor individual consumption, alerting people when their usage exceeds recommended or predetermined limits. This will ensure greater individual accountability and inculcate disciplined use of resources.
  4. Energy-efficient & renewable energy: Furthermore, smart city solutions must be not only energy efficient, but also large use renewable energy sources, to help ensure that these solutions remain sustainable. The end goal is to conserve and regenerate more resources than consumed. 

Smart technologies readily available today for adoption

Leading players such as Grundfos, which play a key role in urban and infrastructure planning, have already developed several technologies that greatly support and accelerate smart city planning. These include:

  1. Intelligent pumping systems: Intelligent, digitally-connected or IoT enabled pumps are fitted with sensors that automatically monitor and regulate water flow and pressure. These solutions can yield real-time insights, helping prevent and predict leakages, thus improving reliability and efficiency. 
  2. Remote management and monitoring: These intelligent pumping systems also enable remote management, which makes it possible to monitor pump installations through cloud. These systems process and analyze data from intelligent pumps, sensors, meters and pump controllers, which can be accessed from any computer with an internet connection via a central server. These solutions can also help prioritizing the Capex and TOTEX investments.
  1. Mapping Network infrastructure: New tools like the dynamic 3D water utility software leveraging data and provide analytical and holistic view of entire network infrastructure. For Operations Managers, Development Engineers, Water Quality staff and others we provide new tools that enable them to stop acting on gut feelings and best guesses. Instead, their decision making and prioritizing will be based on data-driven intelligence, ensuring that they are always two steps ahead. Example, when predicting losses and failures, evaluating system performance and when predicting water losses and failures, evaluating system performance and when working out pipe replacement plans.
  2. Advanced treatment systems: The availability of safe and sufficient water supplies is inextricably linked to how wastewater is managed, and treatment  systems are an integral aspect of wastewater processing.  Truly advanced filtration systems go beyond merely filtering waste – they also recover valuable nutrients from the wastewater, such as phosphorous and nitrogen, which can then be used in other applications. 
  3. Efficient wastewater treatment and removal: Wastewater treatment generates significant amounts of sludge, which is another challenge to overcome in smart city planning. Efficient wastewater treatment involves the use of carefully calibrated systems and processes, such as lifting stations, pre-fabricated pumping stations, submersible pumps to regulate water pressure, and proven techniques that ensure the safe removal of leftover sludge. 

Conducive regulatory environment for smart water and wastewater management 

Several policy measures announced by the Central Government indicate a conducive business and regulatory environment for organizations in the water and wastewater management sector. For instance, in addition to addressing shortage in 100 water-stressed Indian districts, the centre also announced the implementation of the second phase of the Swachh Bharat Mission, during the Budget speech in February 2020. This will focus on open defecation and management of solid and liquid waste, and complement the newly launched Jal Jeevan Mission, which aims to provide potable water to every rural household by 2024[viii]. 

These initiatives offer several opportunities for private sector players to contribute innovative products and solutions for improved water and wastewater management in India and indicate the growing business potential of the industry. However, in order to ensure that water management solutions are implemented and managed effectively, there is a need to introduce reward-based programs that incentivize and encourage the adoption of smart water management solutions. This will go a long way in safeguarding India’s water supplies and ensuring the availability of the precious resource for future generations. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house