Fixing India’s water crisis needs an integrated approach including Smart water management
India is facing one of its major and most serious water crisis. It's water demand is projected to be twice the available supply by 2030, implying severe scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss in the country's GDP, as per Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report by NITI Aayog in 2018.
India is facing one of its major and most serious water crisis. It's water demand is projected to be twice the available supply by 2030, implying severe scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss in the country's GDP, as per Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report by NITI Aayog in 2018. The government has launched an unified ‘Jal Shakti’ ministry that aims to provide piped water supply to every household by 2024 as well as fight India's water woes. By 2050, the water requirement in a high use scenario is likely to be 1,180 billion cubic metrics (BCM), whereas the present-day availability is 695 BCM. The total availability of water in the country is lower than this projected demand, at 1,137 BCM, according to NITI Aayog’s report. Excessive groundwater pumping without it being sufficiently recharged, an inefficient & wasteful water management system and years of deficient rains have been the main culprits. Water conservation and implementation of rainwater harvesting are rightfully priorities on everyone’s agenda, but they don’t address the major issue with the water management system. Hence, any realistic and effective solution needs to include smart water management which cuts down water wastage besides providing real-time data and high quality analytics to the water utilities and in turn to the government.
Leakage/non- revenue water (NRW) is a bigger issue in India than elsewhere
Water is treated as a social issue in India and most of the time, it is free or given with minimal charges and with relatively higher NRW figures, things get more complex. NRW can take various shapes, from a leak that is not detected by the utility over time, to a burst pipe that causes major damage to the infrastructure and low accuracy of water meters. While a United Nations 2016 World Water Development report, estimates about 30% of water being lost through leakage globally, in India, this could be as high as 40-50%. Imagine this water being saved significantly thus reducing the demand for water which is a big bonus in the worrying water situation, we are in.
Allow us to highlight the importance of plugging this leakage through a hypothetical example of Chennai which recently dealt with a major water crisis. Chennai currently requires 1200 MLD of water supply daily, roughly half of which comes from the government-owned water utility for the city. Imagine the utility is able to save 25% of it through smart water management, it works out to over 150 MLD of water daily. That effectively means Chennai’s daily requirement comes down to 1050 MLD from the current 1200 MLD. Now, imagine the savings over a year –37 days of daily water requirement of the entire city. On an annual basis, Chennai can manage its water needs even if it has only storage for a little over 10 and a half months. Or there can be more hours of water supply than currently reducing the longish queues before taps and pumps or water tankers that is almost a common sight and daily ritual for most Chennai citizens.
Data and analytics are key for utilities and policy makers to take the right decisions
Another biggest advantage of smart water management solutions is their ability to provide unprecedented amounts of real-time insight into water usage. Utility operators can get immediate feedback on the success of water conservation efforts undertaken by the consumers; which is of great benefit when it comes to informing policy decisions. They can also make smart decisions on supply by increasing supply at a time when its relevant as per the data received and lower the supply or even introduce differential pricing to ensure effective usage by consumers. This can further help salvage the situation besides delivering better experience to customers of water utilities who today harbour a diffident to negative attitude towards them.
Better revenues means better infrastructure
Plugging non-revenue water and more efficient planning also leads to better revenues which means more money to invest in maintenance and upgradation of the infrastructure. Better infrastructure leads to more efficiency and happier customers.
There is an urgent need for a transition from the 'supply-and-supply-more water' impulse and approach of today to a more realistic and effective one which is integrated and comprises initiatives that address both the supply and demand sides and not just one. Conservation efforts including recharging local water bodies, ground water through rainwater harvesting, etc. address the supply side while smart water management solutions will address the demand side. We hope that the upcoming year will be the landmark year for smart water management solutions in India with them taking their rightful place in India’s strategy to address its alarming water crisis. And since Smart City mission is among the major government initiatives in this regard, we also would like to submit that including smart water management specs. and guidelines in the mission guidelines will further enable wider and quicker adoption of smart water management solutions by urban and other local bodies across India.
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