Prefixing Water Smartness to India’s Smart Cities through NRW Management

With the demand for water 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, millions will struggle to live with low adaptive capacity and fast diminishing reliable water resources in the coming years, if unheeded.

Ensuring a safe and clean water supply has become more critical now than ever before. India’s mission to lead the change in building smart cities and self-resilience will necessarily call for discussions around smart metering and non-revenue-water management. India is facing one of its major and most serious water crises. With the demand for water 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 (Source: Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) NITI Aayog 2018), millions will struggle to live with low adaptive capacity and fast diminishing reliable water resources in the coming years, if unheeded. Moreover, the World Health Organization has already warned of increasingly variable rainfall patterns that will severely affect freshwater supply, leading to compromised hygiene and surging risk of diarrhoeal disease, the kind that kills around 500,000 children every year.

AMRUT mission key reform agenda includes an action plan to reduce water losses to less than 20 percent, and the respective state utilities and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) have started to provide technical assistance in non-revenue water assessment, strategy, and implementation in select smart cities because enabling continuous pressurized water supply services to the customers is the only way these cities can survive. 

Non-Revenue-Water: Challenging concern for Smart Cities Water Utilities 

NRW is the biggest concern among all Indian utilities. The most challenging aspect is identifying the breakdown of NRW components and subcomponents. Though massive technological in-roads have resulted in early leak detection and breakthroughs globally, their adoption in India has been sluggish, primarily due to Indian municipalities’ financial capacity and intermittent water supply model. Non-revenue water (NRW) is the amount of post-production water that doesn’t reach the customer and is lost along the way, not generating revenue. Undetected leaks, storage tank overflows, unauthorized use (theft and tampering), unbilled consumption due to meter inaccuracy, unmetered consumption, and leak adjustments are all primary sources of NRW. 

Not addressing the NRW challenge will continue to add financial pressures on water suppliers and utilities and add to further issues like water scarcity, customer demand for improved service at lower cost, increased environmental awareness, etc. India’s smart cities mission, its growing population, and the effects of climate change will drive new business models and regulatory demands among utilities, and adopting technological competence like smart water metering is the only way forward.

Reasons Smart Cities need Smart Water Infrastructure Push 

Smart Water Infrastructure with its readily available tools and technologies such as advanced metering infrastructure, real-time decision support systems, and digital asset management can help utilities keep a majority of their systems operational remotely, which can take care of the downtime cost. Digital decision support tools unlock the power of data to drive substantially greater efficiency. By providing utility managers with real-time and predictive insights on the performance and the potential of their existing assets, they can make an informed decision related to maintenance and network optimization strategies. These data help utilities reach out to customers more proactively about end-point leakage and gain more clarity between leakage, non-revenue water, and chargeable consumption. Such real-time data about pipeline failures and leaks allow utilities to engage in early interventions and preventive maintenance, addressing issues before they become larger and costlier. Such infrastructure allows cities to anticipate faster and react to the water network issues, right from leak detection, water quality concerns, and conserving and tracing residential water consumption at a more accurate level. 

Digital technologies have proven to be indispensable for developing and executing prudent water management strategies enabling utilities to emerge as leaders empowering them to address the emerging water crisis in many developing nations already. It is time that smart cities' mission looks more closely at these proven case studies and adopting smart water management solutions into its mission guidelines.

Government Efforts in Minimizing Non-Revenue Water 

Taking cognizance of the growing need and significance of smart infrastructure, the Government introduced a series of initiatives to create awareness about water conservation, including the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), under the ministry of Jal Shakti. It aims to promote water conservation in 256 of India’s most water-stressed districts by providing piped water connections to 146 million rural households, by 2024. The Jal Shakti ministry aims to provide piped water supply to every household by then. 

As the first step under the newly announced Jal Jeevan Mission-Urban (JJM-U), Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry launched in Feb 2020 a survey on the condition of drinking water, wastewater management, and water bodies in 10 cities, aimed at providing water to all households in all 4,378 statutory towns and sewage management in 500 AMRUT cities.

Further, a universal water supply scheme was announced for urban areas -- Jal Jeevan Mission (Urban), in the Union Budget for 2021-22, aimed to be implemented over five years with an outlay of Rs 2,87,000 crore, reiterating the importance that Govt. of India is laying on the water sector. The scheme would provide universal water supply in all 4,378 Urban Local Bodies with 2.86 crores household tap connections, as well as liquid waste management in 500 AMRUT cities.

Roadmap Ahead: Improving water Infrastructure and Focus on Smart Cities in Reducing the NRW challenge

The availability of drinking water supply in the large cities of India is going to be a serious challenge in the future. The rapid increase in population, depleting water resources, and enhanced consumer needs will accentuate the criticality. Market-oriented development will add to the woes. Therefore, an urgent need is felt for a comprehensive water policy for cities which is ideally possible through the deployment of smart water infrastructure deployment.

Implementation of smart water management solutions in utilities needs a definite push and consideration at the policy level. Smart water management solutions once implemented, provide real-time data, which makes the process transparent, eliminating surprise and dissatisfaction. Although the uptake of digital technology has increased in the water sector, it is still behind other industries. The need of the hour is to build a holistic digital roadmap to kickstart the transition to digital water.

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