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The Smart Cities programme is brimming with potential for smart water solutions

The Smart Cities programme is brimming with potential for smart water solutions

Anand Pattani, Managing Director, Black & Veatch India, explores the smart solutions for water management in the Indian context.

What are the issues that urban settlements in India are facing today with respect to availability and cleanliness of water?

Urban settlements´ access to a reliable water supply is improving, as is the quality of the water supplied. However, there is still a great deal more to do. The World Bank estimates that 21 per cent of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water. The problem is exacerbated in part by aging water and wastewater infrastructure. For example Delhi, parts of which still use 90-year-old wastewater infrastructure, is not untypical.

The other major challenge is achieving a sustainable demand/supply balance. As Planning Commission member Mihir Shah has noted, ´India faces a major crisis of water… The demands of a rapidly industrialising economy and urbanising society come at a time when the potential for augmenting supply is limited, water tables are falling and water quality issues have increasingly come to the fore.´

To give this perspective, it is estimated that India has seen a 60 per cent decline in per capita availability of water in the last 50 years; while Ernst & Young predicts industry´s demand for water will grow from 40.86 billion cubic metres (Bm3) in 2010 to 91.63 Bm3 in 2030.

What is the smart way to deal with these challenges?
By including adequate water supply and sanitation among the attributes of a smart city, the Smart Cities Mission has put the issues of water quality and availability centre stage, which should help accelerate change. The Swachh Bharat agenda will help reduce levels of contamination in domestic water supplies by protecting water sources. While the technology exists to remove almost all pollutants, one very smart thing to do is keep them out of the water in the first place.

The increasing pressure on Indian cities´ water supplies mean promoting water´s value is central to ensuring long-term sustainability. It´s not that people have chosen to undervalue water; it´s more that we need to be more effective at helping them understand its value. In order to continue meeting customer expectations we need – in addition to using technology to help make new resources available – to become better at managing demand.

What is the opportunity for smart water solutions in light of the Smart Cities mission of the Indian Government? Also, comment on what opportunities are you evaluating as a part of the American delegation that is visiting India?
The smart cities programme is brimming with potential for smart water solutions. These include turning wastewater from a problem into a resource.

This encompasses water reuse, when advanced treatment is used to turn wastewater streams into renewable sources of water for potable and non-potable use; relieving pressures on stressed surface and ground water resources. From projects in Singapore, Australia and the USA, we have seen first-hand the difference reuse projects can make. As discussed in our white paper: ´Overcoming Global Barriers to Reuse,´ the success of such projects is as much dependent upon the quality public education programmes as the technical solution.

Advanced digestion of sewage increases the bio-gas yield. The gas can be used to create heat and power for use in the treatment process or export to local power grids. Turning waste into a valuable resource also supports the Swachh Bharat agenda.

Smart metering will also help with the provision of an adequate water supply.
Currently 40-50 per cent of the water entering India´s distribution networks is lost. This is due largely to leakage and unauthorised connections. As well as wasting a precious resource these losses are also non-revenue water, for which the utility is unable to recover the costs of treatment and supply. High levels of non-revenue water hamper investment in water infrastructure.

Smart metering is a highly successfully way of identifying accurately how much water is being lost, where leaks are occurring, and the location of unauthorised connections to the distribution network. This information helps preserve a stressed natural resource and increases the income available to invest in water infrastructure.

A further opportunity lies in the area of sustainable drainage systems, or SuDS. These systems can help mitigate flood risk and reduce the amount of pollution entering ground and surface water resources.

SuDS mimic nature. They typically manage rainfall close to where it falls. The systems usually slow water down before it enters rivers, and the slower water moves the less pollutants it carries. SuDS include land to store water in natural contours, allowing run-off to soak into the ground or evaporate – once again preventing pollutants from being carried into rivers. Incorporating reed beds and wetlands even allows SuDS to filter out pollutants at source; as we have seen in urban water quality projects such as the restoration of Los Angeles´ Echo Park.

Sustainable drainage is an instance where lack of infrastructure can be to India´s advantage. As the cities of the developed world seek an alternative to miles of sewers and concrete channels to manage surface water, through the smart cities initiative, India has the opportunity to learn from their experience – leapfrog traditional approaches to urban drainage – and incorporate sustainable drainage into cityscapes.

Water is currently mostly a State subject. What is the scope for public private partnerships to get involved in treatment and supply of water?
According to the 2014-15 Economic Survey data, India has over 900 PPP projects in various stages of development. The stock of stalled projects at December-end 2014 stood at Rs.8.8 lakh crore, or 7 per cent of India´s gross domestic product. Adoption of the PPP model was primarily to garner private resources for public projects. It has yielded mixed results thus far in India, yet optimism exists. We have seen successful PPP schemes in other geographies. Although challenges have occurred at times, we must not forget that public sector project owners have developed and completed successful projects.

Both strive to appropriately allocate risk to the party or parties best equipped to address it. Whether working with public or private sector clients, we feel that both remain viable options to the development and completion of projects. Identifying the best approach for the task at hand will lead to timely projects that are completed competitively and safely.

Highlight a few examples from elsewhere in the world where water supply and waste water treatment is done well, with due regard to sustainable practices and the environment?
Singapore is probably the world leader in sustainable management of water and wastewater.

The country is currently executing the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS 2) to convey used water entirely by gravity to centralised water reclamation plants. This will raise the water recycling rate from 30-55 per cent of Singapore´s total water supply. The UK is strong on projects to derive energy from sewage treatment. Many large UK sewage treatment works are energy self-sufficient and able to sell power to the local grid. Both Singapore and Australia have undertaken outstanding programmes to cut water consumption by educating their populations about the value of water.

While different municipalities and state governments have varying levels of motivation to tackle existing problems, can you recommend the ideal way to look at water and waste water issues while planning a greenfield smart city project?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to water and wastewater planning. What works in one city may be inappropriate for another. So it is important to understand the local situation and plan accordingly. For example, if supplies are reliant on very seasonal rainfall, consider a stormwater management system that can retain and manage water over long periods. If a community in a water-scarce region is generating a lot of wastewater, investigate the potential of water recycling technology. Pumping water requires a lot of energy, generating energy requires a lot of water. So, if the topography is conducive, using gravity to convey water or wastewater will cut energy consumption and pressures on the water supply.

Given the poor state of waste water treatment in India, what are the opportunities for entrepreneurship and for private business that exist in this area? Are the rules and policies business friendly in this sector?
Estimates of the overall cost per Smart City vary from Rs.10,000 crore to Rs.30,000 crore. The centre will provide viability gap funds of Rs.500 crore per city. State governments will match the centre´s funding by providing Rs.500 crore for each of the Smart Cities within their jurisdiction.

The centre expects the remaining investment in the Smart Cities Mission to be raised by the urban local body (ULB) responsible for each Smart City. This is where the opportunities for the private sector exist. The government has undertaken some policy changes, for example of the goods and services tax (GST) which is expected to improve the climate for business.


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