Home » Water woes and ways out

Water woes and ways out

Water woes and ways out

India has horrific water issues that go well beyond meters and domestic waste. However, with the use of automation, it is possible to avoid water theft, illegal connections and leakages and importantly, monitor water distribution.
The demand for water in India is continuously on the rise with the growth in population, rapid urbanisation, and industrialisation. However, water supply is rapidly dwindling. According to a World Bank report, by 2020, India will become a water-stressed nation with per capita availability declining to 1,600 m3/person/year. (A country is said to be water stressed when the per capita availability of water drops below 1700 m3/person/year).

There are varied reasons behind the depleting water supply scenario in the country including climatic changes, depleting fresh water ecosystems and groundwater reserves, water contamination, wastage and of course mismanagement of water resources and distribution.

Current Scenario
The current level of development in terms of creation of live storage is only around 12 per cent of the average annual water resources potential of the country. About 90 per cent of the country´s water supply is from rivers. Six of the 20 major river basins are already classified as water scarce. Protracted inter-state water disputes have thwarted rational water planning with several disputes remaining unresolved. Several traditional water conservation bodies like tanks, lakes and ponds have become dysfunctional.

Water lost from supply systems due to leakages and thefts, commonly called non-revenue water (NRW), is on an average around 40 per cent. A study conducted by Vishvaraj Infrastructure in 2015 confirmed this as revealed by Arun Lakhani, Chairman and Managing Director, Vishvaraj Infrastructure Ltd: ´Our analysis of water availability in the top 100 towns in India disclosed that there is sufficient water in these towns to provide continuous supply to citizens. However, more than 50 per cent of water is being lost due to the poor state of the distribution network.´

Chennai is also in a similar situation. ´While computing the overall quantity of water supplied and the revenue recouped, one finds a huge gap, which means that a portion of treated water remains unaccounted,´ says Vikram Kapur, Managing Director, Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply & Sewerage Board (CMWSSB).

He adds, ´To reduce this NRW, bulk metering, volumetric accounting of consumption by providing water meters to various categories of consumers, and leak detection are proposed to be taken up.´

Chennai has a demand and supply gap of around 120 MLD. Chennai city has four major surface sources viz., Poondi, Cholavaram, Redhills and Chembarambakkam besides Veeranam, a distant source and Krishna water from Andhra Pradesh. On an average about 4 to 5 TMC of water has been received from the Krishna river annually so far, as against the agreed quantity of 12 TMC per year.

The combined effective storage of all the reservoirs around Chennai is about 11.057 TMC, whereas the city requires 16.56 TMC taking into account evaporation loss of an average of 35 per cent. These surface sources are mostly rain dependent, since there are no perennial rivers to augment storage in these reservoirs. Further, the consumers in Chennai generally use treated water for purposes other than drinking and cooking, and the use of other sources like groundwater is considerably low. CMWSSB is now attempting to bridge the gap between the demand and supply with several initiatives like building additional reservoirs, desalination plants, Tertiary Treated Reverse Osmosis (TTRO) plants, campus rainwater harvesting, grey water recycling and reuse, restoration and rejuvenation of water bodies, and recharge of groundwater by diverting rainwater from storm water drains, etc. The situation is no different in many other states in India.

According to a United Nations report, the groundwater in one-third of India´s 600 districts is not fit for drinking due to concentration of fluoride, iron, salinity and arsenic, which exceed the tolerance levels. Diarrhoea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily in India and almost 90 per cent of diarrhoea cases are due to contaminated water. Water quality is affected by various factors including sewage discharge, discharge from industries and increased fertiliser & pesticide use in agriculture.

Unless water management practices are changed on a war footing, India will evidently face a severe water crisis soon.

Government Initiatives
The Indian government, well aware of the impending crisis, has been taking several measures including launch of several schemes like National Rural Drinking Water Supply Programme, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, National Rural Drinking Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance Programme, establishment of a National Water Board and the National Water Mission, etc. These measures have yielded mixed results – some successes, some failures and several stalled projects. Reportedly, several sewage treatment plants created as part of these schemes are lying unused, since sewage lines connecting them have not been constructed. ´Some of the successful examples are the three generations of Rural Water Supply & Sanitation Projects across 10 states that have helped bring clean drinking water to some 26 million rural households and the 24×7 Urban Water Supply programme that is providing reliable water supply to 200,000 people in three cities of Karnataka,´ avers Smita Misra, Lead Water and Sanitation Specialist, World Bank.

Misra adds,´Challenges do exist, especially in areas related to delays in implementation and in mobilising communities to achieve changes in behaviour and practice that are sometimes integral to these projects.´

The World Bank has played a significant role in this sector in India with a portfolio consisting of about $5 billion committed in 14 projects, with a strong focus on the rural water sector.

´While the expectations of better service have been escalating, on-ground realities differ significantly,´ states DTV Raghu Rama Swamy, Director, School of Infrastructure, Research & Institutional Consultancy, RICS School of Built Environment, Amity University.

He lists out the deficiencies – there is a dearth of capacity at the municipal level in addressing technical, financial, institutional and governance challenges. Some other issues include lack of accurate baseline information on assets, conditions and services, inadequate project configuration and development activities while developing new schemes, projects not financially free standing, especially with tariffs set at very low levels, lack of willingness of users to pay and unwillingness of policymakers to charge the desired tariffs. Newer modes of service delivery improvement like public private partnership models have not taken off in a big way. The Smart Cities being planned by the government are reportedly trying to address several of these issues. However, Swamy states that just because they are part of the Smart City Mission, does not mean that these cities have changed their fundamental characteristics overnight.

´Addressing the challenges listed above needs an overhaul of existing institutional and governance structures, together with substantial investments and infusion of fresh young talent to manage changing circumstances´ Swamy adds.

RICS School of Built Environment, Amity University, along with RICS, has recently released a white paper on the Indian government´s Smart City mission titled, ´Urban Makeover: Evolution or Revolution´.

Sachin Sandhir, Global Managing Director – Emerging Business, RICS, explains the objective behind the white paper. ´The objective was to examine the latest developments on ´Smart Cities´ execution, analysing policy initiatives taken for Smart Cities, investigating a range of investment for smart funding options, etc.,´ he feels. Sandhir says that around 17 per cent of the overall investment is for water and wastewater management, which is however restricted to the first 20 Smart Cities.

The RICS white paper brings to fore several interesting facts on water management. For instance, the paper points out that in terms of design standards, about 80 per cent of our consumable water demand is used for flushing sewage into an appropriate disposal site.

The current approach of Smart Cities, both in India as well as abroad, is to utilise decentralised treatment options that are usually contained within a developed precinct, with the treated wastewater being used for other non-potable uses such as irrigation and/or arboriculture. Several cities, pressed with the increasing costs of land, have actually moved away from large anaerobic treatment and disposal systems to smaller, aerobic treatment systems that use less carriage length, reveals the white paper.

Business Opportunities
No doubt, the changing focus in water management has opened up several opportunities for developers, contractors and technology providers as evinced by Arun Karambelkar – President and Chief Executive Officer, Hindustan Construction Company Ltd (HCC).

´With the growing demand for water, depleting water resources and increasing pollution, the focus has now shifted to revitalising existing water bodies, improving productivity of existing water management systems, treatment, recycling and reuse of wastewater, flood management etc.,´ he reveals.

This has opened up several opportunities in the areas of desalination plants, water treatment plants and river linking and flood management projects like dams, barrages, canals reservoirs, etc.

HCC, one of the leading EPC contractors in water management, has executed several projects in this segment including India´s largest water treatment plant in Bhandup (Mumbai); Asia´s second largest lift irrigation project in terms of static lift – the Godavari Lift Irrigation Project, Phase I, II and III, Telangana; India´s first private sector water supply project in Tirupur (Tamil Nadu) and India´s first concrete gravity dam at Vaitarna, Maharashtra. According to Lakhani, based on the High Powered Expert Committee for Estimating the Investment Requirements for Urban Infrastructure Services, it is estimated that an investment of Rs.38,000 crore is needed in the top 100 cities, of which approximately Rs.23,000 crore of private investment is possible if balanced Public-Private Partnership contracts on hybrid annuity model are offered.

To this, Rajesh Patwardhan, Business Development Director, Water, Black & Veatch (B&V) accords his consent. He rightly points out the government department initiatives in promoting water reuse for non-potable applications. Developments include a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Railways to adopt reused water for cleaning rolling stock and other non-potable uses. In addition, it is now mandatory for power plants to buy treated wastewater from sewage treatment plants, where two plants are within a 50-km radius of each other.

B&V has undertaken several water projects in India, including the Kerala Water Supply Project, Bombay Sewerage Project and Arsenic Reduction in Groundwater, Delhi & West Bengal. It has bagged a contract from Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to undertake a feasibility study, and prepare a detailed project report for the proposed 847 million litres per day Malad Zone wastewater treatment facilities.

In India, several models like PPP, EPC and BOT are being used in water projects being executed by private companies. As of now, the government is not clear on which model to adopt. Hence, Pankaj Thapliyal, President, Smart Utilities, Essel Group, believe an end-to-end PPP model where you build the system totally including the supply network and maintain it for a period of 20-25 years, is ideal. Essel Group is handling three projects currently in Aurangabad (Maharashtra), Tonk (Rajasthan) and Bhagalpur (Bihar).

Industry Inputs
Evidently, many industrial establishments are also going in for rainwater harvesting, effluent treatment and using recycled water. This is not surprising, considering that the demand for industrial water, as estimated by the National Commission on Integrated Water Resources Development, will be 67 bcm and 81-103 bcm for the years 2025 and 2050 respectively.

´Apart from reducing our water consumption through water-efficient fixtures and technologies, we are also recycling 100 per cent wastewater in our sewage treatment plants and reusing it for cooling, flushing and landscaping within our campuses,´ says Guruprakash Sastry, Regional Manager- Infrastructure, Infosys.

Infosys is continuously monitoring its water use through smart metering to eliminate wastage and optimise consumption. As a result, this year, the company has been able to reduce its per capita fresh water consumption by about 40 per cent, compared to 2008 levels. This translates into an avoided use of about 5.9 billion litres of water in the last eight years. Infosys has reduced operational costs and dependencies on municipal supply of water.

Tech talk
A few state authorities in India have started monitoring water distribution and management by installing automated meter reading (AMR). Here, companies like Itron Inc are helping cities including Mumbai, Bengaluru, Navi Mumbai, and states like Delhi and Rajasthan in addressing their water management issues.

To begin with Mumbai, about 50 per cent of the city´s potable water is lost compared with an average of 34 per cent worldwide and about 10 per cent for the most efficient water systems. This has made the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai install 1.5 lakh Itron AMR meters which can be read remotely. AMR helped MCGM locate leaks and eliminate waste.

In Bengaluru, the AMR project (GPRS-based) implemented by the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, has significantly improved data collection and bill generation for the commercial properties which are the main contributors to BWSSB´s revenue.

In Navi Mumbai, Itron´s Water AMR solution enables NMMC to significantly improve data collection and understand its own customers´ energy usage.

Delhi Jal Board, which faces massive water theft, has finally switched to an automated mode. The board has installed around 1.20 lakh AMR meters and 40,000 non-AMR meters. The meters can be read from a distance through a handheld unit. The broad measures required to be taken as per industry experts include preservation of existing water resources, augmentation of utilisable water resources, establishing allocation priorities for water use by different sectors, maintaining water quality and promoting user participation in all aspects of water planning and management.

No doubt, industry, institutions, governments and individuals have all a role to play in water management as it is our common future that is at stake.


  • India has 16 per cent of the world´s population and 4 per cent of its freshwater resources.
  • Around 92 per cent of groundwater is used in agriculture, 5 per cent in industrial and 3 per cent in domestic sector.
  • India´s dams can store only 200 cubic metres of water per person, while those in China, South Africa, and Mexico can store up to 1,000 cubic metres.
  • About 70 per cent of India´s water supply is polluted with sewage effluents.
  • The industrial sector discharges 30,729.2 million cubic metres of effluents into water bodies.
  • About 66 million people in 20 states are at risk due to excess fluoride and around 10 million people are at risk due to excess arsenic in ground water.

The project term started in 2012
Executing Company: Orange City Water Ltd, a 50:50 joint venture SPV incorporated by Vishvaraj Environment Pvt Ltd and Veolia Water of France.
Project model: PPP to be operative for 25 years of O&M inclusive of five years of capital rehabilitation.
Salient features: Management of the entire water cycle from production, treatment (675 MLD), transport (2,100 km of network), storage and delivery to the last point of usage – the customer´s tap. The project involved replacement of more than 325,000 house service connections, rehabilitation of treatment facilities, service reservoirs and pipelines.
Technology/techniques used: SCADA (Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition) for water treatment plant as well as the reservoirs; GIS for mapping the assets of the water distribution network; GPS trackers for effective tanker management, etc.

Executing Company:
Hindustan Construction Company
Project Period: Started in 2004. First two phases completed and third phase is under construction.
Project model: EPC
Project Value: The total value of work assigned to HCC in all 3 phases is Rs.5,500 crore.
Significant Feature: Second largest project in Asia in terms of static lift – 469 metres.

Scope of work: Laying of 450 km of large dia [2 m to 3 m] mild steel bulk transmission system; construction of RCC overhead tanks (18) for a cumulative capacity of 10.22 million litres; construction of RCC reservoir to store 76 million litres of water; a 55 km long tunnel, one amongst the longest in India; 12 pump houses; six numbers of 5 m3/s capacity metallic volute pumps installed for lifting the water for a total head of 130 metres; two numbers of 5 m3/s capacity concrete volute pumps were installed for lifting the water for a total head of 40 metres; 7 cumecs capacity (eight) metallic volute pumps installed for lifting water for a total head of 138 metres.
In the bid submitted for phase I, HCC provided an alternative design which reduced the power consumption and project cost, due to elimination of two pumping stations and one booster pumping station.
Challenges: The fabrication of the stationary components of the metallic volute pump was one of the major challenges faced, as pumps of this size and capacity were not available in India. HCC got the pumps designed and critical parts made by M/s CBE from the Czech Republic. Other pump components like draft tubes, spiral casings, suction cones and anchoring rings were fabricated in India under expert supervision of CBE representatives at Vadodara.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.