IIITH roundtable shows that every drop of data counts in water management

As a forerunner to setting up a Centre of Excellence at IIIT Hyderabad on water technologies, the Living Lab at IIITH organized an intensive round table discussion to find viable tech-based solutions to the problems faced in cities with regard to water quality, supply and waste water management.

Across the twin cities, non-revenue water (NRW) is roughly 34%, with a maximum of 55% in parts of India, pointed out Sri M Dana Kishore, IAS, MD, HMWSSB who chaired the meet. While the average consumer is billed at Rs. 12 per litre, the cost incurred by the State to manufacture 1000 L is Rs. 48! Ground water assessment and setting a proper tariff structure thus becomes vital in recovering revenue losses.

Environmental Social Governance (ESG) formed the linchpin of the discussion that looked at how cities and technology players are responding to challenges, and to enumerate the state of innovation and research in water management. Key modules under the lens were water flow /loss measurements and leakage detection, water billing & district metering areas with reference to NRW/ Unaccounted-for Water (UFW), sewage treatment plants, research trends, challenges and feedback from industry on possibilities.

IIITH facilitators Prof. Ramesh Loganathan and Prof. Anuradha Vattem put together a formidable panel moderated by innovator Murali Talasila. The panel comprised of V.L. Praveen Kumar – Director, HMWSSB, policy-maker Amirullah Khan -Research Director of CDPP, start-up innovators and technocrats from Gigagrowth Ventures, Oceo Water, Kritsnam Technologies, GlobalM, Cyber Eye, NGOs Kalpana Ramesh, Founder Rainwater Project, Mr. Ramchandra of WASSAN, IIITH Faculty/Researchers and Tech companies GMR and GS.

Finding 10 holes in the bucket
Tariffing to be automated and regularized to recover revenue loss – Research on NRW evaluation for each city, along with cost-effective automation and data accessibility is critical. Panelists pointed out that while ultrasonic digital meters with Wi-Fi, GSM and LoRa interface are presently available to measure the water flow, it would be preferable that all mechanical meters are retrofitted with a cost-effective device that can communicate via low-range wide-area network (LoRa WAN) and implemented using ML and Deep learning technologies.

Water quality / STP parameter measurement of drinking and domestic Water – TDS is an important criterion for measuring drinking water quality while pH and turbidity are important for domestic water. Cost-effective sensors to be placed at vulnerable points to detect water quality and effluent parameters of Sewage treatment plants (STP) and send real time data transmission.

Need for automated leakage detection system – Were you aware that only half the water that is released makes its way to your water tap? Water wastage is pegged at a staggering 50%. Since it is becoming increasingly difficult to manually monitor and identify leaks and water loss, automated leakage and water loss detection is the need of the hour.

Making Sewage management at source level mandatory – The National Inventory of Sewage Treatment Plants-2021 reflected a significant disparity between the quantity of sewage generated and treated by the State. Technology to identify, monitor and maintain sewer overflows and sewage separation at source level needs to be planned and deployed.

Sensors to regulate valve operations – Sensors to detect water movement to be retrofitted, to monitor valve operations and send SMS alerts to the section manager. Mapping of consumer account numbers (CAN) to respective valves would enable consumers to stay informed on water supply. Panelists recommended building a dashboard to regulate supply cycles by the management, with real time data transmission via LoRa.

Asset Tracking – Tracking of Water tankers and jetting vehicles via LoRaWAN technology.

Monitoring and preventive maintenance – Suggestions to avoid water loss and misuse included concurrent monitoring of refilling mobile tankers, cost effective diagnostics for evaluating quality of pipelines and water infrastructure. Ball type drones with ultrasonic sensors can be deployed to inspect pipelines for leaks and glitches; like the Manjeera pipeline that is reaching the end of its lifetime.

Sewerage overflow – Without safety equipment, sanitary workers inside manholes are exposed to three dangerous environments conspiring together – chemical, biological and legal. A callous attitude, lack of emergency response protocols and the absence of basic safety equipment can make the brutal environment in a manhole, quickly degenerate into a fatality. Sanitary workers entering manholes need to be constantly monitored. Sensors and alarms to detect sewerage levels, poisonous gases, unauthorized opening of manholes is required, along with a dashboard for the concurrent data transmission through LoRa.

Network interference to be addressed – With around 120 LoRaWAN towers deployed across Hyderabad, interference within LoRa network and GSM interference are new problems that need to be resolved.

Component availability – India is still not self-sufficient in manufacturing sensors which makes deployment of imported sensors difficult. Calibration of the sensors is also playing a critical role in some of the cost-effective solutions.

6 Smart water management solutions
Can one Dashboard monitor the whole water network?

Panelists recommended a single solution for instantaneous monitoring of the whole water network, that includes measurement, leakage, sewage and infrastructure like septic tanks, water meters, water tankers, pipelines, etc. There should also be a docket level water measurement representation of inflow and outflow of water, with data to be available to the user and solution provider.

Authorized manhole entry – Monitoring of poisonous gases in manholes is mandatory to ensure the safety of sanitation workers. CCTV networks can be utilized to avoid unauthorized entry, detect sewage overflow, breakages, etc. using existing image processing techniques.

Water scarcity /Sewage problems resolved at source level – Modular STP treatment can be planned at source level itself. Strong aquaculture systems can be used to aid in the treatment of domestic sewage. Rainwater harvesting at the individual house level will contribute to the replenishment of water supply.

Make citizens accountable – Making the citizen responsible for water consumption and sewage disposal is critical. Branding for each house based on the water saved/ wasted and incentivizing or penalizing them accordingly makes the solution more impactful. Social media is a powerful tool for citizen awareness and to propagate policies on incentivization. Existing apps can be upgraded to inform larger communities on matters regarding water infrastructure in their localities.

Digital Twin for accurate and reliable data management – A digital twin is a virtual representation of a water system that involves integrating virtual engineering models with city-scale reality models and GIS data. Additionally, digital twins are continuously updated with virtual operational data from sensors, meters and other measured sources. The result is an intelligent and connected digital infrastructure model that supports planning, design, construction and operations for smart water networks.

Adopt a Lake-centric area for a Pilot run – Panelists recommended a block level pilot project in lake-centric areas to implement their solutions to improve water quality, supply and conservation, urban flooding and sewerage/sewage.

A reservoir of ideas to be deployed
IIIT Hyderabad’s think tank will establish a Centre of Excellence to review proposals received from vendors and proposes to organize a workshop for applicants and start-ups. The Centre intends to run a challenge, for issue-specific solutions in the areas of Water and Sewerage/Sewage as well as enlist and publish data of service providers in those areas. The identified issues include retrofitting of mechanical meters with cost-effective solutions, sensor to regulate valve operations for water quality and supply, sewerage overflow, asset tracking, monitoring of STP parameters and pipeline leakage. Case studies on the various problem areas identified in the discussion will be reviewed, along with the deployment of existing solutions developed by Smart City Living lab/CIE from IIITH.

A lake-view solution
A POC will be conducted in the lake-centric area of Serilingampally, for deployment of nodes and dashboard to address the problems in Water and Sewage, which will be expanded across the city in due course. The pilot project will deploy block level solutions in identified problem areas in water quality, supply and conservation, urban flooding, and sewerage/sewage. Production will be indigenous, economical and scalable to industry level and LoRa will be the preferred network for communicating data from the sensors to the central servers. A proposal on NRW assessment for a city is on the cards. In the first order of business, retrofit meters will be deployed in and around Gachibowli as a test run.

Deepa Shailendra is a freelance writer for interior design publications; an irreverent blogger, consultant editor and author of two coffee table books. A social entrepreneur who believes that we are the harbingers of the transformation and can bring the change to better our world.


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