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Digital Pathway: Role of technologies in water management

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The use of technology in the water sector has seen an increased uptake. Digital solutions are being deployed for various functions such as operations and maintenance (O&M), monitoring and management of the entire water network. Amongst several benefits, these technologies help in addressing key issues faced in the sector including high non-revenue water (NRW), ageing infrastructure, and erratic or contaminated water supply. This has led to their widespread adoption by water utilities and private players.

Key focus areas

In the process of water distribution, a notable share of it is either lost, wasted or left unaccounted for. This, referred to as NRW, is one of the most pressing issues faced by the water sector in India, both in cities and rural areas. The reasons for the high levels of NRW include leakages from damaged pipelines, inability to identify and address these leakages, and inefficient O&M. Further, issues pertaining to low metering and thefts hinder the monitoring of water consumption and lead to loss of revenue. The sector is also characterised by challenges stemming from ageing infrastructure. Infrastructure such as the pipeline network can be made more robust through the addition of new and upgraded valves, pumps, sensors, etc.

India is also witnessing increased efforts to achieve 24×7 and pressurised water supply. Schemes such as the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation aim to ensure water security. Also, the Jal Jeevan Mission targets water security through the provision of safe and adequate drinking water to rural households using individual household tap connections. Emphasis is also placed on the source side, ensuring sustainability. These schemes promote the use of technology and smart systems such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), geographic information system (GIS), internet of things (IoT)-based devices, and other advanced solutions.

Technology solutions

Various technologies are being deployed to address the prevalent issues in water network management. Automation also has a key role to play, as seen in the use of endobots that are sent into the water pipelines to detect wear and tear. Further, technology for effective management of the water supply network would also lead to enhanced water security.


GIS is an effective tool that is being increasingly used in various projects in the sector. GIS-based mapping enables visualisation of the water network and the creation of detailed maps. Consumer data can also be used to analyse water consumption trends in different areas to ensure adequate water supply. It would also facilitate leak detection and subsequently, help in NRW reduction. For example, the use of GIS aided in reducing  NRW in Nagpur from 41 per cent to 39 per cent. The process involved mapping retrofitted pipes and implementing house-to-house connections.

SCADA and IoT-based solutions

SCADA systems also prove to be advantageous in the management of water networks. These systems bring together the hardware and software aspects. These systems are also used for addressing NRW levels and ensuring continuous water supply. For instance, Nashik made use of SCADA-based meters in zones of high water consumption for real-time monitoring. Further, Bengaluru adopted digital meters in place of mechanical ones, also facilitating real-time monitoring of water usage.

On related grounds, metropolitan cities are shifting to data-driven systems for the management of water supply through the use of sensor-based technologies. IoT-based sensors were used by IIT Jodhpur for upgrading its 13 km water distribution system to a smart grid. These sensors facilitated real-time monitoring of distribution of water.

AI and integrated digital platforms

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to be leveraged for smart water management. AI tools can also be used for predictive analysis, given their potential to account for numerous factors or variables to predict water demand.

Furthermore, integrated digital platforms are being promoted by private players in the sector given their advantage of coordinated actions. One such example is the Real-Time Operation Performance System by Suez, which has been deployed at nine projects for the collection and analysis of data, and utilises geotagged information for various functions. With the aid of the ROPeS WSMM, operational data can be collected efficiently and used for different types of analytics. For example, O&M and field engineers can send real-time data on supply zones or pockets being supplied with water, including cases of intermittent water supply and time scheduling. It also provides visualisation of data on the dashboard with various insights, and details of 24×7 water supply areas. An integrated water utilities management system is also available, where the data collected from various digital solutions including IoT sensors or mobile applications can be used for further analytics.

Moreover, Suez has collaborated with a Bangaluru-based start-up to develop the NetCity application. This AI-powered analytics tool facilitates pipe conditions assessment. With this, repair and replacements can be prioritised. The tool can predict the likelihood of failure and provide a list of pipes that are suspected to be in bad condition. The AI tool assesses multiple data points including repair history, age of the pipe, and material. A mobile application has also been integrated with this solution, through which O&M engineers can verify information on site and give feedback based on field knowledge. The tool also aids in prioritising pipe replacement so as to ensure 100 per cent utilisation of assets. Customisations are also possible to give more importance to specific features such as pipe age. Moreover, the solution helps localise the issue of leak detection and pipe maintenance.

Digital twins

Digital twins enable different physical assets, processes, systems, etc. to be represented in a digital form, and can be implemented at different scales. A digital twin is a unified model that comprises data originating from various sources and is technology agnostic. All data can be imported to a single cloud-based platform. It has a huge potential to be used for water network management. However, its implementation must be carried out in a phase-wise manner. Most municipalities have at least some level of technologies implemented and availability of data. However, the data is available and made use of in silos. Different departments work with different data. Some municipalities have taken a step further by using GIS-based hydraulic models. In these models, consumer data is also integrated for more precise planning. When aspects such as consumer survey data, GIS, SCADA systems and IoT are available on a unified single platform, the journey towards a digital twin commences. Through the use of flow rates, digital twins can be used to detect pipeline leakages, and pipeline ruptures can be repaired to reduce NRW.

On these lines, Bentley Systems provides a digital twin application for water infrastructure called OpenFlows WaterSight. It can be used throughout the entire life cycle of the water network. This application enables the integration of various components such as SCADA, GIS, hydraulic modelling, client information and historical failure data into a connected data environment. Looking at the business outcomes, operational costs and NRW can be reduced by 20 per cent or more, and it also leads to an improved carbon footprint, among other benefits.

The way ahead

The use of advanced technologies helps reduce NRW levels by a considerable extent, mainly through the enhancement of efficiency. The effective utilisation of these technologies also enables enhanced monitoring of water supply. Technologies such as GIS can be further tapped to map and analyse water supply networks. With the use of IoT sensors, continuous monitoring and optimisation of distribution networks can also be ensured. Additionally, machine learning algorithms can also be used for predictive analysis to understand water demand trends. Looking ahead, these solutions indicate an overall positive outlook for the reduction of NRW, ensuring water security in the future.

With inputs from presentations by Snehalkumar Bokare, Industry Director, Water, Bentley Systems; Dr Abhinav Akhilesh, Partner and Head, Health and Human Services, Grant Thornton Bharat LLP; and Satyanaam Bajpai, Manager – Digital Solutions, SUEZ India at a recent India Infrastructure conference.

This article was originally published in Indian Infrastructure magazine on 27 May 2024.