A Sneak Peek Into The Digitized Future Of Water Management

by Rishi Sharma - Mar 30, 2016 01:15 PM +05:30 IST
A Sneak Peek Into The Digitized Future Of Water ManagementWater crisis/Getty
  • The upcoming smart cities are going to face the same acute water crisis as every city in India faces, water being a finite source. Here’s an innovative digital solution to the problem.

As part of the Smart Cities series, Swarajya got in touch with a team of budding entrepreneurs, alumni of IIT Bombay, who have come up with a marketable idea for better water management in Indian cities. The team was awarded the first prize at a recent Smart City competition held at IIT Bombay. This article explains the problem of water management and how the team’s product offers a solution.

The natural resources of a city are its most valuable assets. They play a pivotal role in defining the climate, food, population density and the city’s progress. Water is one such natural resource that has been used exhaustively. Consequently, we are facing scarcity of water in almost every city, town and village of the country.

The intensity of the water crisis varies from place to place, from areas of a city that receive continuous water supply, to other areas of the same city that receive water only once a week. The rising population coupled with stagnant supply systems in India has pushed the availability of fresh water from 3,000 cubic meters to 1,123 cubic meters per capita in last 50 years, whereas the global average stands at 6,000 cubic meters per capita.

The problem is extremely complex and cannot be solved by merely increasing the water supply capacity or by installing better infrastructure. It needs a smart, directional, clearly aimed and well-structured approach. One of the underlying problem is the lack of proper water monitoring systems that are reliable, accurate and real-time.

Also, the decisions taken by the water distribution authorities regarding the distribution schedule and timing are based more on experience and intuition, rather than scientific and mathematical rationale in the form of forecasting techniques or optimization algorithms. Decades-old surveys are used as guidelines without realizing that the population and topography as well as the demographic structure of the area have changed.

A visit to Parbhani, a small town in central Maharashtra, for working out a new water distribution scheme made the authors better understand the on-ground realities. The water crisis was so severe that every area covered by the Municipal Corporation received water just once a week at best. To add to the crisis, more than 40 percent of the water was lost in the distribution lines.

When the authors tried to gather data, there were virtually no reliable records maintained and almost everything seemed to work on ‘gut feeling’. The person orchestrating the operations has to actually call individuals on a daily basis to get statuses of water tanks and valves, taking hours to get a small piece of information, which was itself very unreliable at times. And the worst part was that the authorities were totally unsure of what steps are required for the improvement of this situation.

Man walks through a dry pond in Odisha (Photo credits: ASIT KUMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Man walks through a dry pond in Odisha (Photo credits: ASIT KUMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

With a firm belief in the potential and power of technology in letting us make informed choices, we, a group of IIT Bombay graduates have tried to come up with a solution. The idea is to use Internet-of-Things (IoT) and data analytics in creating a workable and practical solution for resolving the problem of water management.

So, we launched a start-up which promises an assortment of devices that would give us real time data about water level, water flow and even water quality. This is made possible with nodes that have the capacity to incorporate any industrial sensors.

Once the data is collected in the device, it is then processed on-site. The processed data is then transmitted to our online cloud through 2G/3G technology. In cases where the areas are very remote and don’t have network coverage, the inbuilt Long Range Radio Technology can be used for transmission of data to the online cloud. This implies the device can be installed anywhere.

The data received in the cloud can then be further processed as per requirement, deriving insights such as forecasts for future states, alert predictions, optimized process implementation methodology etc. These insights are then delivered to the end user.

Huge emphasis is to be laid in the way results are delivered to the end users. Thus, the effort is to keep things minimalistic and deliver the results in the most understandable fashion. Moreover, the availability of the app in local languages increases the reach of the system.

Apart from the monitoring aspect, it caters to some level of automation as well. Currently, nothing is automated. Thus from small tasks such as switching motors on/off to bigger tasks such as operating valves in the field, everything is done manually. Hence, there is a long time lag in response, as well as a lot of unnecessary effort. The new system has nodes that can be attached to such entities, thus making them operable directly from web or through the mobile app. Moreover, the process can be programmed to make it work automatically without human involvement.

Lastly, apart from day-to-day operational tasks, the system also acts as an alerting system if something unforeseen happens such as a leak in the pipe, or tanks overflowing/getting empty or unusually heavy utilization of water, and so on. As the system operates in real time, it alerts the concerned officials immediately.

This is contrary to the current scenario where problems are often discovered after a lot of time. As compared to the present scenario, where to know the location of a problem, one has to investigate the complete system, the product provides the location of the problem automatically with a fair amount of accuracy. This saves a lot of cost by preventing huge loss of resources and drastically reducing the response time.

Thus, the product handles the task of monitoring the complete city by a few touches on the screen of the users’ smartphones. This would save time, money and unnecessary use of manual labor. It would optimize resource utilization. The device would serve as a reliable and accessible water monitoring source. It would eliminate absolutely any possibility of improper book-keeping as the data would be stored in an online database, which could be used for forecasts and optimizations and also as a reliable premise for future developmental planning.

Also, the derived insights can be accessed by the end user from any part of the world, hence empowering him/her to take decisions without regional constraints. Therefore, these computed, meticulously calculated results will help the user to make fast and effective decisions.

The system has been tested in localities and controlled environments. And now it is in the process of being put to use in Bari Sadri, a town in Rajasthan.

The concept of automation and digitization in the world of water management will prove to be a huge leap for society. It will put an end to the hassles and inefficiencies one had to face due to lack of proper technology. Smart management of natural resources would be similar to hitting two targets with one arrow. It will cater to environmental needs as well as to human needs. The structure resonates with the idea of sustainable development.

The authors are members of the founding team of this water-management start up.

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