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Case Study – Water War Won!

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Water War Won!


A snag in a region’s water supply system led to civil unrest in 13 municipalities impacting the lives of 17 million people. Niranjan Mudholkar finds out how Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran resolved the crisis and won the BE Inspired Award in the ‘Innovation in Water, Wastewater, and Stormwater Networks’ category


‘Sluggishly flows Mother Krishna, unaware of the predicaments on its banks’ – that’s the rough translation of the first line of a well known song from a Marathi movie released in 1967. The songwriter – who described the River Krishna – would not have thought that his words would have an uncanny relevance in the 21st century.
The Krishna River which originates in the Western Ghats at a height of nearly 1337 m, drains into the Bay of Bengal after flowing for about 1400 km across three states. Along with several tributaries, it forms a key source of water in these three states – Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
There is a standing history of riparian disputes in the Krishna Basin amongst these states – with Maharashtra on one side while the southern states Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh on the other. “The Southern states are quite sensitive to the water issue particularly due to the construction of three hydroelectric plants that have turned the river westward instead of its natural eastward flow,” says Dr SV Dahasahasra, Member Secretary and Chief Engineer, Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran (MJP). (The MJP has been responsible for creating water and sanitation infrastructure throughout the state of Maharashtra having executed 359 projects for 247 urban local bodies).

The dispute, the decision
Dr Dahasahasra further informs that the dispute was taken to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruling limited Maharashtra’s water allocation, restricting the amount of water from the Ulhas River (a tributary of the Krishna) that could be released through the hydroelectric station at Bhivpuri. The Apex Court’s decision was about to impact the lives of 17 million people across 13 municipalities in the Mumbai Metropolitan region.
Accordingly, Maharashtra could get only 212 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) in five years forcing the officials from the Water Supply and Sanitation Department (Government of Maharashtra) to stop water supply through the Bhivpuri dam on each Friday. The supply would be resumed on Saturday. But something went wrong in the system and as a result water did not reach many cities at the tail end even after the supply was resumed on Saturday.
It took 14 hours just to fill the empty pipelines, and after that 30 hours were required to fill the storage tanks. Consequently, people did not have water in their taps for 30 long hours. “Millions of people were being adversely affected. There was a hue and cry in the media. Situation started going out of hands as violent protesters held angry demonstrations and in some cases, even vandalized government property,” recalls Dr Dahasahasra.
But what exactly went wrong in the system? Madhuri Mulay, Deputy Engineer, Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran explains: “Under normal circumstances, the valves in the system are controlled by the authority. However, with the one-day cut, citizens decided to take things in their hands and kept the valves open completely.” “This obviously disturbed the hydraulics of the downstream network creating the problem,” adds Dr Dahasahasra. (Mrs Mulay heads the IT cell at MJP and is currently doing her doctorate based on this case study under Dr Dahasahasra.)

Tackling the challenge
The authorities were working fulltime to find a solution before things could get from bad to worse. It was at this time that the principal secretary of the Water Supply and Sanitation Department brought the challenge to Dr Dahasahasra.
MJP decided to take the challenge head on. The team under Dr Dahasahasra decided that it needed to create a hydraulic model of the entire pipe network that would allow its engineers to locate the problem and design a solution accordingly.
Creating the right kind of model took just a week’s time with special software solutions like WaterGEMS, Bentley Map and Bentley Water. Pipelines, landmarks, and other features were digitized for the model using Bentley Map and Bentley Water. Satellite images with a resolution of 0.6 meter were incorporated as well. The total pipe network of the Mumbai metropolitan area was simulated in Bentley Water and then exported to WaterGEMS for hydraulic modelling.
“Of course, we had a head-start because of a model created in response to the devastating floods of 2005,” informs Dr Dahasahasra. “The new hydraulic model gave us immediate understanding of the water infrastructure and enabled us to make knowledge-based decisions to tackle the problem on hands,” he states. “Our strategy was to stimulate scenarios of the actual crisis and corrective measures. The idea was to re-engineer a pipe network that would serve reliably, safely, and efficiently,” adds Mrs Mulay.

The solution
Once the basic data was entered in the model, MJP created three scenarios: normal water supply, a simulation of the situation after a one-day water restriction, and a simulated solution to the problem. Analysis of the model showed that the low-lying areas in the network were drawing more water than necessary. Moreover, these areas were located nearest to the dam. Obviously, flow to the end of the network was suffering.
Although, this may seemed rather obvious after the analysis, nobody even thought of it when the actual crisis started. “It was only after MJP prepared the simulation and the colour-coding of computed pressures at every node in the system that the engineers could identify the negative pressures at some nodes. This clearly reflected that water wasn’t reaching those locations,” remarks Dr Dahasahasra.
After the source of the problem was identified, MJP used programmable controls in WaterGEMS to decrease the flow from valves in low-lying areas. Thus, normal flow was resumed in the network without compromising anyone’s water requirements. Re-engineering of the system brought down the refill time drastically after the dam was re-opened every week. “This work has saved a time lag of 30 hours.
The value of this savings definitely cannot be measured in monetary terms, as it concerns the life sustenance of millions of people,” states Dr Dahasahasra. The efforts were appreciated by the local municipal bodies as well as the Government of Maharashtra. MJP’s solution has eliminated the need for the thousands of water tankers that would have been required each week in the absence of a functional pipe network. “Most importantly for us, we are happy that our solution helped tackle a law-and-order situation and satisfied the common people.”

The way ahead
If we look at this case study in the larger perspective, we can see that given the complex nature of our country, similar situations can arise anytime anywhere. Across the country, rapid urbanisation is already exerting extreme pressure on the strained centralised water supply systems.
Just to give an example, according to a study conducted by the Delhi Committee of The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), against the water requirement 4,700 million litres a day, the city is able to get only 3400 million litres of water per day currently.
Obviously, there are huge discrepancies in the system that need to be resolved on priority.
The Assocham study points out that total distribution losses of Delhi’s water supply are to the tune of 40%.
These losses are due to leakages in a network of nearly 9,000 km-long main water supply chains and due to theft through unauthorised connections. The figure is quite high as compared to 10 to 20% in other developing countries.
The percentage of UFW (unaccounted-for-water) calculated from the difference between water produced and pumped is a high 35%–40%, adds Assocham. And the city’s water requirement is expected to rise to 5200 million litres a day by 2011!
Well, this is just one example. Clearly, as Jack S Cook, (Jr), VP, Water & Waste Water Solutions, Bentley Systems, Inc, says ‘Water is the next oil’. We need to anticipate these situations while learning from experiences like the MJP’s efforts in Maharashtra.
Dr Dahasahasra suggests creation of a hydraulic model to assess the threats and vulnerabilities to water utilities, and finding solutions in advance. The team at MJP under Dr Dahasahasra would be more than happy to help irrespective of the state facing the problem.

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