A s the country reels under severe drought, several industries have taken a hit, including IT and manufacturing. According to the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report released by Niti Aayog in 2018, although 93% of India’s urban population has access to ‘basic water’, there are still sharp inter-city and intra-city inequities. By next year, 21 major cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad, are expected to reach zero groundwater levels, affecting over 100 million people. The country’s realty sector will be affected as well, and developers have been forced to put projects on hold.
In Chennai, the Metrowater Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) has reduced piped supply, and builders are buying water at higher rates — this increases construction costs and also delays completion. Says Varun Manian, MD, Radiance Realty Developers. “Borewell yields are not enough to meet our requirements; we are buying water from private suppliers through tankers. Construction costs are shooting up but we have no option.” In their completed projects, Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) systems are helping residents cope with the crisis. Treated sewage water is used for flushing and gardening. “This makes up for 40% of the daily requirement,” says Manian.
But why not just put projects on hold till the situation improves? It isn’t easy, says Dr. R. Kumar, MD, Navin’s, explaining that developers are bound by RERA rules. “The Act mandates builders to complete and hand over projects within a stipulated time frame. RERA doesn’t take into consideration the shortage of resources.” Kumar points out that even available ground water is high in dissolved salts and chemicals.
On the bright side, the situation has led to a rise in the use of water-saving construction technologies that go beyond RWH. Alternate materials — such as gypsum plaster and self-curing concrete — use 50% less water compared to their conventional counterparts such as cement sand plaster. “Even dual plumbing systems are popular,” says A. Shankar, Chief Operating Officer, Strategic Consulting, JLL India. He explains how this helps recycle water for gardening, flushing, etc. He tells me how, with households spending ₹1,000 to ₹2,000 per month for maintenance, the water situation is putting pressure on land-owners to supply water.
Other tech interventions that developers and home-owners could look at are smart water meters and integrated solution platforms. Take the WaterOn meter from Bengaluru-based Smarterhomes Technologies. It generates real-time data and allows users to take actions such as shutting off water supply in the event of a leak. At Bengaluru’s GK Meadows, Electronic City, the water usage in the apartment complex’s 90 units has almost halved, thanks to WaterOn. “From 42,000 litres a day, the usage is now 24,000 litres — a 40% reduction. A monthly bill of ₹1,250 has come down to ₹800 ,” says Vivek Shukla, founder-CEO of SmarterHomes.
WaterOn is connected to an app that allows customers to see their supply and consumption statistics, the averages, the lowest and highest consumption, and also comparisons with other users. “Most people, especially in cities, are aware of the advantages technology can offer to make life easier. The ability to get a notification of an active leak or the ability to shut off water supply is great,” says Shukla, adding, “Developers initially didn’t want to invest in these meters as they were afraid it would add to their costs, but now the community is open to adopting technology that adds value.” In the last five years, they’ve sold over 67,000 meters in 250 apartment complexes across Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai.
When Chennai-based WEGot Utility Solutions was taking shape in 2015, co-founder Abilash Haridass found that changing mindsets of people to look at water differently was a challenge. “In India where almost all big cities are water-starved, there is still no accountability for a consumer’s usage. Water is looked at as an abundant resource and people think there’s no need to monitor its use; that it should be provided free of cost. There is hardly any regulation to charge citizens based on their actual water consumption, hence leading to overuse and wastage, thus resulting in even more shortages,” says Haridass.
His integrated water management solutions company has reached out to 20,000 apartments, with a water management platform that claims to reduce consumption by up to 50%, save on electricity costs (required to pump water) and also cut maintenance costs by over 30%.
Haridass is now working on a business model where customers will be given the product for free and be charged only a monthly subscription fee. This, he says, will dramatically reduce the upfront capex cost and will encourage more users.