Ashok Niranjan is a software engineer at Accenture and a member of the Management Committee, in charge of water at Brigade Mayflower in JP Nagar. He is looking to adopt individual water metering. "We are just two of us (in our apartment) and out most of the day. We use less water but we end up paying as much as anybody else who is using lot more water than we do," says Niranjan.
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Niranjan realises the gravity of water consumption. After their initial successful rainwater harvesting project, he is committed to saving water.
The 240-apartment Mayflower block gets a total water bill of upto Rs. 60,000 per month. They get BWSSB water supply twice a week. In addition, they buy 25,000 litres from tankers every week.
Here is how both the system design and functioning of large, multi-storied apartment buildings affect water management of the local area.
Water woes in apartments»
Mayflower has a single inlet from the BWSSB pipeline, which connects to their underground sumps.
The water committee has discussed various options to individually meter the four water inlets for each of the apartments. They have also considered introducing individual analogue meters, which needs re-plumbing. Niranjan says, "The main problem is access to our bathroom and toilet water inlets which is outside the apartment and difficult to re-plumb".
BWSSB’s water meters
BWSSB water meters are mechanical meters that calculate the water consumed, based on the water flow velocity through the house service connection pipes. They need to be replaced every 7-10 years.
The BWSSB has initiated a drive in collaboration with L&T to check the problem of Unaccounted for Water. The project includes fixing water pipe leaks and faulty meters. According to Dinesh, Assistant Engineer, BWSSB (Basavanagudi), "Faulty meters are only those that have reached their expiry date, therefore not functioning properly or have been damaged unintentionally." The BWSSB does not account for the losses due to meter tampering. The priority seems to be accounting for every drop of water. Options to reduce the use of water or saving water seem secondary.
Won’t water usage in apartments reduce considerably if metering is done individually rather than bulk? "People should become aware of reducing water usage. They should understand that it is a precious resource. There is nothing that we can do to reduce your water consumption," says Dinesh.
Common hindrances for apartments to adopt individual water meters:
1) Meter reading can be cumbersome
2) The systemic problem of getting water meter connections from BWSSB. The builders usually decide to go for a third party metering like the sub-metering.
3) Laying pipes and plumbing systems for bulk sharing of water is easy to design, construct and maintain and is now probably a standard that every builder blindly follows
4) The issue of re-plumbing of existing pipe system if one considers individual meter for every flat
"We do not, as a rule, give more than two connections per registered site. While the number of connections are restricted, the diameter of the pipe carrying and measuring water varies depending on the population density of a housing complex," Dinesh explains.
A case study by one of Citizen Matters‘ citizen journalists, Kannan Venkitachalam, in his own apartment complex, validates the importance of measuring consumption.
In apartments where thousands of people use water everyday and share the bulk supply, there is no way to track who is consuming more and who is paying more. This also leads to people using excessive water. Kannan Venkitachalam’s case. explains this.
Individual water meters in apartments
Venkitachalam is working on solutions to tackle the problems of design at the building stages that involve a plumbing layout. "Definitely individual metering can be made during initial plumbing layout in the building blueprint. However the cost will increase for the extra pipes and its fittings. The real estate development plan also has to be visualised in advance for meter installation." he says.
Kannan Venkitachalam’s case study of individual metering in flats, using mechanical meters.
Venkitachalam shares this simple approach to incorporating individual metering system while sketching out plans for the apartment complexes. He is also figuring out solutions to retrofit existing plumbing systems with individual meters.
Nester builders have an apartment complex with 159 sub-meters on ORR, Mahadevpura road, that is now 2.5 years old. "We used to have 10-12 tankers of 8,000 litres providing water to us before introducing sub-metering. Now it is not more than 10 tankers of 4,000 litres capacity per month. Nearly 50% reduction in water consumption has been recorded in the last three summer months after the introduction of individual metering," says Chinni Prakash, Customer Relationship Manager at Nester Raga apartments.
"It was after some of the property owners complained about the unfair bulk metering of water where they might be paying for excessive usage of others." In this case, these residents looked up Vinod Damodaran who heads the Bangalore office of AnCenergy that provides sub-metering solutions in the United States and India, Bangalore.
Prakash also shows us some water meter bills generated by Vinod’s company for the apartments as a part of the free one-year monitoring and support provided to their customers. The apartment now gets 159 separate bills with neatly tabulated readings of individual water consumption. The system also keeps tabs on the amount of water pumped and the quantity of water billed. This helps expose the possibility of leaks.
"Our technology is easy to retrofit in apartments. Some minimal re-plumbing work needs to be done at the location where water enters the apartment. We need to place our sensors at the entry points and the rest of the plumbing remains undisturbed" says Vinod Damodaran, who has received nearly 300 enquiries in the last year about his services.
"People are interested, but the approval process within apartments is slow" has been Damodaran’s experience. He gets most of his enquiries through India water portal. He also assures that the cost would be lower than the cost of re-plumbing the entire water pipe layout to fit individual analog meters. "Redesign and re-plumbing may be manageable for smaller complexes with less apartments, but for bigger complexes, both the costing and re-plumbing will work out to be much higher and cumbersome than the solution we provide," claims Damodaran.
"Its a time-tested technology that has been in use in America since 1970s. The builders there are quick to implement it since with individual metering they can account for the utility services which gets reimbursed by users on presenting the bill. But in India the end users need to be aware of what they consume and what they are paying for." The sub-meter unit is now manufactured in the US and is compatible with water inlet pipes of upto 0.75 inches in India. (According to BWSSB, domestic usage water inlet pipes typically are of 0.5 inch, 0.75 inch and 1 inch).
The cost of setting this up is approximately Rs.10000-15000 per apartment. This is a one-time investment that will save lots of water and therefore billing amounts in the long run. "We have had instances where after meter installation people have complained of being excessively charged. After some investigation we found a case where water leak in the toilet flush was close to 15,000 litres per month which was fixed. In another case where the owner was lax about water leak in his kitchen sink which was turning out to be 20 litres per day. He fixed it for a meagre Rs 150," explains Damodaran.
"It would be great if the BWSSB insists on individual metering for apartments since it saves water. If we could get enthusiastic people in BWSSB excited about the possibility of sub-metering and the conservation of water, then every drop of water saved is a success story" says Damodaran as he plans to get in touch with the BWSSB.⊕