Friday, June 14, 2024

Ensuring the delivery of safe water with IoT enabled remote monitoring

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According to the Ministry of Jal Shakti, more than 80% of the country’s population receives drinking water from groundwater sources. However, nearly 80% of groundwater contains several contaminants, including toxic metals. With growing urbanization, India is shifting rapidly to surface water for drinking water supplies. But already, about 70% of surface water in the country is contaminated and is not fit for human consumption, according to the Asian Development Research Institute, due to microbial contamination and runoff chemicals.

Unsafe water is a growing threat to public health. Each year, waterborne diseases affect nearly 38 million people in India, with diarrhoea alone causing 1.5 million deaths in children under five. The need to ensure water quality, thus, is urgent and paramount.

While the Indian standards prescribe physical and chemical parameters of water quality, testing and taking corrective measures presents several challenges. To date, this process largely remains manual. Officials travel to collect water samples from designated places (like reservoirs) and subject them to lab tests. The process is cumbersome. Tests are often insufficient and not timely – hence, they are neither reliable nor transparent. Such tests determine microbial contamination after the event. Intermittent supplies through hundreds of kilometers of piping lead to reverse contamination of piped water supplies. Therefore, the presence of residual chlorine often acts as a surrogate indicator for microbial safety in water supplies.

To top it all, quality issues concerning the water of overhead tanks (OHTs) loom large, as there is currently no affordable mechanism for monitoring the residual chlorine levels of water stored there. As India targets to create over one million OHTs in the next five years to build a nationwide infrastructure to ensure piped water supply in every home, the concerns are likely to grow.

In these contexts, the importance of last-mile water quality monitoring assumes significance. The advances in mobile and communication technologies, especially the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), have the potential to revolutionise water quality management in the country. The technology can pave the way for real-time, continuous, and automated monitoring (both measurement and analysis) of the water quality of the last-mile supplies.

A typical IoT-based water quality management system uses sensors such as pH (the concentration of hydrogen ions), turbidity (suspended particles present in water), residual chlorine, water pressure, and total dissolved solids. The system converts sensor readings into digital values and transmits the values to the cloud application. The software analyses the data from the different sensors and evaluates the quality parameters. A water manager can access the data and analytical reports online and take steps to ensure water quality.

As IoT systems are low-cost and scalable, their adoption is gaining momentum. India’s Jal Jeevan Mission has initiated smart water measurement using IoT technology to display critical parameters such as LPCD (litre per capita per day), storage reservoir capacity, and water quality parameters. Currently, these systems do not have a way to augment residual chlorine.

At Safe Water Network, our primary focus is the application of IoT in water quality management coupled with automatic chlorination. We have developed an innovative IoT-based intelligent water quality monitoring system: ACOM (Automatic Chlorination and Online Monitoring). It is a community point-of-entry system utilizing an existing overhead storage tank or a central supply source and intelligent cloud-based monitoring of critical water quality parameters in the piped water supply. Importantly, since the technology also informs the chlorine content in each litre (mg/L) in real-time, it provides alarms for the need to augment chlorine residues.

Utilising cloud servers and online dashboards, the system enables remote monitoring of water supply, with real-time data on aspects like supply timing, volumes per household, and tank water level. It also remotely monitors water quality parameters such as residual chlorine, total dissolved solids, pH, and turbidity. However, the unique component of the ACOM System is an ‘automatic chlorinator.’ The quantity of chlorination is an effective determinant of water quality. Although chlorine is widespread as a disinfectant, it decays over time during storage or transmission. Using stale chlorine affects water quality. The inline water chlorination system of ACOM System serves the purpose of dosing quality chlorine. The ACOM system constantly monitors residual chlorine and triggers alarms to enhance chlorination to ensure a desirable quality water supply.

The Sustainable Development Goal on Clean Water and Sanitation calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water. Adopting technology is essential for India to progress on this front. Creating an IoT sensor environment in water quality management is the need of the hour to save people from waterborne diseases. And the scope for a broad-scale adoption of low-cost ‘smart’ models such as the ACOM System – thus ensuring access to safe, clean, adequate water for everyone across the country, is immense.

Poonam Sewak, Vice President – Program & Partnerships, Safe Water Network
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