That water is a precious resource we must conserve is a truism no one will contest. But in the context of global warming, climate change, frequent droughts, and uncertain weather patterns, the use of water has acquired new dimensions. It encompasses a range of necessary action including saving our rivers and water systems. Crucially, it also involves effectively plugging leaks in distribution networks to reduce water loss and manging used water and treating it so that it undergoes a process of rejuvenation, becomes potable or usable and does not literally go down the drain.

The importance of saving water and used water management in a country like India cannot be overstated. India accounts for 2.45 per cent of land area and 4 per cent of water resources of the world but represents about 18 per cent of the world population. According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) figures, 72,368 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage was generated in urban areas in India in 2020-21. Currently, the installed sewage treatment capacity is 31,841 MLD while the operational capacity is 26,869 MLD. In effect, only 28 per cent is treated while the rest is released in rivers, lakes, and aquifers leading to deterioration of water quality.

Luckily the uphill effort to save water is being sharpened by cutting-edge technology. Today, IoT and AI are also playing a key role in this. Many start-ups have sprung up in India with new innovations and solutions to save, recover and rejuvenate water. A push to such efforts was given three years ago by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), which announced the ‘India Water Pitch-Pilot-Scale Start-Up Challenge.’ As many as 76 start-ups have been selected for the challenge.

The private sector is also providing the nudge. The HCL Group has a global programme it partners with UpLink, the open innovation platform of the World Economic Forum. With a $15 million investment over five years, the Aquapreneur Innovation Initiative, selects promising start-ups and provides them partners and funding to scale up their innovation in management and conservation of freshwater.

Innovation at its best

Among the winners last month was the Indian venture SmartTerra that provides AI- powered analytics software to reduce water losses in city-scale and built environment networks. “SmartTerra makes finding a needle in the haystack easy,” says Gokul Krishna Govindu, the CEO. He explains that the tools used help utilities quickly spot leaks across thousands of kilometres of underground networks and that without AI, this would be a time-consuming effort involving a manual scan of the entire network.

The analytics also help utilities identify faulty meters and connections with anomalous consumption patterns. Currently, SmartTerra has been engaged by L&T in Pune to provide water loss analytics. In the pilot phase, SmartTerra managed to reduce water losses from 55 per cent to 32 per cent, identifying leaks and unauthorised consumers with 77 per cent accuracy.

Boson Whitewater from Bangalore is using AI and IoT technology to convert water from sewage treatment plants (STPs) into potable quality water. The company, which was among the 76 that won the MoHUA challenge, works with high rise apartments, malls, and IT Parks to repurpose water from their STPs for drinking, household chores, and centralised air conditioning.

Founded by Vikas Brahmavar and Gowthaman Desingh, the technology involves a 11-stage filtration system designed in sequence to reduce physical, chemical and biological contaminants in treated wastewater. The Boson IoT platform collects system parameters such as water pressure, its quality and quantity from the fully automated Boson Whitewater (BWW) System. This helps in scheduling predictive maintenance.

Technology is also helping to reduce water usage. Air India recently introduced ‘Aerowash’, a device for washing the exterior of its aircraft. It is a waterless process using a robotic-like micro-fibre brush drum for cleaning. The volume of clean water saved in a year is 30,000 litres for every narrow-body aircraft and about 75,000 litres for every wide-body aircraft.

These innovations illustrate the positive role technology and AI can play in water conservation and rejuvenation. With India thirteenth among the world’s 17 most ‘extremely water-stressed’ countries, such innovative solutions are urgently needed. Water is a resource that cannot be wasted.