Newsdetails South Asia

Newsdetails for South Asia

13.03.2017 12:19 Category: News from BORDA South Asia
by Nithya Bharadwaj, BORDA South Asia

The Blue Water Company: Operating and Maintaining City-Scale Faecal Sludge Management Systems

Blue Water Company is born out of the work of CDD Society and BORDA in South Asia. While CDD and BORDA have focused on developing technology and designing and building treatment systems for sewage and faecal sludge, a gap has emerged in the management of these systems. With FSM in particular, operations become more complex as they involve not only running the treatment plant, but operating desludging trucks, providing customer service and engaging with and reporting to the local government and communities. Blue Water Company intends to fill these gaps by providing high-quality services around operating end-to-end Faecal Sludge Management systems and decentralized wastewater treatment systems. Through world-class engineering, O&M and financing mechanisms such as Public-Private-Partnerships and Markets for Treated Water, the Company makes it easier for cities, housing societies, and commercial and public buildings to re-use water and prevent contamination of surface and water sources, thereby addressing urban water scarcity, public health and environmental protection.

By 2020, over 70% of urban India’s toilets will be connected to on-site sewage systems (OSS) including septic tanks or pits. It will therefore be critical to provide good-quality faecal sludge management (FSM) and treatment systems to improve sanitation and protect the environment. Today, nearly 100% of faecal sludge is dumped untreated into fields, open land and water bodies—a leading cause of water-supply pollution and risk to agricultural supply chains and public health.

Manual scavenging to clean OSS has been illegal since 2009, though the practice continues to some extent. Today, OSS emptying and faecal sludge transportation services are readily available in most towns, offered by private players and municipal bodies using mechanized trucks with suction pumps. In most cases, however, the quality of service is poor. Operators are not trained properly, trucks may not be functioning perfectly, there is almost no scheduling or standardization of service processes, and in the absence of regulatory oversight, customers have no one to complain to in case of problems or mishaps.

The second key problem is that the number of proper faecal sludge treatment plants (FSTP) can be counted on fingers. Thus, new treatment plants have to be built to deal with the existing and growing volume of faecal sludge.

As the Indian government is quickly accepting FSM as a necessity and  is increasingly willing to invest in it, the private sector needs to support the government in three key ways:

  1. Know-how and technology: As this is an evolving sector, the government does not understand yet how to conceptualize and run an end-to-end FSM system. Private parties can bring this knowledge and expertise.
  2. Robust and reliable operations and maintenance: Government and municipal authorities are institutionally not designed to provide a daily, recurring service to citizens. Private players can build systems, invest in technology and deliver a reliable, consistent service to citizens, 365 days of the year, under the right government-run selection and contracting processes.
  3. Capital and finance: Many Indian cities do not have adequate funds to invest in the capital expenditure (CapEx) and operating costs (OpEx) of these systems over a period of time.

Blue Water Company (Blue Water or BWC) is an entrepreneurial, privately owned business that provides turnkey, end-to-end FSM and FSTP solutions particularly to smaller towns and cities, typically with populations under 350,000 people. Its primary services will include:

i.    Operating and managing de-sludging cesspool vehicles
ii.    Building and managing FSTPs and other de-centralized sewage treatment plants

BWC will have 3 business models, based on the needs of the local government and market conditions:

  • Service Contracts: Where the government has already procured or built the infrastructure (cesspool truck and FSTP), BWC will seek service contracts to operate and maintain these assets properly. The government will pay a fixed or variable fee to BWC for the services offered. Typical contract periods are 3-5 years.
  • Public-Private Partnerships (PPP): Where the infrastructure does not yet exist and the government does not have adequate funds, BWC will create PPPs with state and local governments to invest in, develop and manage FSM systems.

The Hybrid-Annuity Model is viable wherein the government invests around 30-50% of the project cost and BWC invests the remainder. BWC will have a long-term contract, typically 12-15 years, to operate the system and then transfer it to the government, which pays a fixed fee that covers cost of services provided and return of invested amount.

  • Independent FSM Services: BWC can purchase and operate de-sludging trucks and even build FSTPs on private land, where market demand exists but the local government is uninterested in supporting FSM.

BWC has started partnerships with local service providers who lack the management ability to scale their business or the competence or capital to deploy productivity-enhancing technologies. Through such joint ventures, BWC aims to improve the quality of service available to customers while providing the kind of oversight and compliance that local governments seek to protect the environment.

Regardless of the business model, there are five key goals:

a.    Ensure reliable, convenient and good-quality de-sludging services to citizens
b.    Ensure through the use of technology that faecal sludge is transported safely to the treatment plant and not dumped in the wrong locations
c.    Treat faecal sludge properly to meet environmental standards
d.    Protect the health of sanitation workers
e.    Provide reliable data to local governments on de-sludging activities and their impact on environment

BWC is looking forward to establishing control centers and using GPS tracking systems, GIS maps, customer relationship management software and other tools to deliver world-class FSM services in India. FSM requires an investment of $12-20 per capita, and thus significant capital has to be deployed into this sector. Through strong management systems, skilled teams, the right technology, and partnerships with private players and government, BWC aims to become a leading partner for effective, efficient and reliable faecal sludge management and treatment services across India.