R2I Living - Public Water Service from Kerala Water Authority (KWA)

Kerala is famous for its monsoons and receives on the average 140 rainy days a year. Despite this, many Keralites moving into newly-built homes will testify receiving public water service as a tedious process. At the time of hand-over, the only water available for consumption in our community was from a common RO-Plant (Reverse Osmosis) setup by the builder. The plant functioned on rainwater runoff from a few houses and was sufficient only to quench the thirst of 15 houses or so. Our community has over 100 houses making that facility sorely inadequate. While it can be argued the builder was fraudulent, this setup is fairly common in new single family homes and flat projects. The builders are able to work their way out of this mess as the bulk of these flats and houses are purchased by NRI’s (Non-Resident-Indians) and occupancy is rarely above 10% at the time of handover. At that level of occupancy, there is plenty of water to splash around, and the builders generally succeed in handing over the maintenance of the project to an owner-elected-body (Home Owner’s Association) within the first few years.

As occupancy improved, the lack of ready water surfaced as a pressing problem. Our Management Committee (MC) in the first two years attempted several avenues to resolve the water issue. To meet the immediate needs, water was purchased in bulk from private water providers in tankers (Lorries). This is a very expensive option and the estimate was that at 50% occupancy, more than 35% of our yearly budget would have to be dedicated to providing water – RO plant operation manning, electricity to run the plant, and purchasing of water from private parties. Alternatives such as bore wells and regular wells were explored but were not a solution – water from the bore well was deemed good only for non-domestic use as it was too saline – the regular well could provide only a very limited amount of water daily. Expanding the RO infrastructure to collect rainwater runoff from more houses was also considered but abandoned due to prohibitive costs. That expansion involved replacing or upgrading the RO plant the builders installed which had a capacity to serve the needs of only 20 and odd families. From these various options, rainwater harvesting hooked up with an RO-plant of sufficient capacity is usually the best alternative for most villa and flat projects in Kerala, as the monsoon ensures plenty of freshwater throughout the year.

For the longer-term, the Management Committee chalked out a plan which involved the process of procuring KWA (Kerala Water Authority) connection to every villa, possibly with the help of the builder and reserving the existing infrastructure as a backup and for non-domestic water needs. Negotiations with the builder were partly successful - they agreed to bear 50% of the costs involved in obtaining the connection. All said and told, it took two full years after maintenance-handover before the villas in our community got KWA connection. The costs came to around Rs 5K per household and included digging up the roads within our community for laying the KWA pipes. This duplicate work could have been avoided had the builder possessed the foresight and willingness to ensure KWA connections were received and had planned infrastructure accordingly during the construction phase. But, the community’s water problems were still not solved, as by KWA’s unique definition, having a connection does not translate to receiving water. For people used to the woeful service levels of Kerala public sector, this will not sound too bad. At our home, no water dripped down the KWA line for the first five months. The billing rep came by after the first three months of receiving connection and to pacify us called the KWA contractor who agreed to fix the problem. Meanwhile, a few from our community went to check the status with the KWA office and the response received was that our community was given connection mainly to avoid a backlog later on – there is a water shortage in the area and continuous water supply is two years away. They were clueless as to why certain houses received a very small amount of water certain days while others received none whatsoever. The billing rep showed up again a couple of months later and presented us our first bill – apparently, there is a minimum payment regardless of whether water is available or not (~Rs 90pm). This time, we were on his case and the guy connected us with the Assistant Executive Engineer who called the KWA contractor directly and updated him on the situation in our community. We paid the bill promptly and a few days later started receiving water three to four times a week. With our tank capacity of 2000 liters, that level of service barely sufficed.

Prospective home owners in this God’s Own Country should ensure builders provide rainwater harvesting and RO-plant infrastructure with adequate capacity prior to maintenance handover as any costs past that date will have to be borne from the HOA’s common funds as opposed to by the builder.

2012 Update: Our builder Heera and our home owner's association managed to get KWA connections to all the villas at a cost of Rs 5000 per villa. However, no water from the connection at all in our villa so far. Some villas get a very small amount of water once every few days. 

2013 Update: After multiple visits to KWA and meetings with KWA authorities, our association succeeded in getting water to our villas. Rumors are aplenty that corruption is the reason behind water playing hide and seek – KWA contractors, private water suppliers, and valve operators all stand to profit by controlling the water supply to flats and villas in the area ensuring, private water suppliers continue to get good business…

2015 Update: Our water meter broke and the billing rep determined this by comparing two consecutive readings. She wrote up a notice stating that it needs to be replaced by a KWA approved plumber after getting the meter certified. She also indicated that going through the KWA contractor in our area is the best route. Here again, rumors have it that KWA contractors are a primary source of corruption at this public utility: since there is a virtual monopoly (if you attempt to do things on your own bypassing the contractors, they will ensure that it takes multiple visits to KWA to get anything done), they can charge whatever they want. Meters go for around Rs 1000/- at private market. But, the contractor's "full-service" offering starts upwards of Rs 2000 and can go for as much as Rs 3000. We went with the contractor and his workers came by, took the notice, purchased the meter, certified it at KWA, replaced the meter at our house, and gave the KWA certification receipt back to us, all before noon same day...

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