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Pakistan-US Science and Technology Cooperation Program
Phase 7 (2017 Deadline)

Design and testing of water ATMs - water dispensing and quality measurement units
US Partner: Mustafa Naseem, University of Michigan
Pakistan Partner: Tauseef Tauqeer, Information Technology University
Project summary
This project will design and test a water dispensing unit that also measures water quality to provide community access to safe drinking water in Pakistan and explore commercialization options. The dispensing units will be piloted at water filtration plants across the Punjab province.

Progress Reports

The grant allowed research teams at the University of Michigan and Information Technology University (ITU) Pakistan to collaborate on a project to develop integrated units to measure water flow and water quality at community-based clean drinking water collection units called Water Filtration Plants. The teams signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the local water utility in Lahore, Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA). The MoU allowed the teams to deploy their sensors at 6 WASA water filtration plants in Lahore. The data collected from Water sensors, including more than 42,000 transactions and 1.28 Million liters of clean drinking water dispensed, was uploaded live onto a web-based dashboard and shared with the water utility. The live monitoring and actionable insights provided on the web-dashboard, including: leaky taps, taps accidentally left turned on, non-functional plants, and water quality parameters such as pH, temperature, electrical conductivity, dissolved oxygen, etc. will allow the utility to improve the service provision at these sites.

The US team also conducted qualitative research in Lahore, including conducting 53 interviews with low-income residents of Lahore about their water collection and use habits, as well as with 10+ water experts in Lahore about the upcoming transition to surface water from ground water. The team wrote a 40,000-word policy report that has guidance for water policy makers in Punjab, Pakistan to help them with this transition.

The policy report, alongside a short documentary about the utility of the project, made by a twice-Emmy and an Oscar winning documentarian will be shown to policy makers at a virtual workshop hosted by the US project team. Longer term benefits of the grant include the creation of a research lab at ITU (IMAL – Industrial Monitoring and Automation Lab) that has multiple Principle Investigators who routinely bring research funding and deploy research-based products in field settings, including measuring the functioning of tube wells and the electrical grid.

In year 2, our objective was to deploy water dispensing and water quality units in a real-life setting. Starting in June 2018, we deployed these units at a Water Filtration Plant specifically set up for this project within the Pakistani partner university (Information Technology University). Students were able to collect clean drinking water using their university issued student ID cards. We conducted a near real-life pilot at ITU for 6 months, set-up a partnership with a water utility (WASA Lahore), and deployed the water quality and dispensing units at a WASA plant for another 6 months. Between these two pilots, we were able to improving the robustness of our technical designs to make it field ready, formalize relationships with partner agencies such as WASA Lahore and potential scale-up partners, and collect valuable sensor and qualitative field data (through semi-structured interviews) to get a better understanding of the challenges faced by poor, urban communities in accessing clean, drinking water in Punjab, Pakistan.

2018: Pakistan is an extremely water starved country, with water levels falling below 1000 cubic meters per capita in the recent past. Access to clean drinking water is an even greater challenge, with 16 million people in Pakistan having no choice but to drink dirty water, resulting in 41,000 children dying of diarrhea per year due to poor water and sanitation facilities. The Government of Punjab (GoP) has decided to construct Water Filtration Plants – community clean water collection points, where community members can collect clean drinking water from the node in jerry cans at no monetary cost. Research has shown that due to filtration mechanisms not being properly maintained, water quality at water filtration plants is also below appropriate levels – one study found that 27 out of 33 Water Filtration Plants in Islamabad were providing unsafe drinking water to their customers.

This project aims to create a Water ATM – an electronic device with a water dispensing unit and a water quality measurement unit. The water dispensing unit will allow consumers to collect water from water filtration plants by using an electronic (RFID) card. The water dispensing unit has four parts (a) an RFID card reader that authenticates the user (b) a solenoid valve that opens and closes the flow of water (c) a flow meter that measures the amount of water dispensed (d) a microprocessor (computer) that saves these data and communicates it to a web based dashboard. The water quality measurement unit tests different water quality parameters such as pH, turbidity and residual chlorine by using electronic probes. This data is collected without any human involvement and is uploaded to a web-based dashboard that the water utility can use to ensure that the water being dispensed is safe to drink.

So far, the water dispensing unit has been designed and fabricated. It has been deployed on a water filtration plant and the data collected at the unit can be successfully uploaded to a web-based dashboard. On the water quality measurement side, certain water quality parameters such as the pH, conductivity and oxidation reduction potential (ORP) can be measured without human intervention. Turbidity can be measured, but the water sample needs to be collected by a human and placed in a vial. We are working to automate this. The water dispensing unit and the water quality measurement unit have been integrated, such that they can both now write to the same microprocessor (computer) installed locally on the water ATM. This microprocessor communicates with the web-based dashboard using cellular data.