NextDrop has been fortunate enough to have the full and sincere cooperation of one of Hubli’s best valvemen: Chandru. It’s incredibly helpful to work with someone so willing to share the know-hows of the water system in Hubli, because the on-paper description of the process is much different than what actually goes on. Today Chandru let us tag along as he opened and closed a myriad of valves in his water areas, providing service to residents who (after over 20 years of seeing him around!) know him by name.
As usual, we learned much more than we expected. And were sharing that process because its interesting, and lots of fun.
Here we go!
From what we can tell, Chandru’s service period starts with a call from the Section Officer and lasts around 48 hours. The Section Officer will tell Chandru that it’s his turn to provide water to his residents. This call is actually pretty important, because different valvemen in Hubli take turns providing service to their areas to maintain ample water pressure. Or, no one will get water. After this call Chandru has around 40 valve areas to give water to, each with its own valve. He’ll usually open valves for 3 or 4 areas at a time, and leave them on for 4-5 hours each.
Today we learned that water pressure is incredibly important for water delivery, and is one of the reasons service is provided erratically at times. For example…
Lingaraj Nagar North is located more uphill, so Chandru leaves this valve open for 7-8 hours instead of 4. But, because of the pressure needed for the water to reach up the slope, residents in Lingaraj Nagar North only get 3-4 good hours of water (when some other valves have been closed). The distribution within Lingaraj Nagar North itself is also varied – people living more uphill get less water than those living more downhill near the supply. In cases like these, we can send a notification that the valve has been open, but some residents wont actually get water because of insufficient pressure.
In the opposite case when an area is located more downhill, instead of shortening the time a valve is open, Chandru will only open a valve 2/3rds of the way for the same amount of time. This is also to regulate the amount of pressure so that the pipes don’t burst due to excess pressure. The pipes are really old. If a customer calls Chandru to complain about lack of water, Chandru can open the valve a little bit more or longer.
I should mention that there aren’t any fancy instruments Chandru uses to measure the pressure in the pipes underground. He depends on none other than the rod used to open valves and his ears! The valve itself is at the end of a small 2-foot deep shaft, reachable only by a special rod Chandru uses. Here’s a picture of Chandru opening a valve.
He’ll put his ear to the end of the rod and gauge the pressure by the sound of water rushing by. It’s actually quite loud when the sound travels to the end of the rod. We got to have a listen ourselves.
We also got a tour of the old water tank in between valves.
The old water tanks have supplied water to all of Hubli for 99 years. It’s hundredth birthday is next year. The tanks are a pair of 20-foot deep underground structures that each have a huge valve opening at the bottom, where the lake’s water pushes upwards. The valve openings are about the size of sewage openings in the states.
These two wheels open up the valves, which currently work to drain nearby Unkal Lake.
The goal is to reach the mud at the bottom of the lake for construction, and next monsoon season will fill the lake back up.
We also weren’t the only ones shadowing Chandru!
Chandru’s been a valveman for over 20 years now – he’s one of the best. So far he’s also only taken two sick days… in all 20 years of working for the water board. The water board makes it a point to have someone shadow Chandru for when he won’t be around to run the water delivery for a huge number of people. Ravi, the Water Board Employee who usually repairs aged pipes, was also along for the ride today watching Chandru open and close valves for different areas.
There’s a lot of information to be learned, but no formal ‘training’ program. The day to day of running water deliveries often isn’t known by those who aren’t out in the field. A lot of information gets lost in between. The people we talk to and have conversations with in offices most times don’t know all there is to know. Shadowing and watching is the best way to learn, which is why we try to go out and watch the valvemen.
What we need to understand is how things work currently, so we can make as easy as possible for valvemen to adopt the the NextDrop system. To us, coming from a structured and systematic context, it looks like organized chaos. Somehow (we’re not quite sure how) progress manages to push its way through text messages, people, and processes every day. But thats only what it looks like. There’s definitely a method to the madness, but its not even really that mad. We just don’t understand it yet. Days like today grant us a lot of insight into how we should begin to work with their style of work.
By: Jessica Tsai and Madhusudhan B.