Water Management Practice in Sri Lankan Construction Industry; Project Managers’ Perspective

Anuradha Samarajeewa Waidyasekara
B.Se. (Hons) QS, M.Sc. (Civil Eng), AIQS (SL), MAIQS, AP(GBCSL), SEDA (UK)



Water management involves on optimizing the use of water and minimizing the environmental impact of water use on the natural environment. Optimum use of water covers both conservation and efficiency. At present, inefficiently and inappropriately, insignificant use of potable water is evident in many construction projects in Sri Lanka. The construction industry is therefore having a responsibility for sustaining the water resource. Although, the construction industry is more concerned about resource efficiency and sustainable concepts, water management practice is yet to receive its due recognition. It was found that with regard to sustainable use of water resource in the construction industry, water management aspects should be clearly addressed from the early stages, such as designing and tendering stages of a construction project.

Water resource as a construction commodity.

The Construction industry is regarded as one of the largest users of water along with energy and material resources (Guggemos and Horvath, 2006). However, very limited data are available on water use for specific processes and little is known about how water use of a particular process varies during the life cycle of a construction site (Waylen et al., 2011). Typical water sources for construction include natural water bodies, potable water supply pipelines, non-potable water from storm water or industrial discharges, and reused water from wastewater treatment plan ts. Nine case studies conducted by the Sustainable Forum for Construction (SFfC) group indicate that dust suppression, cleaning, commissioning & testing, and domestic & welfare as high water consumption activities during the construction (Waylen et al., 2011). As stated by Utraja (2010) many concrete strength failed due to wrong water cement ratio added in the mix, though the engineers/contractors who may think that there is something wrong in the cement used.

The findings of the few studies conducted in Sri Lanka show that pipe-borne water is one of the main sources of water for construction work due to limitations of alternative water sources. Human waste and washing are major areas that waste water other than wastage due to direct construction trades. Further, there are no proper benchmarks, performance indicators, guidelines and practices which are specially designed for water efficiency and conservation at the construction project level in Sri Lanka. However, those are important aspects which require more attention, but have been neglected or not being adequately addressed by the stakeholders. Houser and Pruess (2009) justified that if construction projects utilize appropriate best management practices, they can yield minimal impact on overall water quality of surrounding water bodies. Similar to many other countries, Non-Revenue Water (NRW), wastage of treated water, absence of proper systems for cost recovery and ground water contamination are some critical issues in the Sri Lankan water sector (Gamini and Werellagama, 2013; Menikdiwela, 2013). Another important point highlighted is the price increase of water used for construction remains unknown and requirement of changes to the water tariff system because low- priced water always encourages excessive consumption. If services are provided at higher prices it would encourage conservation, and provide better service.

Project managers’ perspective on water management practice in construction sites

The project managers of top grade (C1) contracting organizations in Sri Lanka are of the view that although quality requirements in general for construction water are provided with the specifications, contractual documents fail to address the essential water management aspects which need to be practiced during construction. It is important to note, there is no commitment to the contractor, but professionals’ experience and organizational goals help to implement strategies to control water use during the construction. At present, some sorts of water management practices are used in order to reduce the water quantity at site level when pipe-borne water is used for construction works. For example: use of alternative water sources, and concepts like reduce, reuse, and recycle. However, it may vary according to the site conditions, scale of the project, water availability and individual commitment of professional staff Another focal point highlighted was if the organization has an Environmental Management System (EMS) which is an internal audit document that ensures all the necessary environmental protection and measurements to reduce the impact to the natural components including water due to construction activities.

Most of the projects are tendered through a competitive bidding process therefore it needs to be clearly addressed in tender documents about construction requirements going to be implemented during the construction. The project managers further emphasized that all best practices should be communicated at the initial stage that is during the design and tendering stage. Then there is an obligation for contractor to implement and integrate sustainable water management practices during the construction if necessary. Within the organization the pressure should come from top to bottom level to implement and get successful results. Project managers further highlighted that contractors always try to get the maximum return from their yield and are not interested to implement strategies by tolerating additional costs. This is one of the reasons, as to why water management is not at the forefront of the construction agenda. Another reason is the water is easily accessible and comparatively at low cost. However, the cost allotment for water resource in the ”Preliminary Bill” is considerably low in many projects. Currently water is provided for construction at a subsidiary rate and which reduces the recognition of its real value and the sustainable use. Thus, they suggested increase of unit rate as one of the strategies to control, potable water handling in construction sites. Further, project managers emphasized that authorized government bodies also have certain responsibilities and take part in this job in addition to cultivate positive attitudes towards efficient water practices among individuals in the organizations because inappropriate incentives and institutions often hinder effective use of water. Eventually, this message would be communicated to the construction industry in a formal manner with the support of direct and indirect stakeholders.


  1. Gamini, S., and Werellagama, nR.I.B., (2013). Investment cost and cost recovery water sector Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Water convention, National Conference to make the world Water day, 21st March, pp. 127-134.
  2. Guggemos A.A. and Horvath, A.,(2006). Decision-support tool for assessing the environmental effects of constructing commercial buildings, Journal of Architectural Engineer, pg 187-195, December
  3. Houser D.L., and Pruess, H. (2009). The effects of construction on water quality: a case study of the culverting of Abram Creek, Environ Monit Assess, 155(1-4):431-42. doi : 10.1007/s10661008- 0445-9. Epub 2008 July 18.
  4. Menikdiwela, WM.I., (2013). Who pays for water in the Sri Lanka? Sri Lanka water conservation, National conference to mark the world water day, 21st March, BMICH, Colombo, p.150-155.
  5. Saveni je, H. and Van der Zaag, P. (2002). Water as an economic good and demand management paradigms with pitfalls, International water resources association, Water International, vo1.27 (1) p.98-104.
  6. Utraja, G., (2010). Water for construction, www.gharexpert .com /ar t ic1e s/water- 1837 (accessed on June, 2012).
  7. Waylen, c., Thornback, J. and Garrett, J., (2011). Water: an action plan for reducing water usage on construction sites, Strategic Forum for construction (SFfC), Jane Thornback of the construction product association.