The Story of Singapore’s Water Supply

img_7499We were treated to an interesting lecture about Singapore’s water supply system and tour of its original prototype water reclamation system last Wednesday afternoon.  Assistant Director YEO Sheng Wei of the Singapore PUB (Singapore’s water authority) Industry Development Department provided us with a detailed description of the history, policy, and current components of the water system.  Because Singapore is a city-state with a very limited land base, virtually no natural resources, and only a very limited natural freshwater supply that can provide potable water to the country’s resident.  That has forced the government to be very forward-looking and innovative in addressing the population’s water needs.  Interestingly, the city has looked to places like California to learn about options for water management.

The country’s water supply comes from what is described as 4 national taps:  1) local watersheds/catchments (from natural rainfall), 2) water imports (from Malaysia), 3) NEWater, and 4) desalinated water (from ocean).  The last two taps have become only important in Singapore over the past few decades because of the limited prospects and uncertainty associated with water imports from Malaysia.  The water imports from Malaysia have arrived courtesy of two treaties, one of with expired a few years ago. The other treaty, a 100 year agreement originally concluded in 1962, guarantees water delivery until 2061.  In order to ensure a stable and secure water supply beyond 2061, Singapore developed the NEWater system and water desalination plants.  The desalination plants are quite straight-forward and use technology that has been developed in other places.  I found NEWater to be most fascinating.

In essence, NEWater is recycled water — waste water (. . . . sewage, arrgh) cleaned up enough so that it can be fed back into the potable water systems.  The NEWater Visitor Center that we toured actually provided illustrations of the advanced technological processes that clean up the water.  After waste water goes through the traditional treatment process of a waste water treatment plant, it is fed through additional filtration processes, including a final reverse osmosis filtration, producing water so pure that it is used for industrial processes such as silicon wafer production (in semiconductor manufacturing).

However, it turns out that only a small fraction of the city’s tap water is made up of NEWater, and even that part is fed through the city’s reservoirs first rather than being mixed into the drinking water system directly.  The reason for the relatively small percentage (about 5%) contribution is the remaining psychological aversion to drinking NEWater.  That has remained an issue even though the country’s prime minister himself drank a small bottle of NEWater at a televised event introducing NEWater to the public some years ago.  Among Singapore’s current strategies to make its citizens become comfortable with NEWater is a requirement that all school children must visit the NEWater Visitor Center in order to understand Singapore’s water issues and gain a better understanding of NEWater.

We were given free samples of NEWater, and I can now say (proudly?) that we all drank the NEWater . . . . it tasted fine. . . .   That was a few days ago, and I am still fine – or at least I feel fine, not a bit ill . . . .  Anyway, jokes aside, the water tasted like any other bottled water . . . no odors or after-taste.

The afternoon visit proved to be a highly educational experience that gave all of us a much better appreciation for water.

 

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