Follow-up Perspective on Singapore’s NEWater

Today we visited the NEWater plant and Visitor Center in Singapore, and it was exciting to see their development with water. The NEWater plant treats waste water in a three-step process and then feeds the water back into Singapore’s system. As part of the tour, we got to taste the recycled water, and I must admit, there is little difference from other tapwater.

The plant treats water by microfiltration firs,t which filters out microscopic particles including bacteria. Second is the reverse osmosis which removes undesirable contaminants by flowing the water through a filter in reverse. The last step is the ultraviolet disinfection in which the water passes through ultraviolet light to ensure any remaining organisms are removed. After this process has been completed, chemicals are added to the water to restore the pH balance. Now the water is ready for drinking.

These steps are similar but also different from the steps we apply in the United States. In my home town of Seaside, CA, waste water is treated by the MontereyOne Water company which is in the process of treating and feeding waste water back into the public flow upon voter decision. Currently they also use a three-step process and the fourth step is being introduced to bring into consumption. Their steps include, first running the water through a large screen to remove large materials. Second, the water flows into primary clarifiers where gravity sinks or floats solids in the water and then are removed. Next the water is introduced into a bioflocculation basin which contains millions and millions of microbes that decompose the organic matter in the water. Lastly the water is distributed back into the ocean.

The idea of recycled water to the tap has brought a lot of controversy in California. Many of the arguments against this process are because of the thought of drinking “toilet” water. To be sustainable in the future, the process of using recycled water is a must otherwise production of water will become a much bigger issue. Although I strongly suggest another step should be added to insure the water quality is adequate and this step should include a testing step. Somehow and in some way, we have to change the minds of the people that treated water is the same or better quality after the treatment. The best way to do that is with a public campaign. It’s a difficult topic to understand but it’s the future for our society.

Alexander Miller

Singapore’s CITES enforcement

Our “Business and the Environment” course had a terrific and insightful presentation on CITES enforcement by Dr. Anna Wong, Director (Import and Export Regulation Department/ Quarantine Department), Quarantine Inspection Group, Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).  Because Singapore is a major transit point for trade into and out of Southeast Asia, Singapore’s active scrutiny of goods coming through its ports of entry, both at its shipping port as well as its airport, has been a crucial part of CITES enforcement in this part of the world.  AVA’s work has not only led to notable seizures in Singapore, such as hundreds of elephant tusks in March of this year (elephants are listed in Appendix I and thus subject to CITES’ strictest protections), but also success in helping to bust wildlife smuggling rings in Africa.  Of course, Dr. Wong also acknowledged that interdiction of wildlife smuggling cannot be the sole answer to the broader challenge of conserving endangered species and that controversial questions about sustainable management (and hunting) of endangered species and their role in species conservation remain unresolved.  Overall, it was a very thoughtful and educational lecture.

Later that same day, our class also visited the Singapore International Arbitration Center (SIAC) at Maxwell Chambers.   We were treated to detailed lecture by Chris Bloch on the role and process of arbitration as an alternative to traditional litigation in resolving international disputes.  SIAC has become a leading arbitration forum, and its case load has increased rapidly in the last couple of decades.

On a lighter note, here are pictures of me, Joseph Ewald and Alexander Miller enjoying an evening in Chinatown.  The highlight of the evening was Alex braving a taste of Durian, the King of Fruits.




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.


Environmental Impact Assessment in Singapore

Here’s an interest environmental law tid-bit:  What is the only modern, wealthy country without an  environmental impact assessment law?  Singapore!  Even though the state has an efficient environmental governance system, for example being on the forefront of illicit wildlife trade interdictions, there is a notable gap in its environmental law system.

My adventures in dockless bike sharing

I have been taking advantage of one of the the many bike share companies here in Singapore.  The picture is of an Anywheel bike. It’s been incredibly convenient – bikes are unlocked with a smartphone app, and the app keeps track of the bike’s whereabouts via GPS. And even though public transportation is quite well designed, having a simple means of transportation for shorter distances has been very convenient, especially in this tropical heat and humidity. The government also encourages use of bikes (and electric scooter) by allowing people to ride on the sidewalks and setting aside special bike lanes on the sidewalks in some parts of the city. One of the great benefits for a tourist like me has been the ability to avoid the street and cars. Singapore follows the British in driving on the left side of the road, which has led to me having near-accidents in the past when I have been in this part of the world.
The company that I have been using, OfoBike, charges Singapore $1 per hour, but a minimum of 50 cents per use. One downside: sometimes, it’s not easy to find a bike if one is away from certain areas. On the flip-side, unlike docked bike shares, one can leave the bike close to one’s destination (but in a legal bike parking area), rather than having to finding a bike dock. Overall, for me, thumbs up for this mode of last-mile transportation.

Postscript: I spotted this on my morning run. Mmmh – probably not good bicycle parking practice.

Singapore’s Supreme Court

img_8485.jpgOur “Business and the Environment” course had the opportunity to visit Singapore’s Supreme Court on Wednesday.  Fascinating to hear the story of this legal system and how this country’s judiciary has been taking active steps to market its system across Asia, especially as a preferred forum and choice of law system to resolve commercial disputes. We also had a chance to observe part of a criminal appeal that was taking place in the High Court.  One of the most interesting aspects of our visit was the back-story to the architecture of the building Supreme Court building.  The top floor is designed to resemble a space ship (a flying saucer) and symbolizes the institution’s forward-leaning future-oriented perspective.

The Cheapest Michelin-starred Restaurant in the World

IMG_7332It’s been hot but exciting to be in the heart of Southeast Asia.  After a day’s worth of lectures on business organizations for the  “Business and the Environment,” the students have been been exploring Singapore.    On Tuesday, our post-class excursion was to check out the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant – the Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, a Hainan chicken rice Hawker stand at 335 Smith Street.  We ended up at the newer, air-conditioned restaurant, where the price was less than $3 USD for the signature chicken rice meal.  My personal review . . . Not bad, but I am not sure that the meal was Michelin-star-worthy.  But either way, it was an interesting experience.