Environment & Poverty Times
Young kids learn water knowledge. PUB
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visits Integrated Pavilion on city development during SIWW 2011. PUB
Research and development. PUB The Singapore water story By Michael Toh
With over 5 million people living in an area of just 710 square kilometres, managing Singapore’s water resource is no mean feat. In the 1960-70s the island faced a myriad of water problems, most of them associated with accelerated urbanization: water short- ages, flooding and pollution of its rivers.
Today the situation is vastly different. By investing in water technology and adopting an integrated approach to water manage- ment over the past 40 years, Singapore has developed a diversified and sustainable water supply system. The Four National Taps system provides Singaporeans with good, clean drinking water at the turn of a tap. The name refers to water from four different sources: rainwater from local catchments; imported water; recycled water (NEWater); and desalinated water.
Currently about two-thirds of Singapore’s land area is water catchment, with the completion of Singapore’s first reservoir in the city – the Marina Reservoir – which was commissioned by then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew on 20 November 2010, as well as the Punggol and Serangoon reservoirs. A widespread network of 32 major rivers and more than 7 000 km of drains and canals channel storm water to 17 reservoirs that supply the city with drinking water.
A new chapter PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, was among the first in the world to purify treated wastewater using advanced membrane tech- nology to produce ultra-clean, high-grade reclaimed water that we brand as NEWater. Introduced in 2003, it heralded a new era in Singapore’s water history. The water has been vetted by more than 65 000 scientific tests, surpassing even the World Health Organisation standards for drinking water.
NEWater is supplied primarily for non-domes- tic use in wafer fabrication parks, industrial estates and commercial buildings, where it is used for industrial and air-cooling purposes. A small percentage is mixed with raw reservoir water before being treated for drinking water.
NEWater can currently meet 30 per cent of Singapore’s water needs. The plan is to
expand NEWater capacity so that it meets 40 per cent of Singapore’s water demand by 2020 and 50 per cent of water demand by 2060.
Desalinated water Desalinated water was added to Singapore’s water sources in 2005, with the opening of Singapore’s first desalination plant. Its second and largest desalination plant with a capacity of 320 million litres a day is under construction and expected to be ready in 2013. By 2060 Singapore plans to increase desalinated water capacity so that the Fourth National Tap can meet at least 30 per cent of water demand.
Mr Khoo Teng Chye, Chief Executive of PUB, attributed Singapore’s success to several factors. He said, ‘we believe that innova- tion is important and have always placed emphasis on R&D and investing in tech- nology. PUB has worked hard over the last 40 years to overcome our water challenges and it is through strong political will, good governance, effective implementation and a motivated workforce that we have been able to put in place a robust and sustainable supply of water in Singapore.’
Managing demand Simply putting the infrastructure in place is not sufficient to secure Singapore’s water supplies. Demand management is also imperative for sustainability. In a study carried out for the United Nations Human Development Report in 2006, Stockholm Water Prize laureate Professor Asit Biswas highlighted this as a key ingredient in Singapore’s effective water management. ‘Singapore is one of the very few countries which looks at its water supply in totality,’ he said. ‘One of the main reasons why it is successful in managing its water supply is the concurrent emphasis on supply and demand management.’
The country’s holistic approach to water resource management includes a wa- ter demand management programme, which incorporates proper handling of the transmission and distribution network to minimize losses, as well as implementing water conservation measures. This has brought about a considerable reduction in unaccounted-for water, down from 11 per
cent in the 1980s to less than five per cent today, one of the lowest levels in the world.
Water pricing Key to demand management is pricing water at its true value. Singapore believes that wa- ter must be priced appropriately to prevent misuse and wastage. But at the same time, targeted assistance is also provided to the underprivileged in the form of utility rebates, to ensure that the poor are not deprived of a supply of clean water.
In 1991 the government introduced a water conservation tax (WCT) as a pricing tool to discourage excessive consumption of water. In 1997 a fundamental pricing review was conducted with the aim of recovering the full cost of production and supply, and to also reflect the higher cost of alternative water supply sources. This underlying ‘marginal cost’ principle reinforces the message that when demand goes up and existing sources of supply run out, the next drop of water, or the marginal source, will come at a higher price. The WCT was adjusted to reflect the difference between the prevailing water tariff and the marginal source (which was desali- nated water). Over a four-year period from 1997 to 2000, water tariffs were adjusted to current levels. The water-borne fee (WBF) is a fee collected to offset the cost of treating used water and for the maintenance and extension of the public sewerage system.
Educating the public Singapore considers its people to be joint stakeholders of their water resources and also actively seeks to engage the community in its water management efforts.
In 2004 a series of public education pro- grammes were launched to encourage water conservation through daily habits. These efforts have shown results: per capita con- sumption of water in households has inched downwards, from 165 litres a day in 2003 to 154 litres a day now. The long-term target is to reduce daily per capita water consumption to 147 litres a day by 2020.
Individuals and organisations are also en- couraged to adopt the island’s waterways, to take care of them and learn the value of keep- ing them clean. PUB also actively promotes recreational activities at its reservoirs and
they are now a haven for water sports such as kayaking and wakeboarding.
To better integrate water into the urban environment and bring people closer to water, PUB has embarked on a long-term initiative called the Active, beautiful, clean waters (ABC waters) programme, which will transform the country’s drains, canals and reservoirs into vibrant streams, rivers and lakes, creating beautiful new spaces for the community’s enjoyment.
In addition PUB launched a lifestyle maga- zine called PURE to stimulate public inter- est in water issues. A mascot named Water Wally helps spread the water messages to the young in a lively and interactive way.
The goal of these initiatives is to encourage Singaporeans to bond with water, so that they will cherish and better appreciate this precious resource.
Singapore, the global hydrohub Over the years, Singapore has managed to turn its water woes from vulnerability to a strategic advantage, and more recently, a growth industry for the country. The Singapore government has identified the water industry as a new growth sector for the country’s economy. A total of US$ 362.4 million has been allocated to water R&D since 2006 to develop Singapore into a hub for water technologies. The country is now a hotbed for water technologies, home to a thriving cluster of more than 70 Singapore and international water companies.
To raise its profile as a global hydrohub, PUB has hosted the annual Singapore Interna- tional Water Week for the past four years. This event is a global platform for water solutions, bringing together policymakers, industry leaders, experts and practitioners to address challenges, showcase technolo- gies, discover opportunities and celebrate achievements in the water world. The event is a major step in PUB’s efforts to develop Singapore into a vibrant and thriving hub for water technologies.
About the author: Michael Toh is Director of the Industry Development Department of Singapore’s national water agency (PUB). For more informa- tion, visit www.siww.com.sg
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