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Date [ 2013-11-25, 10:13 ]

Blame it on Malaysia

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress) by Ramani Rathir = For long, Malaysia had been supplying water to Singapore. This started as early as1927 when the municipal commissioners of Singapore and Sultan Ibrahim of the state and territories of Johor  signed an agreement that allowed Singapore to rent land in Johor and use its water for free. In 1932 a pipeline to transport the raw water to Singapore was inaugurated.

However, during the Battle of Singapore in 1942, the Causeway linking Singapore with Malaya and carrying the pipeline was blown up by retreating British troops. This left Singapore with water reserves that could last at most two weeks.

Years later this incident was one of the catalysts that led towards Singapore turning itself into a water hub. When Lee Kuan Yew became the Prime Minister, one of his priorities was to make the city state self-sufficient in water.
The other was Malaysia’s threat of cutting off supplies as a political leverage. For after the war, by this time, the 1927 agreement was superseded by two new agreements signed in 1961 and 1962 between the independent federation of Malaya and the self-governing British territory of Singapore. This time, the payment of a water rate in addition to the rent for the land was introduced. Under these agreements Singapore built two water treatment plants in Singapore and a new, expanded pipeline from Johor. Singapore also supplied treated water to Johor far below the cost of treating the water. At the time of the agreements it was expected that Singapore would become part of Malaysia, as it did for a brief period beginning in 1963.

When Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965, the then Malaysian Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman implied "If Singapore’s foreign policy is prejudicial to Malaysia’s interests, we could always bring pressure to bear on them by threatening to turn off the water in Johor". This has to be seen in the context of the Confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia and that remark referred to the possibility of Singapore siding with Indonesia.

It further provided the impetus for Singapore to develop its local water resources. Therefore while more water flowed in from Johor, Singapore in 1963, set up its Public Utilities Board. From day one, it had its work cut out for it – the supply of more water for Singapore independently.

During the period 1960s to the 90s, water projects such as the Kranji-Pandan Scheme, the Upper Peirce Reservoir and the Lower Seletar Reservoir were built. But as these amounts were still insufficient, and seawater desalination was too expensive at the time, Singapore negotiated for dam to be built across the Johor River in Malaysia.

In 1998 Singapore began new negotiations with Malaysia to extend its water agreements beyond 2011 and 2061 respectively. A price of 60 sen per 1,000 imperial gallons (4,500 L), corresponding to 4 US cents per cubic meter was agreed upon. 

This price was still much lower than the cost of desalinated seawater or raw sewerage treated water. Then in 2002 Malaysia asked for a much higher price of 6.4 Malaysian Ringgit per 1,000 imperial gallons (4,500 L) (US$ 0.45 per cubic meter).

The new price came close to the price of desalinated water. Thus when Malaysia refused to lower the price, the Singapore government decided not to extend the agreement beyond 2061, but instead become self-sufficient in water before that!

With that, the first steps were now laid towards turning and becoming a global water hub.

Towards Self-Sufficiency in Water
The government prepared for this eventuality even while negotiations were going on with Malaysia over the water agreements. It began an integrated water management approach,  including the reuse of water and desalination of seawater. As early as 1998, it initiated the Singapore Water Reclamation Study (NEWater Study), to determine if reclaimed water treated to potable standards was a viable source of water.

The Public Utilities Board (PUB)was put in charge. Previously responsible for the supply of water supply only, it took over sanitation as well in 2001. Previously under the direct responsibility of the Ministry of Environment, the new policy was called the "Four Taps": The first and second taps were local water catchments and water imports.
In 2002 when Singapore commissioned its first reclaimed water plant, the ‘Third Tap’ was opened – NEWater!

This is turning raw sewerage, or to use the polite term –‘used’ water into high-grade reclaimed water. The effluent from the reclamation plants is either discharged into the sea or it is further treated by the process called dual-membrane, via microfiltration and reverse osmosis and ultraviolet technologies. The water is treated then further purified using advanced membrane technologies and ultra-violet disinfection, making it ultra-clean and safe to drink.

Developed by PUB after three decades, NEWater passed more than 100,000 scientific tests and surpasses World Health Organisation requirements. It showed water of any quality can be treated into drinking water. The spin-off is that it has put Singapore on the world map for innovative water management. No surprise then that it won the Stockholm Industry Water Award in 2007.

The first plants were opened in Bedok and Kranji in 2003. The latest and largest NEWater plant was opened in May 2010 at Changi. At the moment, it meets up to 30% of the nation’s current water needs. By 2060, with the tripling of current capacity, NEWater is expected to meet up to 55% of Singapore’s water needs.

In 2012, there were four NEWater factories, located at the Bedok, Kranji, Ulu Pandan and Changi next to five water reclamation plants. With the construction of the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System the decentralized water reclamation plants and NEWater factories are expected to be gradually closed and replaced by the single, much larger water reclamation plant and the NEWater factory at Changi at the Eastern end of Singapore Island.

The plants produce for industry and the public.  Industry NEWater is primarily for non-potable industrial uses. Supplied to wafer fabrication, electronics and power generation industries, it is also piped to commercial and institutional buildings for air conditioning cooling purposes. The high purity of the water has actually allowed industries to reduce their operating costs Thus the demand for NEWater has grown 15-fold from 4 mgd (18,200 cubic metres a day) in 2003 to some 60 mgd (273,000 cubic metres a day) today.

A small percentage of NEWater is also blended with raw water in the reservoir which then goes through treatment at the waterworks before it is supplied to consumers as tap water. Done carefully after a trial period of two years, an active marketing campaign had to be initiated to wean the public from the mindset that such water was not safe!

One of the steps taken was to make the NEWater centre accessible to visitors, the sale of bottled NEWater and a publicity coup that had the Prime Minister drinking a bottle of NEWater in front of media cameras.

Taking the Salt Away
In 2005 Singapore opened its first seawater desalination plant, the ‘Fourth Tap’. This was at Tuas, at its southwestern tip. The S$200 million plant, built and operated by Hyflux, can produce 30 million imperial gallons (140,000 m3) of water each day and meets 10 percent of the country's water needs. The plant also produces bottled water called Desal H2O.

Then on September 18, this year, the PM  Lee Hsien Loong, opened Singapore’s largest desalination plant at Tuaspring. Hyflux again designed, built, owned and now operates this plant which will produce up to 70 million gallons of water per day. There is also an attached power plant that is fuelled by liquefied natural gas and provides a secure energy supply for desalination. This will meet a quarter of  Singapore’s water needs.

PUB has signed a 25-year agreement to purchase water from Hyflux.  The selling price will be at 45 cents a cubic meter for the first year. Meanwhile, the government has identified five coastal sites for future desalination plants. Once all five are in operation, one million m³ per day of water will be produced by 2060.

Expanding the First Tap
In the meantime it also further expanded its ‘First Tap’. Officially opened on November 1, 2008, the Marina Barrage is a dam built at the confluence of five rivers, across the Marina Channel  between Marina East and Marina South. As Singapore's fifteenth reservoir, it provides water storage, flood control, recreation and won the American Academy of Environmental Engineers  2009 award.

The S$226 million project turns Marina Bay and Kallang Basin into a new downtown freshwater reservoir. It also acts as a tidal barrier to keep seawater out, helping to alleviate flooding in low lying areas of the city such as Chinatown, Jalan Besar and Geylang.

When it rains heavily during low-tide, the barrage’s crest gates will be lowered to release excess water from the reservoir into the sea. If heavy rain falls during high-tide, the crest gates remain closed and giant drainage pumps are activated to pump excess water out to sea.

This will mean the water in the Marina Basin is unaffected by the tides, and  the water level will be kept constant. Thus making it ideal for all kinds of recreational activities such as boating, windsurfing, kayaking and dragon-boating

Today's largest reservoir, the Marina Bay Reservoir, inaugurated in 2008, is located in the estuary of a river that was closed off by the Marina Barrage. Two similar barrages were completed in July 2011, forming the Punngal and Serangoon Reservoirs. Just in time too, for when the 1961 water agreement with Malaysia ended in August 2011, Singapore will have enough of its own water for its citizens.


The R & D Factor
In 2006, the Singapore government identified water as a new growth sector and committed itself to invest S$330 million over the following five years in order to make Singapore a global hub for water research and development.

To  this end the PUB developed an active research and development programme that includes upstream research, pilot projects and demonstration projects.

An Environment and Water Industry Development Council (EWI) was established to support, together with the National Research Foundation, a Strategic Research Programme on Clean Water.

One important body playing an important role is the Singapore Water Association. In addition to being a one-stop centre for all water-related services and water technology, the  association brings together local companies for the mutual benefit of developing a vibrant and dynamic local water industry.

Another of its function is to provide a forum for collaboration and inter-change of ideas among member companies. It will also be a networking base and dissemination of strategic information on organisations,

WaterHub also develops training programmes to raise competency standards while benchmarking it against best international practices. It has now steadily expanded its connections across Asia Pacific for industry players to network globally.

Supporting EWI's initiatives, WaterHub provides a strategic platform for PUB and the water industry to leverage on for technology development, learning and networking under one roof. Besides creating a strong presence of water-related emerging business opportunities and new technologies for its members.

Leading Japanese companies such as Toshiba and Toray have established water research centers in Singapore. The former has provided customers with supervisory control systems, electrical and instrumentation equipment and operations & maintenance services in more than 700 water purification, sewage treatment and desalination plants over some 40years.

In 2011, the Toshiba Corporation set up the Aqua Research Centre, its first water treatment R&D centre located outside of Japan, at PUB's WaterHub.

It is understood, Toshiba with PUB will look into the development of a newly developed adsorbent of Toshiba’s called  "Functional Powder. This not only absorb toxic elements from used water, but also extract valuable elements for recycling, including rare metals mad is cost effective. The company intends to engage in field testing and demonstrations under real-life site conditions.

""We are delighted to have the opportunity to work with PUB and the many water experts and professionals in Singapore. We appreciate the Singapore government's foresight and initiative in making the country a global hydrohub, and we look forward to making progress in our research at the Aqua Research Centre and our collaboration with PUB. We are sure that Toshiba can make important contributions to the treatment of water uses in industrial processes," announced. Toshio Masaki, Corporate Senior Vice President of Toshiba.

Singapore is now home to over 70 local and international water companies and 23 research and development centers working on about 300 projects valued at $185 million.  Furthermore, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at National University of Singapore established an Institute of Water Policy in 2008. Also since that time, the city-state has hosted the Singapore International Water Week, the last held this June. 

Some of the big names are Global Water Intelligence, International Water Association, Singapore Water Association, and Singapore Society for Trenchless Technology. WaterHub is also the R&D base of other global research institutes such as Siemens, Nitto Denko, Optiqua Technologies, Memsys Clearwater and Xylem Water Solutions who are taking full advantage of the very attractive  R&D infrastructure in Singapore.

“These are undertaking projects in various domains like membrane, biomimicry and low energy seawater desalination,” informed Chew Men Leong, Executive Director of the Environment and Water Industry Programme Office (EWI), which spearheads the growth of Singapore's water industry.

PUB also strives to promote Singapore as a global test-bed. As such, opportunities are offered to water companies to test-bed their new technologies and solutions at its facilities under actual site conditions. A total of 114 projects involving the test bedding of water solutions have been facilitated at PUB's installations, and more than 30 test-bedding projects are currently on-going at its facilities.

The Outlook
A leading authority on water, Professor Asit K. Biswas, who is also the President of the Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico has a positive outlook on Singapore’s water management .

He has spoken in various interviews that, “Singapore has the know-how and track record to position itself as the water hub of the world. Its water management has now come up significantly better than the rest of the developing world and much of the developed world.” He has gone on to advice that , “Other countries should consider  how best they can utilize this expertise as it will of great value to them.”

Aware of the knowledge it has gained, Singapore aims to be self-sufficient in water, well before the 1962 long-term water supply agreement with Malaysia expires in 2061. The Institute of Southeast Asian Studies  has already stated that Singapore would already be water self-sufficient by 2011 and "the 'water threat' is less than what it seems to be".

However, official forecasts report that  water demand in Singapore is expected to double from 380 to 760 million gallons per day between 2010 and 2060. The increase is expected to come primarily from non-domestic water use, which accounted for 55% of water demand in 2010 and is expected to account for 70% of demand in 2060. By that time water demand is expected to be met by reclaimed water to  the tune of 50% and by desalination accounting for 30%. So in all probability the target will be reached.

So by 2061, not only is Singapore expected not to worry about its water supply but also be busy exporting its expertise on water management.


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