The remarkable 50-year transformation

The 5.6 million residents of Singapore enjoy a constant supply of clean drinking water that is among the safest in the world. This is a remarkable feat for one of the most densely populated countries in the world that has no native supply of freshwater, and 50 years ago had an open sewer system.

The fact that 100% of the population of Singapore are served by modern sanitation is a result of intensive investment in water treatment technology and infrastructure by the Singapore government. Water used by Singaporeans comes from four “taps” – imported water from neighbouring Malaysia, rainwater that is collected from two thirds of the land and stored in reservoirs, desalination plants processing seawater, and reclaimed (recycled) water.

Reclaimed water is a key part of Singapore’s future

Reclaimed water is seen as critical to the future of Singapore, as it offers the government complete control over an area of their water supply. The other 3 ‘taps’ are subject to fluctuation in cost and subject to availability issues – price rises from the Malaysian government (and an agreement ending in 2061), the high cost of desalination, and the risk of lower than usual rainfall affecting reservoir levels.

NEWater, introduced in 2003, is the name for used water from the sewerage system, treated and further purified through microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection. This reclaimed water is potable, but the majority is used in industrial processes and manufacturing. The Singapore government have built 4 high-tech reclamation plants in the country, called NEWater Plants, as well as a vast underground system of pipes to move both wastewater and the recycled, disinfected water around the country.

Progressing towards 2060 targets

In 2017 595 million cubic metres of reclaimed water was used in Singapore, equivalent to 238,000 Olympic swimming pools and met approximately 30% of total water demand. By 2060 the government is aiming for 55% of total water usage to be served by reclaimed water, just 1 year before the water import agreement with the Malaysian government is due to end.

In April 2018, Singapore’s national water agency PUB has broken ground for the second phase of the underground pipework – referred to as the ‘enhanced conveyance system of the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System’ – to deliver ever more wastewater to the NEWater plants for recycling. The technological progression is still a keen focus for the Singapore water agency, as University researchers are working on methods of desalination that mimic the human kidney, while engineers work to reduce the energy consumption of wastewater recycling plants.