Singapore – Ensuring water security


Water security has been and still continues to be a major challenge for many countries, particularly in the face of climate change. Some governments are making significant efforts to secure access to sufficient water to meet all their needs (e.g. Morocco facing water scarcity) and limit the rising water-related risks (e.g. the Netherlands dealing with floods). Other governments are going beyond the immediate imperatives of water security, and have taken a coordinated approach involving both technical and institutional innovations.


This is the case of Singapore. To this small, densely populated country of South-east Asia, water security has long been a national priority and has dominated every other policy. Traditionally dependant on supplies from neighbouring Malaysia, Singapore decided in the 1970s to develop new water resources to become less reliant on other countries. The Singaporean response to ensure water security was to invest in a strategy focusing on efficiency, conservation, reuse and innovation.


Today, Singapore has built the so-called “Four National Taps” system, a robust and sustainable water supply from four different sources. Up next, we are going to review the Singaporean approach to ensure water security, the way it will satisfy future demand and the different organisations involved in it.



A. What is the “Four National Taps” system?


Over the past five decades, through strategic planning and investment in innovation and technology, Singapore has built an integrated water supply system based on three principles: collect every drop of rain, collect every drop of used water and recycle every drop of water. The result was the development of a system with four different sources: imported water, local catchment water, desalinated water and NEWwater.




Singapore has been importing water from the Johor river, in Malaysia, under two bilateral agreements (1961-2011 and 1962-2061). With this agreement, Singapore is entitled to receive up to 1,1 million cubic meters per day, comprising 25% of resources. However, due to tensions between the two countries in the past years, the Singaporean government has decided to invest more in the three other taps, in case that a new agreement cannot be made in 2061.



Singapore’s local catchment water occupies two-thirds of the country’s land area, and comprises 20% of resources. It consists in two separate systems that collect both rainwater and used water: first, a comprehensive network of rivers, drains, canals, and storm-water ponds collects rainwater and stores it in reservoirs; then used water is collected through an intricate sewage system and is recycled.



Singapore started to use seawater as a water supply source in 2005, with the opening of the SingSpring Desalination plant. Now, the country has three different facilities treating seawater, providing 25% of the country’s water demand, and has recently announced the construction of a forth plant in Marina East to meet future demands and boost drought resilience.


TAP 4: NEWater

Singapore’s real hope to ensure its water security in a sustainable manner lies in the reuse of treated wastewater, known as NEWater. This innovative approach started in 2003, with the opening of two NEWater plants in Bedok and Kranji. Today, the country has four facilities where wastewater is reclaimed and treated through advanced membrane technologies and ultraviolet disinfection. By closing the water loop, Singapore has been able to meet 30% of its water requirements and has developed the largest application of non-potable wastewater reuse in the world.



B. How will the “Four National Taps” meet future water demand?


Through the “Four National Taps”, Singapore has put in place a sustainable and robust water supply that will ensure that the future demands are met. Currently, water demand in Singapore is about 1,500 million litters a day, with homes consuming 45% and the non-domestic sector taking up the rest. By 2060, as a result of to the country’s economic growth, the total demand is expected to double, with the non-domestic sector accounting for about 70%.


To face the xepected demand, Singapore has planned to increase the amount of seawater and wastewater treated and used, building more desalination and NEWwater facilities.




C. What are the organisations involved in the “Four National Taps”?


The complexity of ensuring water security requires a cooperative approach where different organisations collaborate on long term sustainable water solutions. The “Four National Taps” is a good illustration of a coordinated strategy can help achieving and efficient and sustainable use of water resources, in addition to creating a platform for the sharing and co-creation of water solutions.


The whole holistic approach to managing the water resources was designed and is overseen by PUB (Public Utilities Board), Singapore’s national water agency, formed under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources. PUB not only manages the country’s whole water cycle (water supply, drainage, sewerage and reclaimed water), but also works on a conservation plan to urge consumers to use water efficiently (e.g. pricing water to reflect its value and scarcity, educating the public on the importance of sustainable water supply, encouraging industries to use alternative sources).


PUB also involves private companies in the provision of water services. This involvement is illustrated by the widespread use of construction, good, service and maintenance contracts. Both major global firms (e.g. CH2MHill, Black & Veatch, GE Water and Suez Environment) and Singaporean companies (e.g. Hyflux and Sembcorp) have provided their consultancy, engineering, construction and equipment supply services. The involvement of the private firms has helped PUB improve its water services, and has become a great example of how both public and private sectors can work hand in hand to provide better solutions.


Besides, PUB works closely with research institutions to leverage on their expertise and research to find new ways to produce and treat water efficiently. Both local and foreign organisations (e.g. Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute, National University of Singapore, Peking University and Delft University of Technology) are working on R&D projects to improve the technologies used in the “Four National Taps”. Today, the country has become a global hydrohyb, hosting the successful Singapore Internationsal Water Week, a meeting place to share innovative ideas that make a difference to the water world.




By Fatine Ezbakhe
Civil Engineer specialized in Water


Published on 2015-09-28 12:05:15

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