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Singapore – a holistic approach to sustainability
D. A. Lloyd Owen
Envisager Limited, Trewindsor Farm, Llangoedmor, Ceredigion, SA43 2LN, UK
(E-mail: david@envisager.co.uk)
Abstract
Singapore’s water and sewerage services have been developed to serve the country’s
unique circumstances. This involves a series of long term interplays between the need for
sustainable water management, appropriate water and wastewater services for a fully
developed economy and water capture and management systems for self-sufficiency in a
particularly water scarce area.
Keywords
Demand and supply management, sustainability, self-sufficiency, scarcity
INTRODUCTION – POLITICAL AND MANAGEMENT CONTEXT
When Singapore seceded from Malaysia in 1965, it had emerged from major droughts in
1961-62 and 1963-64, which had underlined its dependence on imported water from Johor.
Such a state of affairs left the country vulnerable to political interference since as noted by
Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s Prime Minister in 1965 “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” (Luan, 2010). Singapore imports water from
Malaysia under two agreements the 1961 and 1962 Water Agreements. The first Water
Agreement with Malaysia will expire on 31 August 2011. The second Water Agreement will
expire in 2061. How has Singapore sought to transcend its dependence on water from
Malaysia?
The Public Utilities Board (PUB) was founded in 1963 to manage the city state’s utilities
(water, power and piped gas) and from 2001 it has been solely responsible for Singapore’s
water, drainage and wastewater services. During this period, it has developed the most
advanced and comprehensive water management systems in the world and potentially the
first that manages water resources in an urban area in a manner which resembles the natural
water cycle. This suggests that national, economic and environmental sustainability can be
interlinked.
WATER RESOURCES
While rainfall is plentiful at 2,400 mm per annum, Singapore’s 5.0 million people (2010) live
in a territory comprising of 710 km2 of land. In theory, this equals approximately 1,700
million m3 of rainwater per annum or 314 m3 per capita before evapotranspiration and plant
respiration let alone considering what water can in fact be put to productive use. In reality,
Singapore had internal renewable water resources of 124 m3 per capita in 2008 against the
UN Food & Agricultural Organization’s definition of official definitions of less than 500 m3
per capita equating to extreme water scarcity.
Developing the basic infrastructure
At independence in 1965 Singapore inherited a mixed infrastructure legacy. Household water
coverage in the urban areas was already quite advanced, having varied between 70% and
95% between 1916 and 1936. Records then ceased to be available for some time but water
coverage has been at 100% since 1987 and it is reasonable to assume they have been at least
at the 90% coverage level since 1970 (Otaki, 2004).
Sewerage service development followed. 35% of the urban population had household piped
sewerage in 1941, rising to 45% by 1965. Apart from nightsoil gathering, this meant that
there were significant discharges of untreated sewage directly into rivers, which was
exacerbated by a large number of pig and poultry farms (Choong, 2001). From the 1970s,
farms discharging into river catchments have been closed and a comprehensive urban
sewerage programme carried out, with access rising to 51% in 1970, 75% by 1980 and in
January 1987 universal household sewerage was attained (Otaki, 2004).
Six centralised wastewater treatment works were developed since 1948, replacing a large
number of local facilities as well as providing higher treatment standards (Gee, 1992).
Sewage treatment capacity has expanded from 0.256 million m3 per day to secondary
standard in 1960 to 0.544 by 1970 and 1.25 by 2000. Under the Sewerage and Drainage Act,
all used municipal and industrial water has to go to a receiving sewer or to be suitably treated
prior to discharge (Ong, 2010). The diversion of sewage from catchment basins has resulted
in a marked improvement in river and reservoir water quality since 1977 (Khoo, 2009).
INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
By 1990, the water and wastewater infrastructure in Singapore had reached the level expected
in fully developed economies with the comprehensive provision of household water and
sewerage services. One of the arguments adopted by multilateral institutions such as the
World Health Organization, World Bank, and the United Nations in support of water and
sanitation infrastructure investment is that a modern water and sewerage network forms one
of the pillars with which a developed economy can be built upon. How has Singapore’s water
infrastructure and economy developed when compared with other countries in Asia and the
United Kingdom?
Infrastructure and GNI per capita (atlas method, current US$)
Year Singapore South Korea Malaysia India UK
1962 450 110 300 80 - [1]
1970 960 [1] 270 400 110 2,230 [2]
1980 4,910 [1] 1,810 1,830 [1] 270 8,510 [2]
1990 12,050 [2] 6,000 [1] 2,390 [1] 390 16,600[2]
2000 23,350 [3] 9,910 [1] 3,450 [1] 450 25,910 [3]
2009 37,220 [3] 19,830 [2] 7,350 [1] 1,180 41,370 [3]
Key
[1] At least 90% urban households with water connection
[2] At least 90% urban households with piped sewerage
[3] At least 90% urban secondary sewage treatment
Data sources: GNI: World Development Indicators & Global Development Finance, World
Bank, 15 December, 2010, Urban services: Adapted from the author’s water infrastructure
database
Strict comparisons when looking at different countries need to take into account each
country’s level of urbanisation as Singapore was 100% urbanised in 2008, compared with
89% for the UK, 81% for South Korea, 70% in Malaysia and 30% in India and consistent
disaggregated urban – rural economic data is not available. Even so, it is evident that in Gross
National Income terms, Singapore’s economic development has taken place at a time when it
has its water and wastewater infrastructure was appreciably more extensive than in Malaysia,
where the water and wastewater infrastructure have developed more slowly. India and South
Korea also show similar trajectories of economic and water infrastructure development with
Malaysia and Singapore respectively. Since 2000, Singapore’s GNI has been comparable
with OECD member countries such as the United Kingdom, which have a fully developed
water management system.
Water consumption (million m3 pa)
Year Domestic Non-domestic Total
1960 40.79 58.69 99.48
1970 71.02 81.92 152.94
1980 113.48 103.09 216.57
1990 177.33 145.47 322.80
2000 241.39 204.10 455.49
2009 277.80 284.00 561.80
2009 data was broken down into domestic (277.8 million m3), non-domestic (190.1 million
m3) NEWater (72.0 million m3) and industrial water (21.9 million m3).
Source: Ong (2005), MEWR (2010)
Since independence, Singapore’s population has grown by 2.5 times, water use by 5 times
and its GDP by 26 times (Khoo, 2009). While overall water use per capita has therefore
doubled, GDP generated per unit of water consumption grew by 5.2 times.
BEYOND DEVELOPMENT – TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY
Singapore regards its water supplies coming from ‘Four National Taps’ namely water from
its own catchment, water imported from Johor, desalinated water and wastewater recovery
(NEWater).
Catchment management and optimisation
Being a compact, densely populated island, Singapore will always be faced with scarce
renewable water resources. Expanding the area of the island that can form a part of its
actively managed catchment from 50% to 90% will enable catchment water to maintain its
proportion of overall water inputs.
Source: Adapted from Ong (2005) and PUB (2010b)
National circumstances can have intentional and unintentional consequences. Comprehensive
sewerage and sewage treatment can improve the quality of life in a densely populated city
state by optimising the amount and quality of green and riverside space available, eliminating
odour problems in private and public areas and ensuring universal and easy access to
lavatories. In Singapore the 2009 ABC Waters Programme aims to take this further by
transforming rainwater and river catchments into areas that are Active (promote community
interaction with water resources), Beautiful (go from functional benefits to aesthetic benefits)
and Clean (optimise the catchment’s water retention and cleansing capacity).
Desalination and NEWater
NEWater, the process of recovering water from wastewater is not quite as new as it appears.
The first trial took place in 1974-75, but was ended due to cost (S$ 7-8 per 1,000 gallons at
the time) and reliability concerns and was reconsidered again in 1988. The current NEWater
programme stems from 1999 with a pilot plant being commissioned that year. The potential
for NEWater stems from the comprehensive sewerage infrastructure, since 80-85% of water
supplied by PUB in 1994 was collected in the sewerage system (Choong, 2001).
NEWater and desalination facilities, 2001-13 (m3 per day)
Bedok & Kranji NEWater (2001-11) 159,000
Seletar NEWater (2004) 17,000
Ulu Pandan NEWater (2007) 147,200
Changi NEWater (2010) 230,000
Tuas First desalination (2005) 136,000
Tuas Second desalination (2013) 318,500
Source: PUB Annual Reports and Press Releases
From sewage treatment to water reclamation
Renaming a sewage treatment work water reclamation plant is not a re-branding exercise but
a fundamental shift in wastewater management. Instead of seeing wastewater as a source of
public and environmental harm, it is to be regarded as a potential resource. PUB aims to
replace its six water reclamation facilities in use at the start of 2000 (capacity of 1.25 million
m3 per day) with two major facilities (long term capacity of 4.200 million m3 per day) linked
by DTSS, the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System. To this end, the sewage treatment works at
Kim Chuan was closed in 2008 followed by Bedok in 2009 and Seleatr will be closed in
2011. Half of Singapore’s sewage is now mainly treated at Changi (opened in 2009, 800,000
m3 per day, to be expanded to 860,000 m3 per day from 2013). Centralising these facilities
from six to two will release land for other high value uses, since sewage treatment works
typically have a buffer zone round them in order to avoid potential odour issues.
Approximately 200 Ha of land is being released for other uses as a result.
Indirect potable applications of NEWater stem from the ‘magic mile’ whereby there is
general public acceptance of abstracting treated effluent after it has been discharged into a
surface water source such as a river or lake. Currently, 41,000 m3 per day is being supplied
for indirect potable use and 154,000 m3 day direct for non-potable use by industrial
customers. The NEWater fee, currently at $1.10 / m3 is cheaper than potable water supplied
by PUB.
Building public understanding and support
Sustainable water management is usually seen as a low priority in urban societies. This is due
to the lack of public awareness about the needs for appropriate investment, how their water
usage affects water resources and about the applicability of various water sources. In
Singapore’s case, the need for self-sufficiency have resulted in a high degree of public
understanding and acceptance.
Network efficiency and demand management
Implementing demand management has been allied with minimisingunaccounted-for-water
(UFW). UFW was low at 11% in 1984 by global standards, but they have further improved
since then to about 5% as PUB adopts a holistic approach to Integrated Water Network
Management. This comprises both the hardware and the software necessary to ensure the
integrity of the water supply network. Hardware refers to the technical and legislative aspects
of network management; software refers to our approach of partnering the public to ensure
that any deficiencies in the network can be tackled quickly. The key components of the
Integrated Water Network Management System are broadly categorised as:
(i) Good quality network and efficient management
For new networks, PUB ensures that they are made of good quality materials and
fittings. For existing networks, PUB has put in place a pipeline replacement
programme to upgrade and renew the existing network.
(ii) Active leakage controls
To curb water wastage due to leaks in the transmission and distribution system,
comprehensive leak detection work is carried out for all mains in the system.
(iii) Accurate metering practices
In Singapore, the entire water supply system from waterworks to customers’ premises
is metered to account for usage and to bill customers.
(iv) Strict legislation on illegal draw-offs
There have been very few cases of illegal or unauthorized draw-offs in Singapore.
This can be attributed to legislation on illegal draw-offs. Anyone found responsible
for carrying out an illegal draw-off can be fined under the Public Utilities Act up to
S$50,000 and / or to imprisonment for up to 3 years and, in the case of continuing
offence, to a further fine not exceeding S$ 2,500 for every day or part thereof during
which the offence continues after conviction.
(v) Customer relationship management
PUB manages all feedback from customers, including water, drainage and sewerage
issues, through a central service centre, PUB One, which, based on the nature of
feedback, allocates the cases to different response centres, and particularly for water
related issues, to the Water Services and Operations Centre to respond promptly to
any water related cases, especially for leakages.
Unaccounted-for-water
1984 11.0%
1989 10.6%
1990 9.5%
1995 6.2%
2000 5.2%
2005 4.7%
2008 4.4%
2009 4.6%
Sources: Khoo (2009) and PUB (2010b)
Berlin Wasser, serving the city of Berlin in Germany has a modern and compact water
distribution system, with distribution losses of 2.9% in 2008. This suggests that a long
term ideal range for distribution losses in Singapore would be 2.5-4.0%. This compares
with distribution losses of 7% to 15% amongst utilities regarded as being good
performers in England and Germany.
The installation of low capacity flushing cisterns (LCFCs) that used less than 4.5 litres of
water per flush was carried out in all public housing units since 1992. This was then made
mandatory for all new and ongoing building projects, including all residential premises,
hotels, commercial buildings and industrial establishments in 1997. Following that, the use of
dual flush low capacity flushing cisterns has been mandated since July 2009. Water fittings
including taps and mixers, flushing cisterns, urinal flush valves and waterless urinals had to
carry water efficiency labels from 2009 and higher efficiency standards are being applied, so
that a household can save 2,600 litres per annum by using a ‘three tick’ rather than a ‘one
tick’ standard LCFC. Several public exercises have been carried out to reduce domestic
consumption: In 1995-98 there were three Save Water Campaigns, followed by the Water
Efficient Homes programme which was launched in 2003 and the 10-Litre Challenge which
was introduced in 2006. As part of its ongoing efforts to get people to use water wisely, PUB
has rolled out a series of television advertisements and other initiatives including water audit
projects by students, water conservation training by maid agencies as well as revamped water
saving kits to remind the public about the importance of making water conservation a way of
life under its 2011’s Water Conservation Awareness Programme. In the 1980s, water tariffs
for most domestic customers were subsidised by non-domestic customers. Despite a water
conservation tax and waterborne fee being introduced in 1991, per capita consumption rose
from 155 l/c/day in 1989 to 176 in 1994 in part due to increased affluence and the growing
availability of dish and clothes washers (and that the 1st 20 cu m of water consumed water
exempted from water conservation tax). Tariffs were reformed in 1997 through a series of
four annual changes to remove the subsidies for domestic usage. Bills have components, the
volumetric water tariff, a water conservation tax (WCT) levied on the water bill and a
volumetric waterborne fee (WBF) and Sanitary Appliance Fee of $3 per sanitary fitting to
offset the sewerage costs.
Singapore’s water tariffs (S$)
1995-97 July 2000
M3 per month Tariff
(c/m3)
WCT
(%)
WBF
(c/m3)
Tariff
(c/m3)
WCT
(%)
WBF
(c/m3)
Domestic – 0 to 20 56 0 10 117 30 30
Domestic – 20 to 40 80 15 10 117 30 30
Domestic – Above 40 117 15 10 140 45 30
Non-domestic (all volume) 117 20 22 117 30 60
Source: Tortajada (2006).
Along with the tariff rebalancing, a series of targets were set, with water use falling from 176
l/c/day in 1994 to 165 in 2002, which was met, along with the 156 l/c/day in 2008. The 155
l/c/day target for 2012 was in fact met in 2009. Future targets are for 147 l/c/day by 2020 and
140 l/c/day by 2030. The average monthly bill rose from S$5 in 1980 to S$14.5 in 1996 and
S$31 in 2000 as a result of tariff changes and increased consumption, falling to S$29.4 in
2004 due to lower consumption (Tortajada, 2006).
Further fine tuning of water usage and the continual improvement in device efficiency have
the potential to drive water usage further down. In Germany, water use is 122 l/c/day, while
the Masdar City project in the United Arab Emirates aims to reduce domestic water use from
a forecast 146 l/c/day to 80 l/c/day through a significant adoption of grey water for flushing
and other non-potable applications.
PUB’s 2060 projections
It is assumed that the doubling of water demand represents an effective maximum figure, to
ensure that supplies can be developed to meet all anticipated demand. The author believes
that PUB’s assumptions have been developed with a significant margin for error to deal with
uncertainties such as population and industrial demand and will therefore be notably resilient.
The assumption that the water reclamation facilities will be able to handle 4.20 million m3 per
day in 2060 is evidence of this, given that total demand is forecast to be 3.45 million m3 per
day by then.
PUB’s ‘Water For All’ projections
2010 2010 2020 2060 2060
Demand (m m3 pa) (m m3 pa)
Domestic 45% 284 - 30% 378
Non-domestic 55% 347 - 70% 881
Supply
Imported (implied) 40% 253 25% 0% 0
Local catchment (implied) 20% 126 20% 20% 252
NEWater 30% 189 40% 50% 630
Desalination 10% 63 25% 30% 378
Catchment area 50% 67% 90%
Total demand (m m3/day) 1.73 631 - 3.45 1,259
Use per capita (l/day) 155 147 140
Source: Adapted from PUB (2010b)
Demand drivers - Population
One area of uncertainty here is projecting how large will Singapore’s population will be by
2060. The United Nations’ 2008 revision of the World Population Prospects forecasted a 5.2
million population by 2050 (falling from 5.4 million in 2025) which was revised to a peak of
6.1 million in 2040 in the 2010 revision, easing to 6.0 million by 2060 (UN ESA, 2011).
Swee-Hock (2007) forecasts that a total population of 5.5 million in 2050 is feasible, but a
6.5 million population would be unlikely due to the number of newcomers and non-residents
implied. The usage scenario used by PUB (2010b) has a forecast domestic demand of 1.035
million m3 per day (at 140 l/c/day) in 2060 against 0.779 million m3 per day in 2010 (at 155
l/c/day usage) implying a population of 7.4 million in 2060 against 5.0 million in 2010.
Demand drivers – industrial water
Industrial expansion, especially in areas such as silicon wafer fabrication is transforming non-
domestic water usage patterns. In 1998-2001, 53-55% of water usage was domestic. This had
fallen to 45% by 2009-10 and is expected to account for just 30% of total use by 2060. This is
probably a maximum non-domestic usage scenario as Jia et al (2006) observe how industrial
water usage has fallen in traditionally industrialised countries such as Japan and the United
Kingdom as more water intensive activities are moved elsewhere. In Singapore’s case, Jia et
al (2006) projects a peak usage of industrial water at 86% above 2000 levels. The scope for
internal recovery and reuse of industrial process water and other methods for driving down
non-domestic water consumption by 2060 may be substantial.
The economics of self sufficiency
PUB’s relationship with the private sector is unusual in that the utility has worked closely
with many of the companies involved in the desalination and NEWater projects in product
development and application as well as by purchasing goods and services from them. The
first year fee of S$0.45 per m3 for the second desalination project is amongst the lowest
recorded worldwide and is evidence that the PUB is able to secure best value contracts.
How much will these projects cost? In the case of indirect potable water use, the author’s
assumed S$ 0.38 ($0.30) per m3 treatment cost is in addition to the standard potable water
treatment cost. The current indirect potable usage at 41,000 m3 per annum works out at 15.0
million m3 per annum or S$5.7 million in addition to operating costs.
Schematic diagram of Singapore’s water resource flows in 2060
Indirect potable – reservoir recharge Transpiration & discharge
Discharge Urban rainwater harvesting Rainfall
Sea water
50% 30% 20%
Non potable Potable Potable Potable
Industrial Other Domestic Domestic
70% Distribution loss 30%
Industrial Evaporation Domestic
& Other
Sewerage system
Distribution loss
NEWater Desalination Catchment
As an illustrative example, not talking into account the costs of water / wastewater transport,
using current prices and assuming that water normally costs S$0.25 per m3 to treat,
desalinated water will cost S$0.32 per m3 more for a maximum demand of 378 million m3 pa
or an extra S$121 million pa while NEWater will cost S$0.13 per m3 more for non-potable
use for a maximum demand of 630 million m3 per annum or S$ 81 million per annum. These
figures are based on an assumed 7.4 million people, so the cost of self sufficiency could work
out at S$202 million pa or S$27 per person pa.
There is another side to self-sufficiency, that of a system’s robustness. It is probable that
Singapore’s water resources will be amongst the most resilient globally in terms of dealing
with challenges such as drought and climate change under the currently accepted scenarios.
Energy efficiency and new technology
Economic sustainability is also concerned with promoting innovation in technologies and
techniques. The current and planned desalination and water reuse BDOO contracts run to
approximately 2030-40. During this time, as part of routine maintenance and upgrading work,
more efficient technologies can be incorporated. The new technologies mentioned will
become commercial from approximately 2015 and this provides a useful lead-in time to
prove their reliability and for their unit costs to fall. The technologies mentioned cover the
main current advances, and there are further approaches at earlier stages of development
which development which may be of value. These advances could also feed into enhancing
the operational efficiency of the variable salinity plants and the NEWater facilities.
CONCLUSIONS
It is evident that each element in the sustainable management of Singapore’s water resources
has been built upon previous infrastructure development. For example, water recovery would
not work well without comprehensive sewerage and desalination would make limited sense
unless distribution losses were low enough to reflect the increasing cost of using desalinated
water. Since 1965, Singapore has consistently sought to align its water infrastructure with its
broader interests. In that sense, the 2060 plans are logical continuation of what has happened
previously and may serve as a pattern for imitation for other water utilities seeking to manage
scarce resources in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Singapore has 50 years before water self-sufficiency may need to be a necessity. The need to
develop a comprehensively integrated and robust water service justifies such long term
planning. This also reflects the potential for innovation to further improve the economic,
energy and operational efficiency of the techniques being deployed. The margins for error
built into the demand assumptions means that PUB’s assertion that such a system can serve
Singapore until at least 2100 is a reasonable one.
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... The concept of SWS in the urban water field is gaining great impetus among academia, government, and industry, drawing attention from international communities (SWAN, EWRI, HIC, and CCWI) to top-level organizations (IWA, AWWA, AWC-Asian Water Council). Other international collaboration projects (e.g., i-WIDGT from EU [20], CANARY from US [21], SEQ from the Australian water resources department [22], and Smart City reports [23]) are providing professional support to smart urban water infrastructure all over the world [24][25][26]. Although researches on SWS are speeding up to meet the demand of industry and government, the conceptual, technical and practical gaps between providers and clients are still not well bridged. ...
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... The concept of SWS in the urban water field is gaining great impetus among academia, government, and industry, drawing attention from international communities (SWAN, EWRI, HIC, and CCWI) to top-level organizations (IWA, AWWA, AWC-Asian Water Council). Other international collaboration projects (e.g., i-WIDGT from EU [20], CANARY from US [21], SEQ from the Australian water resources department [22], and Smart City reports [23]) are providing professional support to smart urban water infrastructure all over the world [24][25][26]. Although researches on SWS are speeding up to meet the demand of industry and government, the conceptual, technical and practical gaps between providers and clients are still not well bridged. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Throughout the past years, governments, industries, and researchers have shown increasing interest in incorporating smart techniques, including sensor monitoring, real-time data transmitting, and real-time controlling into water systems. However, the design and construction of such a smart water system are still not quite standardized for massive applications due to the lack of consensus on the framework. The major challenge impeding wide application of the smart water network is the unavailability of a systematic framework to guide real-world design and deployment. To address this challenge, this review study aims to facilitate more extensive adoption of the smart water system, to increase effectiveness and efficiency in real-world water system contexts. A total of 32 literature pieces including 1 international forum, 17 peer-reviewed papers, 10 reports, and 4 presentations that are directly related to frameworks of smart water system have been reviewed. A new and comprehensive smart water framework, including definition and architecture, was proposed in this review paper. Two conceptual metrics (smartness and cyber wellness) were defined to evaluate the performance of smart water systems. Additionally, three pieces of future research suggestions were discussed, calling for broader collaboration in the community of researchers, engineers, and industrial and governmental sectors to promote smart water system applications.
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