SPEECH BY MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES, SINGAPORE, MASAGOS ZULKIFLI, FOR WATER LEADERS FORUM ON 2ND OCTOBER 2017, 10:00-10:30AM AT MUTIARA HOTEL, JOHOR BAHRU, MALAYSIA

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 Yang Amat Berhormat Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin,

Yang Berhormat Datuk Hasni Mohammad,

State Chairman of Public Works, Rural and

Regional Development Executive Committee

Yang Berhormat Datuk Ayub Rahmat,

State Chairman of Health, Environment, Education and

Information Executive Committee

1     A very good morning to everyone. I would like to thank Menteri Besar Dato’ Khaled Nordin for inviting me to speak today. This Forum is a very important initiative, and is a reflection of the state water authorities’ untiring efforts to improve the management and supply of water in Johor.  I know that my friend and colleague Datuk Hasni is always focused on the issue of water, and I congratulate him for organising this Forum.  I am happy to see that Singapore officials have strong ties with the Johor water authorities, especially BAKAJ.  I am glad to be here today with a chance to share with you on the Singapore Water Story.

 

The Dutch Experience

2     Before I start on our Water Story, I would like to share with you what I experienced when I visited the Netherlands late last year. Both the Netherlands and Singapore face acute water problems. However, unlike Singapore, the Dutch’s problem is too much water. The lowest point in all of Europe, at 7.8 metres below the sea level, lies in the town of Zuidplas, in the Netherlands. The massive flood of 1953 in which thousands perished is etched in their national memory. People all over the Netherlands are always reminded that the rivers could overflow, inundating their homes and destroying their properties, taking the lives of their loved ones.

3     As such, the Dutch have, over time, built a complex system of dykes, pumps and water storage capabilities across the country. Today, their continual investment of over 400 million euros on flood protection every year has even turned into a great advantage, attracting investments from water-intensive industries, and exporting their expertise.

Singapore Water Story

4     The Singapore Water Story is the extreme reverse. We don’t have enough water. We are a small island city-state with limited natural water resources, and limited land area to collect rain when it falls. When Singapore gained independence in 1965, we also faced poor water and sanitation conditions, exacerbating our water scarcity problem.

5     At the same time, our population was growing rapidly during the Baby-Boomer years. We therefore had to undertake swift industrialisation to provide jobs for the people, placing even more pressure on our water resources. Demand quickly outpaced supply. Water woes were aplenty, threatening the quality of living.

6     Notwithstanding these issues, we have strived relentlessly over the past half-decade to secure reliable and good quality water for our people today through long-term planning, sound management, innovation, and most importantly, bringing our people on board to build a national awareness, a consciousness, on Singapore’s water scarcity.

7     Like the Dutch, Singapore also has a heightened national consciousness of our water problem. Not of having too much water, but of having very little water. In fact, this consciousness has been ingrained in our DNA, built up over the last 50 years through education and close partnerships with our people. This national consciousness is the key enabler in Singapore’s success in water management today. In fact, I would like to call it an obsessive instinct for water conservation. When PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, receives feedback from the public on faulty water pipes, or when Singaporeans write to me when taps are leaking in public toilets, it is a demonstration of such an obsessive instinct. This instinct has driven Singapore to innovate and continually look into better and more cost-effective technology for water management, not just water supply, and to work with our people to ensure that we continue to use our water resource as responsibly as possible, and in a financially sustainable manner.

8     Despite our current success, Singapore will always remain a water-stressed nation. Singapore was ranked first among countries with the greatest risk of high water stress in 2040, by the World Resources Institute. It is important for Singapore to continue to build on our water management strategies, guided by the nation’s instincts on our water problem.

9     There are currently five strategies, or ingredients, in building our Water Story. Let me share them in detail with you now.

 

The First Ingredient – our Four National Taps strategy

10     The first ingredient in building the Singapore Water Story lies in our Four National Taps. The Four National Taps is Singapore’s long-term strategy to ensure a robust and sustainable water supply for our people and for generations to come. They are, namely, water from local catchments, imported water from Malaysia, NEWater, and desalinated water.

Water from Local Catchments

11     To take advantage of the sole naturally occurring freshwater resource available to us: rainwater from our local catchments, Singapore created new reservoirs and we dammed up all our rivers. As our drainage and sewerage networks were kept separate, stormwater can be channeled into the reservoirs through our extensive drainage network, and subsequently treated for drinking purposes. Today, two-thirds of Singapore’s land are water catchment areas, and we are one of the few countries in the world to harvest urban stormwater on a large scale for consumption.

Imported Water from Malaysia 

12     The Second Tap is imported water from Malaysia. Recognising the inadequacy of Singapore’s local water supply, Singapore signed two water agreements with the State of Johor in 1961 and 1962 respectively. These two agreements ensured the long-term provision of water from Johor to Singapore till 2011 and 2061 respectively. Reflecting their importance, the two water agreements were confirmed and guaranteed by both the Governments of Singapore and Malaysia in the Separation Agreement of 1965 that established Singapore as an independent and sovereign state. The guarantee was also enacted into the Malaysian Constitution by an Act of Parliament. The Separation Agreement was registered with the United Nations.

13     When the 1961 Water Agreement expired, Singapore handed the waterworks as well as pump houses under that agreement to the Johor State Government free of charge and in good working order.Under the 1962 Water Agreement, Singapore is granted the full and exclusive right to draw 250mgd of water from the Johor River. In return, Singapore provides Johor with treated water up to 2% of the water we import.When on occasion, Johor needs additional water and we are able to, we have provided Johor with more than this 2% out of goodwill.The Johor River is an important source of water to both Singapore and Johor. In view of the importance of the Johor River to both parties, as early as in 1990, Malaysia and Singapore signed an agreement to construct the Linggiu Reservoir to increase the yield of the Johor River. Water discharged from the Linggiu Reservoir supplements the natural flow of the Johor River during periods of dry weather in order to enable the reliable abstraction of water. However, low rainfall in recent years, coupled with the additional stress of having to meet all the abstraction needs from the Johor River, has lowered the water levels at Linggiu Reservoir.

14     Last year, in October 2016, Linggiu Reservoir stock dropped to a historic low of 20%. This is a matter of great concern for all parties. Should Linggiu Reservoir fail, it will pose major problems for the water supply of both Johor and Singapore. In this regard, I am glad that both countries are coming together to look into measures that will help to enhance the resilience of the Linggiu Reservoir and increase the yield of the Johor River.

15     While the first two Taps are critical, they are subjected to the vagaries of weather. To boost the water security and drought resilience of our water supply, we have invested in weather-resilient, weather-independent water sources such as NEWater and desalinated water.

NEWater

16     NEWater, our Third National Tap, is Singapore’s own brand of ultra-clean, high grade reclaimed water. By reclaiming every drop of water so that it can be used again, we can increase the water supply substantially. For those who are engineers here, you will know, if you take 50% of the water, and put it back into the closed loop, you will double your water supply. This is one of the most sustainable ways of increasing our water supply, but it did not come easy. Back in the 1970s, while the technology of producing reclaimed water was feasible, the cost was too high. But that did not stop us. Like I mentioned earlier in my speech, our obsessive instinct drove us for two decades until the 1990s, when Reverse-osmosis membrane technology became more affordable and reliable. It was then, in 1998, that Singapore set up a team to test the membrane technology for use in water reclamation. Finally, in 2003, our first two NEWater plants successfully commenced operationthree decades of scaling up the technology – but it was worth our perseverance.

Desalinated Water

17     Let me now move on to the Fourth Tap, desalinated water. Being an island-nation surrounded by the sea, desalination is a sound option. However, just like NEWater, we had to persevere and invest heavily in Research and Development to improve on the technology. Our efforts came to fruition in the early 2000s, when desalination finally became a technically and financially viable option for Singapore – again with RO membrane as opposed to the traditional process that used more than double the energy needed for RO. Singapore’s first desalination plant commenced operation in 2005. Our efforts do not stop here, Singapore is currently proactively supporting research into more energy-efficient desalination technology, such as electro-deionisation (EDI), which would potentially further halve the energy consumption for desalination.

The Second Ingredient – collaborations with the private sector and our people

Public-Private Partnerships

18     Ladies and gentlemen, after talking about the Four National Taps, let me now move on to the second ingredient, collaborations with the private sector and our people. Singapore has long recognised that the public sector alone cannot chart our water journey. Partnering with the private sector encourages greater innovation and competition, enhances production efficiency, and helps to keep water as affordable as possible. In 2005, Singapore embarked on our first Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project, the SingSpring desalination plant, which was also our first desalination plant. We have since gone on to develop one more desalination plant and three NEWater factories under the same model. The latest example is the Marina East Desalination Plant, to be built by Keppel. It is an iconic project, as it is probably the first large scale operational plant that treats both reservoir and sea water, and all of the treatment equipment will be located underground.

19     We have turned our water scarcity problem into a competitive advantage. Through such partnerships for our water infrastructure, our local water companies gain a track record in Singapore, and can go on to export and showcase their water expertise on the global stage. For example, Hyflux, having built two desalination plants in Singapore, has gone on to build one of the world’s largest seawater reverse osmosis desalination plants in Algeria. Additionally, their joint venture project in Tanzania, the Star City Township Project, also boasts of housing approximately 140,000 residents and creating 100,000 jobs, when completed.

20     To further encourage collaboration and co-creation, Singapore has set aside investments to foster leading-edge water technologies in every part of the water process ecology and grow the research community in Singapore. Today, we have 180 local and international water companies and more than 20 Research and Development centres on water in Singapore.

Collaborating with our people

21     Aside from the PPPs, we must not forget the other “P”: People. The older generation of Singaporeans will remember when Singapore had to undergo water rationing in 1963 and 1964, when a severe drought swept through Singapore then. We owe it to them, as they bore with water rationing, supported water saving campaigns, and paid the cost of cleaning up rivers and their catchment areas in Singapore’s early years. Four decades ago, the Singapore River was in need of an extreme clean-up. The Singapore River was suffocating from the pollutants flowing into it.In 1977 to 1987, there was a multi-agency effort to clean up the Singapore River. Dumping of waste and used water from industries located near the river was eliminated. Heavy industries were relocated, rubbish was removed and the riverbed was dredged. The clean-up took 10 years, but it was worth it. The Singapore River is now a vibrant waterway for all to enjoy. This was how water conservation became our DNA. It is because of our obsessive focus on water and the collective determination of the earlier generations of Singaporeans and PUB officers, that we were able to manage our water vulnerabilities. Because of their hard work, we were able to tide through the last prolonged dry weather spell from 2014 to 2016 without any water rationing.

22     However, we do not forget these precious lessons from Singapore’s early days. Today, water rationing exercises are still carried out in our schools, to remind our young that the amenities and convenience that they enjoy now must not be taken for granted.

23     Because Singaporeans appreciate the value of our water system, we launched a program in 2006 to increase the awareness to keep our water system clean and together. We call it Active, Beautiful, and Clean Waters (ABC Waters) programme. Since then, 36 ABC Waters projects have been successfully completed by PUB. The programme not only transformed our extensive network of drains, canals and reservoirs into thriving social and recreational spaces, but also brought our people closer to water, educating them on the need for everyone to protect and conserve this precious resource, and passing this important message on to our next generation.

The Third Ingredient – enhanced international cooperation

24     I will now move on to the third ingredient, enhanced international cooperation. Singapore also constantly learns from and shares knowledge with the global community. This international cooperation forms the third ingredient in building our Water Story. When ideas are exchanged, innovation is the result. An example of a global platform for such an exchange of ideas is the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP), established back in 1992 as Singapore’s way of sharing with the international community our developmental experience, including water issues. To date, more than 116,000 participants from more than 170 countries have attended the programmes under the SCP.

25     In addition, the Singapore Water Academy, launched in 2016, partnered with the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs to conduct water-related programmes for ASEAN countries and Mexico. These programmes touch on a myriad of water issues, for example Smart Water Technologies, Water Resource Management, and Water Efficiency.

26     As a global hydrohub, we want to be a key node in bringing the global water industry together to co-create innovative water solutions and build capabilities to solve urban water challenges. We organise the Singapore International Water Week, an international platform for water leaders from all over the world to further our discussion on pertinent water challenges. In 2016, the Singapore International Water Week attracted over 21,000 participants from 125 countries.

27     Through hearing the experience of the countries that we partner with, and the innovative solutions from others, Singapore has also benefitted greatly.

 

The Fourth Ingredient – water demand management

28     Ladies and gentlemen, another important ingredient in good water management is managing water demand. Water demand in Singapore is projected to double by 2060. Our obsessive instinct for conserving water kicks in. In order for our precious water supply to remain sustainable, every one of us must manage water demand. This is especially relevant to the non-domestic sector in Singapore, as this sector currently makes up around 55% of the total water consumption in Singapore. Their demand is projected to grow significantly to make up 70% of our water demand by 2060. Our efforts to manage non-domestic water demand are hence critical to allow for Singapore’s sustainable growth. Only by doing so, can we continue to position ourselves as an attractive hub for businesses and industries.

29     PUB works closely with industries to manage water demand in the non-domestic sector. Since 2015, it is mandatory for large water users to submit their Water Efficiency Management Plan, which aims to help them better understand their water consumption patterns and seek ways to improve their water efficiency. PUB is also analysing data collected under this scheme to develop sectorial benchmarks and best practices guides to share with the companies. This will facilitate knowledge transfer and enable companies to implement projects that not only increase water efficiency, but make business sense at the same time.

30     Of course, it is not just businesses and industries that need to manage their water demand, but also regular households, which make up the other 45% of our water demand today. Water is a precious resource, and Singapore encourages everyone to make water conservation our way of life. To facilitate this, Singapore started the Mandatory Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme in 2009, which allows households to make better-informed choices and purchase more water-efficient water fittings. This scheme has already reaped rewards in terms of water savings for Singapore.  The per capita household water usage in Singapore now stands at 148 litres in 2016, and we plan to lower it to 140 litres in 2030.

 

The Fifth Ingredient – pricing

31     Finally, at the core of all the measures above, is financial sustainability. Harking back to the Dutch experience again, the Netherlands established the world’s first and only Water Bank, to finance large investments in water. This was made possible because each household contributed its share of water taxes. In fact, this Bank was instrumental in the aftermath of the 1953 floods.

32     In Singapore, water is unlike any other ordinary public commodity. It needs to be right-priced to ensure financial sustainability, so that we can continue to upgrade our water system to tackle upcoming challenges, and ensure a reliable and sustainable supply of water. We price potable water to reflect its long-run marginal cost (LRMC), which refers to the cost of producing and conveying the next drop of water. Doing so also reflects the scarcity value of water and encourages consumers to use it prudently. We hope that through right pricing, everyone will cultivate the habit of saving water as part of our DNA, whether we are a household or business. This is the way forward.

33     As important as it is to price this precious commodity right, we also have to make sure that water, a basic need, is accessible and affordable to all. To balance between the two objectives, Singapore has introduced targeted assistance to eligible households while continuing to right-price water at its LRMC. This will also ensure that everyone will be able to afford access to this basic resource, but also send the right signal price on its scarcity value.

Conclusion

34     Ladies and gentlemen, you can see that from searching for the most cost-effective water technology, to right-pricing our water supply, Singapore demonstrates this national obsession for the need to conserve our most precious resource: water.

35     Though Singapore has progressed by leaps and bounds in the area of water management over the years, our Water Story is not concluded. Singapore’s Water Story is constantly evolving, continually being written and re-written by all Singaporeans, as we continue on this journey.

36     Let me conclude by thanking the organisers for allowing me to share on Singapore’s Water Story, and I wish all participants a fruitful discussion in the sessions ahead at the Water Leaders Forum over the next two days. Thank you.

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