MIT Technology Review’s feature on Singapore’s water journey shows how far we’ve come


The MIT Technology Review, founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1899, published an article chronicling Singapore’s water journey and the lengths we took to ensure water independence.

The facts are nothing new for Singaporeans but they still make for a timely reminder of how we must continue to conserve water and how we’ve grown from the old Bukit Timah Waterworks to the Marina East Desalination Plant, which can treat both fresh and seawater, we have today.

Here are three key highlights of the article.

1. Water security has always been a concern for us

Although Singapore is located near the equator and has an abundance of rainfall, we simply do not have enough land area to collect the rainwater.

In fact, according to the World Resources Institute, Singapore is on par with dry places like Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, as one of the countries most vulnerable to water stress.

In his speech at the opening of Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant in Feb. 2021, PM Lee spoke about the need to continue to conserve water.

“Singaporeans also need to play our part, to use water only when we truly need to, and to make conserving water our daily way of life.

“Because for us, water is not an inexhaustible gift of nature. It is a strategic and scarce resource, and also a precious fruit of our labours, always to be husbanded and used wisely,” he said.

2. Climate change has forced our hands

Climate change has brought about extreme weathers in recent years.

Take for instance the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor that we built in 1995. In 2016, the reservoir went down to 20 per cent of its capacity. 

PM Lee remembered it well, saying how worried he was and that he was tracking the levels daily.

However, in Jan this year, we recorded the wettest January in our history and Linggiu and the other reservoirs were full. The only time we got more rain in January was in 1893.

3. Employing new tech

As technology improves, we are also quick to adapt and use new technologies in our bid to achieve water independence.

To help households track water consumption and flag leaks, PUB is installing some 300,000 smart water meters across the island by 2023.

According to MIT Technology Review, The Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant is a sprawling monument to take Singapore close to self-sufficiency without increasing energy use.

The plant is capable of producing 30 million gallons of clean water daily and importantly, draws significantly less energy than a typical desalination plant because of its ability to operate in two modes: treating freshwater in wet seasons or treating seawater when weather is dry.

And we are not stopping at that as we look to further decrease energy use.

The PUB is testing a new desalination technology in Tuas that uses an electric field to pull dissolved salts from seawater. It requires less energy than reverse osmosis, which is one of the methods used in the Keppel Marina East plant. A biomimetic membrane that uses natural proteins found in cells to generate clean water is also in development.

Other than desalination, we are also pushing on with the wastewater recycling campaign. The Changi Water Reclamation Plant, 25 stories deep underground, draws wastewater through a 48 km-long tunnel linked to our network of sewers. It uses membranes to filter out microscopic particles and bacteria, reverse osmosis and UV disinfection.

After treatment, the treated used water is safe to be returned to the environment or channelled to NEWater factory to be further treated into NEWater.​

Staying ahead despite the odds

Despite the various obstacles and constraints, the PAP government is always planning for the future and turning each and every adversity into an opportunity.

From the construction of the Linggiu Reservoir to the various high-tech desalination and water plants in Singapore, nothing is being left to chance. It calls for a proactive and pragmatic government to understand the demands and consistently meeting them so as to secure a future for the next generation.

Let us continue conserving every drop of water. And like PM Lee put it: “We have to be obsessed with saving water, and making every drop count.”

Cover image credit: MIT Technology Review.