Tuesday 22 March 2016

Singapore's water success has H2O expert worried

People here taking free flow of clean water for granted: Prof Biswas
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2016

When it comes to water, Singapore may be a victim of its own success, says world renowned water expert Asit Biswas.

Water supplies are drying up at an unprecedented rate. But with the authorities here so efficient at making such effects invisible at the turn of the tap, Singapore residents continue to take a free flow of fresh, clean water for granted, Professor Biswas believes.

So if he had his way, he would increase water prices here by 30 per cent immediately.

"In my view, water prices should have been increased a long time ago," he said, pointing out that they have remained stagnant for nearly 16 years.

Water Day 2016
On World Water Day, only one in ten people has access to clean water. Take a closer look at the impact -
Posted by Reuters on Monday, March 21, 2016

Prof Biswas, who a decade ago won the Stockholm Water Prize - considered the water industry's Nobel Prize - for his outstanding contributions to global water resource issues, added: "Singaporeans now use water profligately for all household chores, as well as for bathing and hygienic purposes."

According to national water agency PUB, the price of potable water for domestic households is currently about $1.50 per cubic metre, or 1,000 litres, (not including GST) for households using 40 cubic m or less per month.

Each Singapore resident uses 150 litres of water per day, enough to fill almost two bathtubs.

This is far more than the usage in other cities with comparable standards of living, such as Estonia's capital Tallinn, Europe's most water-saving city, where each person uses 95 litres daily, Prof Biswas pointed out.

Water usage can be cut easily by substituting a mop for floor washing, in place of high-pressure water jets often seen in housing estates, for instance, and by using non-potable water for watering plants.

If renowned water expert Asit Biswas had his way, water prices here would increase by 30 per cent immediately.
Posted by The Straits Times on Sunday, March 20, 2016

His advice comes at a time when sustainable water demand has become imperative.

With climate change expected to show more pronounced effects, dry spells are only going to become more pronounced within the next two to four decades.

"Singapore needs to think in terms of drought. Analysis has indicated that there may be periods where we may have one- to three- year droughts in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia," said Prof Biswas, who is also Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore (NUS).

Currently, Singapore gets about half of its water from Malaysia. Therefore, dry weather across the Causeway is a double whammy for the Republic.

Two months ago, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli revealed that Johor's Linggiu Reservoir was half empty. This is a far cry from a level of about 80 per cent at the start of last year.

The 55 sq km reservoir is five times larger than all of Singapore's reservoirs combined, and the Republic built it upstream of the Johor River in 1994, so that it can collect and release rainwater to push seawater back into the sea. This ensures that the river water is not too salty to be treated by the Singapore-run water treatment plant there.

Singapore residents, however, do not feel the impact of serious dry spells because the PUB runs desalination and Newater plants at high capacity to mitigate the impact of lower rainfall.

This cannot continue, said Prof Biswas, who advises 19 governments around the world, including China and Brazil, on water policy issues.

"Singapore has to move from supply management to thinking very seriously about how to manage the demands, both for the present and the future," he warned.

Besides, water prices now are not commensurate with rising household incomes and inflation, said Prof Biswas, who is also the founder of the Third World Centre for Water Management in Mexico.

Sixteen years ago, the median employed resident household income here was $4,398. Water bills represented 0.69 per cent of income based on 20 cubic m of water monthly. But by 2014, the household income had increased to $8,292 and the water bill represented just 0.36 per cent of its monthly income.

When contacted, a PUB spokesman said the answer to long-term water sustainability is source diversification.

"We have to move towards drought-resistant sources like reuse (that is, Newater) and desalination. These, however, are more energy-intensive, and hence more expensive, sources of water," she said.

"Therein lies the challenge. We can become more resilient to climate change, but at the cost of expending more energy."

The PUB declined to say if it will be increasing water prices.

Prof Biswas said he and his wife are "seriously considering" becoming Singapore permanent residents, as both love the working environment at NUS - where they are academics - and the "quality and intelligence" of the Republic's politicians and civil servants.

He admits, however, that his passion for water did not come naturally.

The 76-year-old Indian-born Canadian, who is now based in Singapore, said he was interested in soil mechanics initially.

But that space was filled, and water had been the only subject left for him to teach at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland back in 1963.

The subject slowly grew on him.

"It's serendipity. I did not choose water. It chose me," he said.

Water also brought joy to his life in other ways.

Prof Biswas, who graduated with a PhD in engineering from the University of Strathclyde, met his wife, Dr Cecilia Tortajada - thanks to water.

They met in the 1990s when Prof Biswas was advising the government of Mexico on water policy.

"There were very few scientists who spoke English fluently," he explained.

"She was one of them, so that's how we met."

Water levels in the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor - which can supply up to 60 per cent of Singapore's water needs - are now at about 42 per cent.
Posted by The Straits Times on Monday, March 21, 2016

Climate change, energy and water security for Singapore
By Asit K. Biswas, Augustin Boey and Cecilia Tortajada, Published The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2016

Today, March 22, is World Water Day and it is appropriate to assess Singapore's future in terms of climate change, energy and water security. The city-state has an excellent record of managing climate, water and energy issues over the past three decades. The future, always, is uncertain. Countries will have to run faster and faster to stay in the same place.

For a small city-state like Singapore, with a minuscule carbon footprint, the global implications of whatever it does will not be significant since it contributes less than 0.2 per cent of the global emissions. However, both large and small countries must live up to their commitments to make a real difference to the entire world.

Singapore has made an ambitious commitment to reduce its emissions intensity by 35 per cent, from 2005 levels, by 2030. Even if this level is achieved, Singapore's absolute rise in emissions will go up. It is thus essential that Singapore makes every effort to reduce its carbon footprint in all spheres. One of these spheres where it could do better is water.

Both water and energy are strategic sectors for Singapore. Since its independence in 1965, the country has steadfastly strived to enhance its water security. It has made significant and commendable progress which would have been unimaginable in 1965.

It currently imports around half of its water needs from its neighbour Malaysia. However, in the past, on several occasions, Malaysia has threatened to cut off this water supply to exert pressure on Singapore. Furthermore, this year, due to drought conditions in Johor, Singapore has been unable to draw water from the Linggiu reservoir on more than 100 occasions.

Singapore has continually sought feasible ways to improve the city-state's water security. It is aiming to achieve water self-sufficiency by 2060, one year before the current water import treaty with Malaysia will expire. Recent efforts have focused on ramping up infrastructure to increase wastewater treatment and reuse, and sea water desalination, and increasing their efficiencies.

Energy security is also a key priority for Singapore. As a small and resource-scarce island, Singapore is highly dependent on fuel imports for its economic survival. It imports almost all of its energy needs. Reducing energy consumption by improving efficiency and conservation are thus important components in Singapore's multifaceted energy security strategy.

At present, Singapore's urban water and wastewater management practices are one of the best in the world. However, advances in water security have come at the cost of energy security. Both wastewater treatment and desalination are highly energy-intensive processes.

More sustained attention needs to be paid in the future to balancing the trade-offs between energy and water security strategies through coordinated policymaking. An example is the second desalination plant which is more energy efficient than the first one. It has reduced its energy footprint per cubic metre of water by nearly 30 per cent. Advancing water security at the cost of decreasing energy security is not a long-term desirable option.

National electricity consumption has grown at a compound annual rate of 3.63 per cent from 2008 to 2013. Over the same period, its water consumption has grown more modestly at 1.59 per cent over the same period. However, electricity consumption is likely to grow further as more and more water is produced by desalination and advanced wastewater treatment. Thus, Singapore needs to run continually much faster to stay in the same place!

Reducing energy requirements for the water sector will not only reduce Singapore's carbon footprints but will also contribute to the enhancement of its energy security. However, this will require new out-of-the-box policies for water management. It is estimated that 2 per cent of electricity demand is accounted for the water sector. The aim should be to reduce it further to have a lower energy footprint.

Take Singapore's per capita water use. At 150 litres per person per day, it is 50 per cent more than the most efficient European Union cities. Singapore's water price has remained the same since 2000. In 2000, water bills for median households represented 0.69 per cent of their income. Now, it is about 0.36 per cent. In contrast, over the past decade, water prices in Western cities have increased at a slightly higher rate than inflation.

If per capita water consumption can be reduced by one-third through economic instruments, incentives, education and other appropriate means, energy requirements will go down significantly. Since nearly all domestic water used ends up as wastewater after certain time lag, this would mean the amount of wastewater that needs to be treated would be reduced further, saving considerable energy.

Furthermore, even though the quality of tap water in Singapore is excellent, nearly 80 per cent of households boil water before drinking, using even more energy. It is necessary to find out why this is happening and whether households can be nudged to drink water straight from the tap. This will need considerable sociological and perceptional research which is basically missing at present.

A major aspect of Singapore's water conservation programme has been its overwhelming focus on technology. Economic instruments like pricing and incentives, and how to change social perceptions and behaviours have received very limited attention. In our view, major focus has to be given on pricing, incentives and behavioural aspects to reduce Singapore's high per-capita domestic consumption.

Wastewater contains considerable energy. More and more of this energy needs to be recovered. Northumbrian Water of England is already recovering energy from wastewater. Consequently its wastewater treatment process is now energy positive. The treatment plant in Aarhus, Denmark, that is expected to be operational this July, is expected to produce 50 per cent more energy than it consumes. These are the harbingers of a new generation of energy-producing wastewater treatment plants of the future. Singapore needs to benchmark itself against Aarhus.

These and other associated developments of the future will ensure that energy requirements for the water sector should become progressively less and less. They will contribute simultaneously to Singapore's energy and water securities. Reduced energy use will further curtail greenhouse gas emissions which are contributing to global warming. Taken together, they will contribute to enhancing Singapore's water and energy securities and also reduce its carbon emissions: a win-win-win situation.

Asit K. Biswas is the Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS; Augustin Boey is a Research Associate, and Cecilia Tortajada is Senior Research Fellow, at the Institute of Water Policy in the same School.

#WaterIs a human right. Still 1 in 10 people lack access to safe water. #WorldWaterDay we dedicate to them! http://buff.ly/1ZgqKcQ International Business Times UK
Posted by UN-Water on Sunday, March 20, 2016

Tap water: Distilling the facts
By Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2016

How much do you know about the water you are drinking? The Straits Times gets PUB to answer some burning questions ahead of World Water Day tomorrow.

Q Is it necessary to boil tap water before I drink it?

A Tap water in Singapore is perfectly safe to drink.

The quality of our tap water is well within World Health Organisation guidelines for drinking water quality and the United States Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards.

So unless one requires hot water, there is no need for further boiling, which would be a waste of energy.

Every year, PUB conducts more than 400,000 quality tests on the water supplied to customers to ensure that it is entirely wholesome.

Q What about installing water treatment or filtration devices, such as water filters and purifiers?

A PUB generally discourages the use of such point-of-use filters because bacteria will grow on the filters if they are not kept clean, maintained or replaced regularly. And this may actually foul the tap water that passes through this type of device.

There is no need for filters or other point-of-use gadgets that are being peddled in the marketplace for a tidy sum.

Q But is the potable water from the tap still clean enough to drink after running through the water pipes?

A At PUB waterworks, water is treated and then disinfected using chlorine.

Residual chlorine is also present in the water as it moves through the distribution system, all the way to the customer's tap, in order to keep it safe for drinking.

It is the residual chlorine in tap water that keeps it germ-free. For those who are more sensitive to its smell or taste, just let the water sit for a while before drinking it.

Q How much does a bottle of mineral water typically cost compared to tap water?

A A 600ml bottle of drinking water typically costs from 50 cents to $1 when bought at a convenience store or supermarket. For the same amount of tap water, our customers pay only 0.1 cent.

So perfectly potable tap water can be 1,000 times cheaper than bottled water.

By all means ask for PUB tap water in a restaurant. It will be as good, and probably better, than any expensive bottled water.

Singapore gearing up for increasing water stress in Asia

By Lin Yangchen, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2016

In 2000, about 800 million people in mainland Asia faced severe water shortages. A study predicts that by 2050, about a billion more Asians will be in the same plight.

Singapore, however, has taken steps to insure itself against this scenario predicted by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study published on March 30 in the academic journal, PLoS ONE.

"Our demand for water will increase as our economy and population grow," said a spokesman for Singapore's water agency, PUB. "We will continue to plan and invest ahead of demand."

Dr Adam Schlosser, deputy director at MIT's Joint Programme on the Science and Policy of Global Change and one of the study's co-authors, said population and economic growth can have large effects on people's demand for resources. "And climate, on top of that, can lead to substantial magnifications to those stresses," he added.

The researchers used computer models to quantify the potential effects of population growth, economic expansion and climate change on patterns of water use in countries on mainland Asia. They simulated various scenarios up to 2050, including control "experiments" in which either population or climate was held constant over time.

The factors with the greatest impact on water availability vary by country. For example, increasing wealth alongside industrial growth was the main driver of water stress in China, while population growth was the main factor in India.

PUB said that by 2060, Singapore's water demand is expected to double from today's 430 million gallons a day. Singapore has four main sources of water - local catchments, imported water, Newater and desalinated water. The last two sources will eventually be able to supply up to 80 per cent of the country's future water needs, up from a maximum of 50 per cent today.

The importance of diversifying the water supply was underscored by recent dry spells in Malaysia that have reduced water levels in Johor's Linggiu Reservoir to just above the historical low of 41 per cent. Built and run by PUB, it is allowed by the Separation Agreement between Singapore and Malaysia to supply up to about 60 per cent of Singapore's current water needs.

Indeed, the MIT study said the effects of water shortages may be felt far from the source, such as when drought on an upstream river basin reduces the water supply to densely populated settlements elsewhere.

PUB said it will continue to develop new methods to minimise the cost and energy consumption of water production while enhancing the resilience of the water supply. To date, it has undertaken more than 400 such projects, investing a total of $320 million. It said it will keep encouraging the public to save water through outreach programmes and the use of water-efficient household fittings. Commercial water users that use 60,000 cubic m of water or more a year have to submit Water Efficiency Management Plans.

While Singapore was not among the countries in the MIT study, it faces similar challenges .

Professor Ng Wun Jern, executive director of the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute at Nanyang Technological University, said Singapore is "a water-stressed" country as it lacks natural freshwater sources and fossil fuel reserves. It has tried to overcome these limits via technology that allows the energy-efficient production of water. "The capabilities Singapore has built in the water domain can now be exported to the region, helping other countries address their water needs," he added.

This is already happening, said PUB, through events such as the biennial Singapore International Water Week conference, where Singapore shares its experience in overcoming its water vulnerabilities.

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