Tuesday 7 March 2017

Strategic approach to water-planning crucial: DPM Teo

It will ensure water remains available and affordable to every family in Singapore
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 5 Mar 2017

Holding up a 330ml bottle of water which costs under $1 from a store, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the same amount of money will pay for 1,000 bottles of tap water, even after the recently announced price hike.

That water is readily available here and at a price affordable to every family is testament to the planning and investments Singapore has made over the years.

The cost of water here is comparable to that in major cities in developed countries with large rivers and lakes to draw from, said Mr Teo, who explained the need for current and future generations to learn the value of water and understand how it is critical to Singapore's survival and independence.

Water from Malaysia now meets half the island's water needs. But Mr Teo noted how Johor's Linggiu Reservoir, which feeds into the Johor River from which Singapore draws its supply, is only a third full.

"This water source is under stress," he said. "So we must prepare, psychologically, to face water shortages if the Linggiu Reservoir dries up, and our reservoirs here also face a very dry year."

The price of water will rise by 30 per cent in two phases, from July 1, and the hike has drawn concern from residents and businesses.

Last week, three ministers explained in Parliament how water is a matter of national security, and has to be priced right to reflect its strategic importance and scarcity.

Yesterday, at the launch of Singapore's month-long celebration of World Water Day at Marina Barrage, Mr Teo put it more starkly.

"Our struggle to make sure our people have water, is the struggle for Singapore's survival and independence," he said. "To make sure that we could survive, preserve our independence and thrive, we have taken a strategic approach to planning for water supply."

This entailed planning early for future sources, and Singapore prepared well before its first water agreement with Malaysia expired in 2011. It included expanding catchment areas and building reservoirs where other cities would not have thought possible, including "this Marina Reservoir right in the middle of our city", he said, referring to the Barrage.

This was "so that we would not be held to ransom", he stressed. He pointed out that 2011 "passed almost unnoticed in Singapore" with no disruption in water supply, and no big price shocks.

Likewise, Singapore must make investments for 2061, when the second water agreement ends, added Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security. "For the 16 years from 2000 to 2015, we invested $7 billion in water infrastructure, or about $430 million every year. This will almost double to $800 million every year from 2017 to 2021... This will fund major investments in desalination and Newater plants, new and renewal of water pipes and pumps so that the fresh clean water flows into every home when we turn on our taps."

At the same time, middle- and lower-income households will continue to get help to offset the price hike, he added. For instance, a family in a four-room HDB flat will get $300 in U-Save rebates this year.

Describing the water story as the story of Singapore, one written and passed down by the pioneer generation, he said: "Water is precious. Water is survival. Water is life. Water is freedom and independence. Make every drop count."

Many Singaporeans unaware of monthly water usage: Poll
By Annika Mock and Raynold Toh YK, The Sunday Times, 5 Mar 2017

Many Singaporeans are unaware of their monthly water usage even as they think that the recently announced water price hike is unnecessary - a reaction that shows they do not appreciate the cost of water, said water management experts.

In a street poll conducted last Thursday by The Sunday Times, 75 of 100 respondents said they did not know how much they spent on water each month.

When informed of this figure, water resource development expert Asit K. Biswas, distinguished visiting professor at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, told The Sunday Times he was "surprised that a quarter of them even knew".

He thinks that this has not come about because of a lack of transparency or information, but because of a bigger problem.

"Singaporeans have been taking water for granted just because nothing has happened in the last few years," he said.

The poll - conducted at six train stations in the north, west, south and central areas of Singapore - had questions ranging from whether respondents knew how much the 30 per cent price increase would cost them monthly, to how they were conserving water.

The questions were posed as many Singaporeans are debating the 30 per cent increase in water tariffs - the first in 17 years - which was announced in Budget 2017 last month.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing both spoke in Parliament last Wednesday to address the concerns of ministers and the public.

However, The Sunday Times poll revealed divided views on the increase, as half of the respondents felt the hike was unnecessary.

Mr Ong Chin Choon, 56, who is unemployed, said: "I don't think there is a need to do it now because of the poor economic situation.

"There have also been recent increases in other fees, such as the HDB service and conservancy charges as well as public carpark fees. It is too much at one go."

However, experts believe the price hike was long overdue and would do Singaporeans good.

Professor Biswas said the results reveal complacency among Singaporeans and felt that the increase was too small.

"We need to realise that Singapore's water supply is not reliable," he said, adding that he would double the price of water by 2019 if it were up to him.

He said the 30 per cent hike was the best way to drive across the message that water is precious.

Professor Ng Yew Kwang, Winsemius professor of economics at the Nanyang Technological University, said "the 30 per cent price increase is highly desirable", given that water has always been underpriced.

However, Prof Ng did think that the increase was too sudden.

"The Government should have increased the price several times over the past 17 years. Now, it is too late to do this," he added.

Besides the timing of the hike, 72 per cent of respondents added that they were at a loss as to how to further reduce their consumption.

Retiree Chee Saw Siew, 55, whose water bill was $12.75 for last month - well below the national average of $29.45 for households living in executive apartments, said: "There is a limit to how much water can be saved."

However, Prof Biswas said there was "plenty of room to conserve water" if Singaporeans "saved smart". He suggested reducing the usage of appliances that consume the most water or are the least water-efficient, such as washing machines.

Water Price Revisions 2017

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