The Business Times – Water self-sufficiency a strategic priority: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday talked about the importance of water security at the Singapore International Water Week. He covered several areas, and shared how Singapore will be ramping up its capacity to meet the consumption needs of its residents.

The Business Times story below.

Water self-sufficiency a strategic priority: PM Lee

(SINGAPORE) The Republic’s water policy has been rooted in the recognition that self-sufficiency is a strategic priority, not just an economic one, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Water pricing policies, new catchment areas, public education and ramped- up use of new water technologies have all stemmed from that, he said, adding that desalination and NEWater plants are expected to supply 80 per cent of Singapore’s water needs by 2060, before the second water treaty with Malaysia expires in 2061.

Taking questions from the audience of 1,500 policymakers, researchers and water industry leaders at the Singapore International Water Week’s (SIWW) inaugural Water Conversation, Mr Lee explained that while Singapore is working towards water self-sufficiency, it still imports essentials such as food and energy, also needed for water treatment processes.

He said that, as a very small country, Singapore depended on the rest of the world, and there was no alternative to this.

NEWater currently meets 30 per cent of Singapore’s water needs, but ramped-up capacity is projected for it to meet 50 per cent of future water demand by 2060.

Desalinated water, with added capacity from the new TuaSpring Desalination Plant, is expected to supply 30 per cent of water needs by 2060, up from the current 10 per cent.

Mr Lee also shared some of the new approaches Singapore is trying out, including technology integrating desalination and NEWater processes to treat water of varying salinity. This could tap small rivers and streams nearer the sea to raise Singapore’s water catchment area from about two-thirds to 90 per cent.

One researcher in the audience suggested Singapore could be self-sufficient before the 2061 expiry date of Singapore’s second water agreement with Malaysia. But Mr Lee stressed that the treaty is ‘not just a matter of self-sufficiency, it’s an inviolate founding document of our Republic’, which ‘absolutely cannot be changed’.

Other participants asked if Singapore could do more to assist the estimated 1.8 billion people across Asia without access to clean water. Mr Lee said that while Singapore is already sharing its water expertise, governance and the ability to enforce laws remain key.

He spoke about the politics of pricing water, acknowledging that while governments may fear public backlash from pricing an essential good like water to reflect its economic value, Singaporeans were more accepting of pricing adjustments in the late 1990s, in part because threats from neighbouring countries to switch off the water supply drove home the national security aspect to water.

While Singapore’s water prices reflect the cost of producing the next drop of water via desalination or NEWater technologies, utilities subsidies also ensure that low-income households are not deprived of an essential good, Mr Lee said.

Beyond pricing and developing cost-viable technologies to produce water, public education and mindset change are key. ‘You almost have to make it a religion, so every drop of water counts,’ Mr Lee said, about educating people on water conservation and keeping the environment and water catchment areas clean.

Image taken from bcfoto70

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