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Singapore achieves self reliance in water, sees demand doubling

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Singapore has achieved self-reliance in water and is building more capacity to meet a projected doubling in demand in the next 45 years, a minister said.

[SINGAPORE] Singapore has achieved self-reliance in water and is building more capacity to meet a projected doubling in demand in the next 45 years, a minister said.

The city state, which has a contract to buy from neighbouring Malaysia more than half its current daily water requirement of 400 to 420 million imperial gallons, has been able to meet demand even when dry weather reduced the Malaysian supply, Environment and Water Resources minister Masagos Zulkifli said in an interview last week.

Expanded catchment areas, water recycling and desalination have helped the city-state overcome shortfalls from its Malaysian source, Mr Zulkifli said. The island nation needs to build enough catchments, reservoirs and processing plants to supply the 800 million gallons a day it will consume by 2061, when the agreement to buy 250 million gallons daily from Malaysia runs out, he said.

"Because we have enough capacity, we are able to mitigate for shortfalls," the minister said.

"That's why Singaporeans are able to see all our reservoirs full. They are totally disconnected from the fact that we are having a water problem" when parts of Malaysia have had to ration water in recent months, he said.

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In the southern Malaysian state of Johor, which supplies Singapore raw water under the bilateral agreement, dry weather prompted the local water authority to ask Singapore for additional potable water earlier this month.

Singapore plans to complete its fifth NEWater plant, which reclaims treated used water, by the end of the year, producing 50 million gallons of water per day. It is also building its third desalination plant, to be completed in 2017, with a fourth plant due to be ready toward the end of 2019. Construction of a fifth is being explored, the minister said in a speech in April.

Mr Zulkifli's ministry, which accounts for 2.6 per cent of Singapore's budgeted expenditure, has a planned 13.1 per cent increase in spending this fiscal year to S$1.93 billion, compared with an overall 7.3 per cent increase in total national spend.

Singapore's Public Utilities Board, in charge of water supply, accounts for over a quarter of the ministry's operating budget.

The city-state intends to keep using the Malaysian water supply that it's allowed under the 1962 Water Agreement, as that's a cheaper source than what it can produce from desalination or recycling, according to Mr Zulkifli. Domestic desalination plants fulfill about a quarter of Singapore's water needs, but they remain expensive to operate.

The need for better water technology has driven innovation in Singapore, which has about 180 water companies and 26 private research centres. The city is holding the Singapore International Water Week in July.

Mr Zulkifli said several of these outfits are currently working on prototype systems to cut the energy requirements at desalination plants by half or more.

"What was critical for survival became an advantage because we had to do a lot of research including the discovery of how to process water," Mr Zulkifli said.

BLOOMBERG