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How Singapore is making sure it doesn't run out of water

From Liz Neisloss, CNN
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Sewage brings clean water to Singapore
  • In Singapore fresh water is a scarce commodity as native supplies are non-existent
  • The city-state relies heavily on imports from Malaysia
  • But the country has also developed sophisticated techniques for securing future supply

Singapore (CNN) -- It may be one of the most developed nations in Southeast Asia, but on the densely packed urban island of Singapore, a simple glass of water doesn't come cheap, or easy.

A highly modernized city-state with a population of around 5 million, Singapore has no native freshwater supplies. Instead, it relies heavily on imports from neighboring Malaysia -- which delivers up to 250 million gallons a day -- to satisfy the nations huge and growing thirst.

At present, imports account for around 40% of its total water supply but, according to Singapore's Public Utilities Board (PUB), an array of alternative sources are in place to significantly reduce the country's future dependence on foreign supplies.

A "four tap" strategy -- which includes desalinated, recycled, rain and imported water -- has won the PUB an outpouring of international praise, including the Stockholm Industry Water Award in 2007.

Gallery: Singapore's sources of water

According to Singapore's National Environment Agency, the country enjoys 2,340 millimeters of rainfall a year -- much of which is caught and funneled into the water supply through a network of drains, canals and reservoirs dotted around the city.

Large reservoirs are found even in the country's most built-up areas. Bordered by skyscrapers in densely-populated downtown Singapore, the recently built $226 million "Marina Barrage" has become a popular tourist attraction.

The project is part of an overall plan that will eventually see two-thirds of the island's entire land area dedicated to capturing rainwater.

But for now, captured rainfall still only accounts for roughly 20% of Singapore's total consumption.

Aside from imports, the largest alternative supply of water comes in the form of "reclaimed," or recycled, sewage.

We do want people to understand the preciousness of water.
--Yap Kheng Guan, Singapore Public Utilities Board

Using a system of microfiltration -- a process which removes microscopic contaminants as small as one millionth of a millimeter -- as well as other high-tech filtering systems, reclaimed water actually exceeds Singapore's drinking standards.

Officially branded by the PUB as "NEWater," treated waste water makes up 30% of Singapore's total requirements, although officials ultimately hope that figure will reach 50% in the long term.

Desalination -- the expensive process of removing salt and minerals from seawater -- accounts for the remaining 10%.

Besides introducing novel ways to increase its water supply, Singapore is also serious about reducing demand. It tackles waste with a two-level tariff for both homes and businesses that discourages excessive use.

"While we have ample supplies of water because of the four different sources of water that we now have, we do want people to realize that this don't come easy," says Yap Kheng Guan, a PUB official.

"It comes at a price and we do want people to understand the preciousness of water."