NEWater

NEWater refers to the high-grade reclaimed water that has been purified with advanced membrane and ultraviolet technologies. Having passed more than 150,000 scientific tests, and satisfying the World Health Organisation's requirements for safe drinking water, NEWater is said to be “ultra-clean and safe to drink”.1 It is the third "tap" in the "Four National Taps" strategy to provide Singapore with a sustainable and diversified supply of water.2 The other three taps are water from local catchments, imported water from Malaysia and desalinated water.3 NEWater is expected to meet 40 percent of Singapore's water needs by 2020, and is targeted to satisfy up to 55 percent of Singapore’s future water demand by 2060.4

History
The Public Utilities Board (PUB) considered using water reclamation to supplement the existing water supply as early as the 1970s.The first Water Master Plan, which was drafted in 1972, outlined Singapore’s strategies for ensuring an adequate supply of water from local sources and proposed water reclamation and desalination as alternative sources.6 In 1974, the first experimental water reclamation plant was built in Jurong. However, the plant was decommissioned a year later as water treatment technologies then were too expensive and unreliable. 7

The project was revived when PUB and the then Ministry of the Environment (ENV), now called the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, initiated the Singapore Water Reclamation Study (NEWater Study) in 1998 to determine if NEWater could be a viable source to supplement Singapore’s water supply.8 Two engineers from PUB were sent on a two-week trip to the United States to study the full range of water recycling methods, including the use of membrane technology.9 They found that the reliability of water treatment technologies had improved greatly and production costs had declined since the 1970s.10 This led to the opening of a prototype NEWater demonstration plant at the Bedok water reclamation plant in May 2000.11

A comprehensive study of NEWater was conducted from 2000 to 2002.  Tests were carried out to ensure that the reclaimed water was well within World Health Organisation (WHO) Drinking Water Guidelines and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Drinking Water Standards.12 An independent expert panel comprising both local and foreign experts was formed to provide counsel on the study, and to evaluate and make recommendations on the results of the study.13 The panel concluded that NEWater was safe for potable use, but recommended a procedure known as planned indirect potable use, or planned IPU, instead of directly supplying NEWater for potable use.14 Planned IPU involves blending NEWater with raw reservoir water, and then subjecting the blended water to the same conventional water treatment process as raw reservoir water to produce potable water.15 

There were three reasons for doing this: firstly, the process would re-introduce trace minerals that had been removed during the production of NEWater; secondly, reservoir storage would provide the additional safeguard beyond the advanced technologies used to produce NEWater; and thirdly, it would make it easier for NEWater to gain public acceptance.16

Knowing that public acceptance was crucial in order for NEWater to be a viable source of water, PUB and ENV began an extensive public education exercise in 2002. Singapore-based reporters were brought to the United States and the United Kingdom to show them how recycled water had been used for drinking. Grassroots leaders and Members of Parliament were also invited to the NEWater demonstration plant in Bedok to better understand the NEWater production process. Impressed by how clear, odourless and clean the water was, they went on to help spread the message to the public.17 In a high-profile show of support during the 2002 National Day Parade, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong led 60,000 people in a toast to Singapore with NEWater.18

The first NEWater plants at the Bedok and Kranji water reclamation plants were completed in January 2003.19 The NEWater visitor centre in Bedok was officially opened the following month to provide a venue to introduce NEWater to the public in a fun-filled and educational way.20 The third NEWater plant, located at the Seletar water reclamation plant, was commissioned in January 2004, and officially unveiled five months later in June.21


March 2007 saw the opening of the fourth NEWater plant in Ulu Pandan. Unlike the earlier facilities, this was the first to be designed, built, owned and operated (DBOO) by the private sector. Designed and built by Keppel Seghers, the plant was envisaged to supply 32 million gallons per day (mgd) of NEWater for a period of 20 years.22 In January 2008, PUB awarded the contract for the fifth and largest NEWater plant to Sembcorp Industries under the DBOO model.23 Officially opened in May 2010, the plant in Changi has a production capacity of 50 mgd.24

Uses of NEWater
NEWater is supplied mainly for non-potable industrial and commercial uses in wafer fabrication plants, electronics factories and power generation plants.25 It is also used in the air-conditioning cooling systems of commercial and institutional complexes.26


In addition, NEWater supplements Singapore's potable water supply via IPU.27 In 2002, PUB started pumping 2 mgd of NEWater into reservoirs, and then treated the blended water for domestic use.28 It aimed to increase this amount progressively to 10 mgd or an estimated 2.5 percent of total potable water consumption by 2011.29

NEWater production process
NEWater is the product of a water reclamation process that puts used water through four barriers to become clean water again.30


First barrier: Conventional water treatment
The first barrier is the conventional water treatment process where used water is treated to globally recognised standards.31


Second barrier: Microfiltration
Microfiltration is the second barrier, and the first stage of the NEWater production process. It involves using membranes to filter out suspended solids, colloidal particles, disease-causing bacteria, viruses and protozoan cysts. After microfiltration, the water contains only dissolved salts and organic molecules.32


Third barrier: Reverse osmosis
The next barrier is reverse osmosis, which is also the second stage of the NEWater production process. Here, a semi-permeable membrane traps bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, dissolved salts, disinfection by-products, aromatic hydrocarbons and pesticides. Only very small particles like water molecules can pass through this membrane to reach the next stage of the production process.33


Fourth barrier: Ultraviolet disinfection
Following reverse osmosis, the water is said to have become ultra-clean. But as an added safety measure, ultraviolet disinfection is carried out to ensure that any residual micro-organisms are deactivated. This is the third and final stage of the NEWater production process. Chemicals that restore the water's pH balance are then added before NEWater is deemed ready for use.34


Timeline
1998: PUB and ENV initiate the Singapore Water Reclamation Study (NEWater Study).35
May 2000: Prototype NEWater demonstration plant opens at the Bedok water reclamation plant.36
Aug 2002: NEWater makes its public debut at the National Day Parade.37
Jan 2003: Bedok and Kranji NEWater plants are set up.38
Feb 2003:  NEWater visitor centre  officially opens.39
Jun 2004: Third NEWater factory at Seletar water reclamation plant officially opens.40
Mar 2007: Ulu Pandan NEWater plant officially opens.41
Jan 2008: Contract for the fifth NEWater plant in Changi is awarded to Sembcorp Industries.42
May 2010: Changi NEWater plant officially opens.43



Author

Jean Lim



References
1. “NeWater,” PUB, 15 December 2016.
2. Ong May Anne, Towards Environmental Sustainability: State of the Environment 2005 Report (Singapore: Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, 2005), 19–21 (Call no. RSING 363.72095957 ONG); PUB, “NeWater.”
3. Ong, Towards Environmental Sustainability, 20–21.
4. Joyce Hooi, “NEWater Will Meet 40% of Demand By 2020: SM Goh,” Business Times, 4 May 2010, 3 (From NewspaperSG); PUB, “NeWater.”
5. PUB, “NeWater”; Tan Yong Soon, Lee Tung Jean and Karen Tan, Clean, Green and Blue: Singapore's Journey Towards Environmental and Water Sustainability (Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2009), 141 (Call no. RSING 363.70095957 TAN); Cecilia Tortajada, Water Management in Singapore (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2006), 230. (Call no. RSING 333.91095957 TOR)
6. PUB, Annual Report 2012/2013 (Singapore: PUB, 2013), 40.
7. Peh Shing Huei, “Liquid Asset,” Straits Times, 7 April 2007, 50 (From NewspaperSG); Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 142.
8. “Singapore Water Reclamation Study: Expert Panel Review and Findings,” United Water Technologies, June 2002; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 142.
9. Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore and Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Water: From Scarce Resource to National Asset (Singapore: Cengage Learning Asia, 2012), 11 (Call no. RSING 333.91095957 WAT)
10. Peh, “Liquid Asset”; Tortajada, Water Management in Singapore, 230.
11. United Water Technologies, “Singapore Water Reclamation Study”; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 142; Tortajada, Water Management in Singapore, 230.
12. Dominic Nathan, “Praise for S’pore’s Reclaimed Water,” Straits Times, 17 July 2002, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
13. United Water Technologies, “Singapore Water Reclamation Study”; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 143.
14. United Water Technologies, “Singapore Water Reclamation Study”; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 144.
15. United Water Technologies, “Singapore Water Reclamation Study.”
16. United Water Technologies, “Singapore Water Reclamation Study”; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 144.
17. Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore and Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Scarce Resource to National Asset, 11–12.
18. Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue.
19. Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 152.
20. Sharmilpal Kaur and Alexis Hooi, “New Water Is Reborn,” Straits Times, 22 February 2003, 9 (From NewspaperSG); PUB, “NeWater”; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 150.
21. “Third NEWater Factory Opens in Seletar,” Channel NewsAsia, 18 June 2004 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 152.
22. Mathew Phan, “NEWater on Target Even as 4th Plant Opens,” Business Times, 16 March 2007, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 152.
23. Hooi, “NEWater Will Meet 40% of Demand”; Mathew Phan, “Sembcorp Bags $180M NEWater Plant Contract,” Business Times, 19 January 2008, 5 (From NewspaperSG); Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 152–53; Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Annual Report 2007/2008 (Singapore: Public Utilities Board, 2008), 29. (Call no. RCLOS 354.59570087 SPUB)
24. Hooi, “NEWater Will Meet 40% of Demand.”
25. Ong, Towards Environmental Sustainability, 23; PUB, “NeWater”; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 152.
26. PUB, “NeWater.”
27. Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 146.
28. Tortajada, Water Management in Singapore, 230.
29. Hooi, “NEWater Will Meet 40% of Demand”; Ong, Towards Environmental Sustainability, 23; “Third NEWater Factory Opens in Seletar.”
30. Ong, Towards Environmental Sustainability, 23.
31. Ong, Towards Environmental Sustainability, 23; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 145.
32. Ong, Towards Environmental Sustainability, 23; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 145.
33. Ong, Towards Environmental Sustainability, 23.
34. Ong, Towards Environmental Sustainability, 23; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 145.
35. United Water Technologies, “Singapore Water Reclamation Study”; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 142.
36. United Water Technologies, “Singapore Water Reclamation Study”; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 142, 150.
37. Peh, “Liquid Asset”; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 141.
38. Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 152.
39. Kaur and Hooi, “New Water Is Reborn”; Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 150.
40. “Third NEWater Factory Opens in Seletar.”
41. Phan, “NEWater on Target.” 
42. Phan, “Sembcorp Bags $180M.”
43. Hooi, “NEWater Will Meet 40% of Demand.”



Further resources
Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore and Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Water: From Scarce Resource to National Asset (Singapore: Cengage Learning Asia, 2012). (Call no. RSING 333.91095957 WAT)

Dominic Nathan, “Newater: It's Mind Over Matter,” Straits Times, 20 July 2002, 16. (From NewspaperSG)

Foo Siang Luen, ed., The Singapore Green Plan 2012 (Singapore: Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, 2006), 8–10. (Call no. RSING 363.70095957 SIN)

Kog Yue Choong, Irvin Lim Fang Jau and Joey Long Shi Ruey, Beyond Vulnerability? Water in Singapore-Malaysia Relations (Singapore: Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies; Nanyang Technological University, 2002), 122–25. (Call no. RSING 363.61095957 KOG)



The information in this article is valid as at December 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

Subject
Public utilities
Water reuse--Singapore