Sunday, March 18, 2007

Cheers to NEWater

A few days ago, Singapore trumpeted the achievement of its target of having NEWater or recycled water satisfy 15 percent of current needs and is now aiming for 30 percent by 2011.

Singapore said this when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (centre in ST pix) opened the Keppel Seghers Ulu Pandan NEWater plant on March 15. The new plant, Singapore’s fourth and largest NEWater plant, has a capacity of 32 million gallons of NEWater per day (mgd). And the price of NEWater will be slashed to $1 a cubic metre from $1.15 from April 1.

It sounds like a big jump in the proportion of NEWater in Singapore's national water equation. Probably true.

But what was left unsaid is the expiry of the first Malaysian contract to sell raw water to Singapore in 2011. Of course, the ratio of NEWater and other local sources in the total water pie will go up when the first Malaysian contract lapses.

The contract is quite sizeable as Singapore is allowed to draw some 100 mgd from Johor -- equivalent to the capacity of more than three NEWater plants.

Another Malaysia-Singapore contract, which will expire in 2061, has a provision for 250 mgd. Although Singapore doesn't use up the entire entitlement as Johor River cannot yield the required amount, the two contracts account for more than 40 per cent of Singapore's estimated current water needs.

Singapore has been ramping up production of its own water to cut its reliance on Malaysian water ever since the two countries had a major tiff over the water issue in the late 1990s.

While Singapore is spending more to build new water treatment plants and enlarge its water catchment areas, it will continue to pay 3 Malaysian sen per thousand gallons for the next 54 years under the second water contract.

The price of 250 mgd under the second contract works out to a mere RM7,500 per day or RM2.7 million per year or RM148 million (about S$66 million) for the next half a century. Of course, this does not include the capital expenditure of more than S$1 billion by Singapore for water projects in Johor over the years. For the purpose of comparison, the first desalination plant in Singapore, which generates only 30 mgd, costs S$250 million.

Technological advancement will continue to drive down the price of recycled water in Singapore but will it ever bring it down to as low as 3 sen per thousand gallons in the next 54 years?

Highly unlikely.

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