Country water actions are stories that showcase water reforms undertaken by individuals,communities, organizations, and governments in Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere.
Water ChampionHarry Seah: Making the Unthinkable Drinkable
Knowledge Management Officer
ABOUT THE CHAMPION
Mr. Harry Seah is the Director of the Technology and Water Quality Office of PUB Singapore, the national agencyresponsible for managing the country's water resources. PUB handles the collection and management of raw water,production and supply of drinking water, and collection, treatment and reclamation of used water. The Technology andWater Quality Office manages water quality and coordinates the research and development initiatives in PUB, amongthem on strategic fields of water technology, chemical and biological water quality, membrane technology, and seawaterdesalination.Before moving to his current unit, Mr. Seah devoted significant years to developing NEWater, Singapore's reclaimedwater produced from used water and purified to drinking water standards. He was part of the 1998 NEWater study that assessed thepotential of reclaimed water as a viable source of raw water for Singapore's needs. Next, he helped build and operate the NEWaterdemonstration plant, which showed that NEWater is safe and meets global drinking water standards. From there, he moved on tomanaging NEWater plants and the water reclamation plants that provide feedwater to them.Since its launch in 2003, NEWater has become one of Singapore's four water sources ("national taps").
What is NEWater?
NEWater is Singapore'sown brand of high-gradereclaimed water. Wepurify treated used waterusing advancedmembrane technologies(microfiltration, reverseosmosis and ultravioletdisinfection), in theprocess making it ultra-clean and safe to drink.We supply NEWater to non-domestic sectors such as waferfabrication parks, industrial estates, and commercialbuildings for industrial and air-cooling purposes. A smallpercentage is also mixed with raw reservoir water beforebeing treated at the waterworks as drinking water.
How has NEWater impacted on the country's watersituation?
I'd say NEWater is a pillar of Singapore's watersustainability.Our country has no natural aquifers or groundwater. Weused to rely on rainfall from catchments and raw waterimported from the neighboring Johor state. Both, however,are subject to the vagaries of nature, leaving Singaporevulnerable.With NEWater, we are able to implement our robust anddiversified water supply strategy-the Four National Taps,meaning water from local catchment, imported water,reclaimed water (NEWater) and desalinated water. Withthese four national taps in place, Singaporeans enjoy accessto clean drinking water despite our natural constraints.In fact, the 4 operational NEWater plants can meet 15% of Singapore's water needs. When the fifth and largest plantbecomes operational in 2010, NEWater would be capable of meeting 30% of Singapore's water needs.
How did the idea of NEWater evolve?
In the 1970s, Singaporestudied the feasibility of producing reclaimedwater. While resultsindicated that reclaimedwater was technicallyachievable, thingscouldn't go any furtherbecause of costlymembranes andunreliable technology.By the 1990s, however, membrane technology has radicallyimproved and the cost of membrane has droppedsubstantially. In 1998, PUB formed a water reclamationstudy team to test the latest proven membrane technologyfor water reuse. In 2000, a 10,000 m3/day full-scaledemonstration plant was commissioned to undertakeextensive full-scale plant studies. It tested the quality of reclaimed water and the technical capability and operationalreliability of the membrane technology. The results removeddoubts on NEWater as a viable and sustainable source of supply for Singapore.
How do you ensure that NEWater is always of thehighest quality?
We benchmarked its quality against the WHO DrinkingWater Guidelines and the United States EnvironmentalProtection Agency (USEPA) Drinking Water Standards. Thenwe developed and implemented a comprehensive watersampling and analysis program involving the most advancedlocal and foreign water testing laboratories. We also formedan international panel of experts comprising renowned localand foreign experts in engineering, biomedical science,chemistry and water technology to provide independentadvice on the water reclamation study and to evaluate thesuitability of NEWater as a source of water for potable use.The test results and the plant operations were regularlyaudited and reviewed by the panel.