India Should Take a Leaf Out of Singapore’s Water Harvesting to Solve its Crisis

Apr 13th, 2014 | By | Category: India, Water

33633937Economic Times: Water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource. The strains are being felt within and between nations. India has its own share of water conflicts between its federal units and with its neighbours. This apart, climate change has begun to cast its shadow on events. Apart from traditional agricultural uses, urban and industrial demands on water are assuming critical proportions. With the shrinking availability of fresh water sources, supply-side solutions have run their course.

Apart from desalination, future demands must be met by conservation and appropriate pricing mechanisms, increased water use efficiency, adoption of advanced technologies, sensible cropping patterns, rainwater harvesting and recycling of waste water. If India has learnt something from Israel about conserving farm water, it would do equally well to learn about urban water conservation and renewal from Singapore.

Islanded within 700 sq km, without any rivers and an industrial and urban population of five million, Singapore was rain-dependant and imports fresh water from Johor state in Malaysia. This strategic water dependency is a security challenge that Singapore wishes to obviate. Having no water has driven it to make potable, municipal and industrial water through recycling and renewal to create what it has termed “New Water”. It is today perhaps the foremost global hub for R&D and technological and systems innovation in urban water supply in collaboration with leading international researchers and manufacturers.

PUB Singapore, the national water agency, was established in 2006 along with the Environment and Water Industry Programme Office. The country’s annual water demand of 1.73 million cu m per day is likely to double in the next half century. With no aquifers, additional reservoirs have been constructed to expand rainwater catchments that now cover two-thirds of the land area. Added to this base resource is the city’s sewage, being treated with evermore sophisticated membrane technologies to create New Water.

By 2011, this provided Singapore with ultra-clean water exceeding WHO’s drinking water standards, apart from catering to industrial and municipal uses. The four-fold national R&D goals are to augment water resources, reduce production and treatment costs, enhance water quality and national security, and develop the burgeoning water industry. Singapore had five new water plants by 2010 and got its first desalination plant in 2005. Six R&D groups take care of various stages in the process. There is also an HR programme to produce requisite technicians and managers. International partnering has facilitated the cost and risk-sharing.

Since 2002, over 275 collaborative projects have been mounted with an investment of around $120 million. The introduction of a new membrane bioreactor technology has improved treatment efficiency, reduced costs and energy consumption and permits processing of larger quantities of water. A new breakthrough has been achieved with the development of freshwater-cum-desalination plants that can work to fuller capacity by treating waste water and reservoir storage when it rains and desalinate sea and brackish water. These “variable salinity plants”, locally developed, are cheaper to operate than pure desalination plants.

Another innovation is WaterWise, the Water Wireless Sentinel, a realtime water quality and distribution monitoring system. A network of wireless sensors has helped improve operational efficiency of the water supply system as well as data collection. Currently, collaborative research is poised to generate power via pressure-retarded osmosis enhanced through hollow fibre membranes that show considerable potential for “osmotic power harvesting”. It takes imagination and perseverance to make something out of nothing, as Singapore has done.

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