Water must be seen as a strategic resource - not a commodity that can be easily bought off indoor taps or an inconvenience in outdoor settings to be drained off quickly. Alternative water sources are expensive, like the third desalination plant to be built at Tuas - to prepare for "a future where dry spells may become more prolonged" because of climate change, as the Environment and Water Resources Ministry noted.
As World Water Day is commemorated on Saturday, small nations like Singapore ought to take water security even more seriously to achieve greater strategic autonomy by, for example, reducing the need for water imports.
Conserving water is the first line of defence that all can be involved in. A key national goal is to cut water use from the current 150 litres per person per day to 140 litres by 2030. But water consciousness is not second nature to many. Hoses can often be seen being used to wash compounds and to water plants. And only 40 per cent, as of 2013, have installed water-saving devices given free under the Water Efficient Homes programme.
Conservation should also extend to how buildings and spaces are conceptualised to make the most out of the precious water that rains down on the island. But using water efficiently is not a priority for businesses. The Parkroyal on Pickering hotel is an exception in embracing a design that enables it to capture rainwater in retention tanks. This can be used to water its gardens during dry spells. Woefully, many bosses do not think in the same way. As of last year, only 35 per cent of large water users had submitted their water management plans to the Public Utilities Board under the water efficiency management programme.
Elsewhere, architects and developers have designed spaces like basketball courts and playgrounds to serve as porous surfaces that allow water to trickle below to underground detention tanks. Such steps, like vertical greenery, can also help to slow the movement of run-off during heavy downpours and reduce the risk of flooding - especially when there Is limited space for bigger drains in heavily built-up areas.
There is a powerful, if unpopular, tool that can be used to reduce water usage - increasing water conservation charges to reflect its strategic value. In Qatar, locals who do not pay for water use 1,200 litres per day per person, while foreigners living there use less than one-sixth that amount because they have to pay for every drop. European cities that charge more for water are also more water-efficient. In Hamburg, the per capita usage is two-thirds that of Singapore. To stave off the need for higher water bills, Singaporeans should make conservation a way of life.