DPM Teo: Water-plant enhancements necessary to ensure Singaporeans 'always have a good flow of water'

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean touring the Changi Water Reclamation Plant on Aug 28, 2018.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean touring the Changi Water Reclamation Plant on Aug 28, 2018.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA
The Membrane Bioreactor Retrofit Liquids Treatment Module at the Changi Water Reclamation Plant.
The Membrane Bioreactor Retrofit Liquids Treatment Module at the Changi Water Reclamation Plant.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA
The Influent Pumping Station at the Changi Water Reclamation Plant.
The Influent Pumping Station at the Changi Water Reclamation Plant.ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN

SINGAPORE - Enhancements to Singapore's water plants are necessary to ensure the country's water security, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, on a topic that has come under the spotlight following remarks by the new government of Malaysia on the 1962 water agreement between the two countries.

During a tour of the Changi Water Reclamation Plant (CWRP) on Tuesday (Aug 28) where he viewed the planned improvements, DPM Teo said, in response to questions, that Singapore is not in talks with Malaysia over the water issue nor has it been approached formally by Malaysia.

The issue has resurfaced in recent months after Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad expressed unhappiness over current price levels in the water agreement.

Speaking to reporters during his tour, DPM Teo said the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) that supplies the Changi plant with the sewage used for Newater is an example of the "very long-term projects that require consistent and steady investment in order to make sure that we have water to use".

CWRP, managed by national water agency PUB, is the largest of Singapore's four water reclamation plants and is undergoing expansion works. Once the $500 million expansion is completed in 2022, the improved plant will treat up to 246 million gallons of wastewater daily, compared to the current 202 million gallons per day (mgd).

As part of the expansion works, a facility is being built to prevent too much water from entering CWRP's systems during periods of high rainfall.

The 44mgd wet weather facility will divert water just before it enters the main CWRP pipes, and will treat it separately.

CWRP general manager Low Pei Chin said that if too much water entered the plant system too quickly, it would wash away the bacteria used to purify the sewage.

"Our bacteria take some time to cultivate, and because they are our friends in cleaning up the water we want to keep them as stable as we can," she said.

Speaking about the investments, Mr Teo said: "These are some of the things we continue to do on a long-term basis to ensure that Singaporeans always have a good flow of water for themselves."

The decades-old water issue first resurfaced in June, a month after Dr Mahathir became Prime Minister for the second time.

In media interviews, he described the price at which Malaysia sells raw water to the island Republic as "ridiculous".

On Aug 13, Dr Mahathir said he wanted to increase the price of raw water supply to Singapore by more than 10 times to reflect the higher cost of living.

He had made similar suggestions in 1987 and 1998 - during his first stint as premier - but Malaysia chose not to review prices. Under the 1962 Water Agreement between the two countries which expires in 2061, Singapore is entitled to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of raw water from the Johor River at three sen (one Singapore cent) per 1,000 gallons.

Johor is entitled to buy five mgd of treated water from Singapore at 50 sen per 1,000 gallons. Singapore has said this price is heavily subsidised and below the cost of treating the water.

Singapore leaders have stressed the need to stick to the terms in the water agreement.

Speaking at the National Day Rally on Aug 19, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore's view is that the water agreement is sacrosanct, adding: "We must proceed strictly in accordance with its terms."