Underwater channels traverse Singapore
Barrages and a desalination plant
At other points, the coastline was straightened by means of dikes so that freshwater could accumulate in artificial lakes. This has had the positive side effect of enlarging the city’s territory by about 120 square kilometers to a present total of 719 square kilometers. “The only problem is that we would have to flood the entire city with water in order to cover our needs with rainwater alone,” says Tortajada. Mahathir’s threat had played right into the Singapore leaders’ hands. They reacted by implementing the Four Taps master plan for water. Taps One and Two were the reservoirs in Malaysia and the collected monsoon rainfall. To create Taps Three and Four, the government invested the equivalent of €2 billion.
Since 2000, the PUB has created a network of drinking water production facilities throughout this island- state as part of the New Water project. Gigantic drilling machines were used to bore tunnels that are as high as houses through this tropical island’s rocky foundation at depths of more than 50 meters. Such drilling machines are also used to bore tunnels through the Alps. The purpose of these tunnels, which are several hundred kilometers long, is to collect all of the city’s wastewater. New Water, which can even be bought in bottles, is actually wastewater that has been purified to form drinking water that fulfills the EU standard.
Five new waterworks have been built at the end of the network of surface and underground channels, which now has a total length of 8,000 kilometers. In addition, there are three desalination plants, which will soon be joined by a fourth.
The biggest single project, the Marina Barrage, is a 350-meter-long retaining wall that has transformed the entire bay into an inland lake. Today the face of Singapore is the skyline around the Marina Bay Sands casino hotel, which is located next to the Formula 1 circuit. These structures stand on a horseshoe-shaped headland that was wrested from the sea through the construction of the Marina Bay Reservoir.
The retaining wall is part of a desalination plant that has transformed the former bay into a freshwater lake covering 10,000 hectares. At the plant’s inauguration ceremony, Yaacob Ibrahim, who was then the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, declared, “Except for the bottle of New Water that you might take with you as you fly home, I can guarantee that from now on we will reuse every drop of water in Singapore.” The inauguration in 2008 came at exactly the right time, for in the years since then all of Southeast Asia has been plagued by devastating periods of drought. And the situation isn’t getting any better. The years 2014, 2015, and 2016 were so dry that the Linggiu Reservoir (Tap One) in Malaysia was in danger of drying up.
Fear of terrorist attacks
Because of the fear of terrorist attacks—Islamists have threatened to poison Singapore’s drinking water—none of the facilities in the PUB’s water network may be visited. The only exception is the waterworks in the Changi district. Every day, school groups are led past glass walls behind which engineers and technicians are monitoring water circuits.
“One of the biggest water reservoirs is you yourselves,” the tour guide Nallini explains as she leads a boisterous group of schoolchildren through the labyrinth of display boards, hands-on exhibits, and water pipes. On average, every inhabitant of Singapore consumes 149 liters of water every day. That’s much less than the Saudis, for example, who consume 1,000 liters of water daily—but the citizens of Hamburg manage to get by on 120 liters per day. And that’s why Nallini explains to the children how they can help to make Singapore “a First World water city.”
»One of the biggest water reservoirs is you yourselves«
a tour guide at the waterworks in the Changi district, urges visitors to save water
How many of you leave the tap on when you brush your teeth in the morning and in the evening?” she asks. Nearly all the children hold their hands up. “Use a toothbrush tumbler from now on, starting tonight,” she tells them in a no-nonsense governess voice. “That way you can save eleven liters of water every day.”
The children definitely look impressed as they leave the visitors’ center. It’s obvious that today the city government has taken another big step forward in its campaign to increase its water supply. In the future, Tap Five will consist of educational campaigns to show people how to save water. Plans call for Singapore to cover all of its water needs itself starting in 2061.