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OWE: Singapores National Taps

By: Apala Bhattacharya

Shortage of potable water


Main cause of shortage of water is global warming. The warming of the earth leads to the water being evaporated faster in many places. This leads to things such as climate change, droughts desertification and deforestation which causes even more loss of water from the area. Sometimes, though water shortage is affected by the structure and location of the area in context. Though this happens very rarely.

Picture 1: Non potable water

Picture 3: A desertificated world Picture 2: Drought affected area

Deforestation
Trees help keep the speed at which surface water runs off at an average. However with deforestation and the loss of forest cover, surface water runs off rapidly. This causes them to rise river levels and overflow downstream villages which leads to major flooding. This in turn leads to many dangerous substances such as viruses bacteria and mineral compounds enter what otherwise would have been potable water (see pic. 4).

Picture 4: Flood water escaping from a dam.

(Impact of Deforestation)

Global Warming
The change of temperature that global warming causes has major effects on the water cycle (see fig. 1). In places such as the Andes mountains where the run off is the main water source in the area, water availability has gone down by 15 30 %. Other cases such as the Colorado river basin is supposed to disappear by 2100. The severe temperatures and climate change also cause droughts and flooding which affect the potable water supplies by evaporating or contaminating them respectively. Global warming is one of the main problems why there is a shortage of potable water.
(Mission 2012)

Figure 1: Temperature change from 1880

Figure 2: Water Shortage Areas

Procedure of NEWater
NEWater was started in 1998 as a backup national tap. By 2000 it started contributing 2.5% to domestic water uses. Its goal is to be contributing 15% of potable water and non potable water by 2025. Its refinement methods is one of the best in the world. It uses a 4 step multiple barrier process. After coming from the national water works the water is micro filtered to remove any solid wastes and bacteria. This is done by passing the water through fibers.

Next the water goes through reverse osmosis which removes most viruses, salts, proteins etc. At this level the water is already at WHO standards but as an added precaution the next two steps are added. The water is passed through UV disinfection where all escaped microorganisms are killed. Finally certain chemicals are added to bring to balance the pH level of the water.
(Production Process)

Step 1: Microfiltration
Microfiltration is the process where water is passed through fine fibers that stop anything bigger than the size of 0.2 microns. It can stop suspended solids, bacteria (0.25 15 microns) and protozoa (2200 microns). (see fig. 3) This step itself lowers the NTU (Nephelometric Turbidity Unit) to less than 0.1. This is better than 70% of countries in the world. It also provides good quality water so that no clogging happens in the reverse osmosis barrier. This process is more effective than other processes in other countries because of its minimized chance of compromising bacteria and protozoa. (Production Process)

Figure 3: Microfiltration Diagram

Picture 5: The fibers in MF

Step 2: Reverse Osmosis


Reverse osmosis is where water is pressurized to flow from a concentrated to a less concentrated side through a semi permeable membrane. (see fig. 4) This removes all dissolved metals, salts, proteins and viruses (0.001 1 microns) This is because it stops all microorganisms and substances bigger than 0.0001 microns. (see fig. 5) Through this 95% of all total dissolved solids are removed. At this point the water is already at a very good quality and meets WHO as well as PUB standards. The next step however is taken as an added measure, if any microorganisms is compromised in these two steps.
(Production Process) Fig. 5: Reverse Osmosis Process

Fig. 4: Semipermeable membrane

Step 3 & 4: Ultraviolet Disinfection & Adding Chemicals


UV Disinfection
This is an added precaution if any particle escapes the first two steps. The UV radiation kills any microorganism s present in the water and purifies it to a very clean level. It is safer than adding chemicals to kill bacteria which causes side effects and is low maintenance. (see fig. 6.) There is also no smell or taste residue after using UV disinfection .
(Production Process)

Adding Chemicals
This is only used to balance the pH level of the water. This takes away the bitter taste of reverse osmosis and is considered healthy as well due to some minerals added into the water. This is done by adding alkaline chemicals to balance the pH level closer to 7 (neutral)

Fig. 6: UV Disinfectant Tank

Effectiveness of NEWater
The science used in NEWater is effective to the extreme, because using reclaimed water and turning into something drinkable is not a joke. The science needs to be very accurate and effective; otherwise it would be a flop show. Mr. Yap (PUB representative) (NEWater Exhibition) Tests have been conducted for the The latest technology used by past 2 years to check whether it is NEWater determines that it is safe suitable for human consumption. for human consumption there Around 190 parameters were are no adverse side effects and it is much healthier and cleaner than checked and it still is normal. the water available in the taps. Been carrying out 20,000 It is also effective in reducing chemical, physical and water problems due to the fact microbiological analyses. There that it uses reclaimed water from has been no negative results so sewage system instead of taking far. from rivers, aquifers and other

water storage areas.

(FAQ)/(NEWater Exhibition)

Compared to WHO/USEPA Standards


Comparison of Colour Bacteria Count Clarity Organic Substances NEWater Standards < 3% transparency Not detectable < 2% 1 2% WHO/USEPA Standards < 30% transparency < 40 % < 15 % No such requirement

The above table clearly shows that not only NEWater meets all requirements. It also sets new targets and goals for itself. Most arguments against NEWater is merely a psychological barrier for consumers due to the usage of reclaimed water. NEWater is safe to drink and use. It has also got an IPU but isn t delivered to homes because of the strong reactions in the public. However a percentage of NEWater is mixed in reservoirs and tap water.
(Quality of NEWater)

Arguments against NEWater


Reclaimed Water Risks There are certain risks of reclaimed water if there is any problem with the process and this may lead to serious side effects. There are also many doubts about the added chemicals to get rid of any odor. Many agree that the added chemicals is mass medication and this is wrong. It also makes the water unnatural which turns many people off. Cost of NEWater The biggest NEWater plant in Singapore costs $ 180 million. For this reason many believe that NEWater is a waste of money since it doesn t even contribute much to the water supply of Singapore. They believe it is better and easier to spend this money on renewing the contract with Malaysia no matter how high the price is. Since that water doesn t come with psychological barriers of drinking waste water.

Environmental Problems
The process of reverse osmosis uses a lot of power and this causes many environmentalist to campaign against NEWater. Reverse osmosis uses around 2kW per hour. However this process is necessary, because without this reclaimed water wouldn t be safe for potable use. For this reason many environmentalist agree with others to stop funding NEWater and spend the extra money on renewing water contracts with Malaysia or making new contracts with other countries.

(How is NEWater Generated?)

Application of NEWater in solving potable water shortages.


NEWater is used as an example of future possibilities in solving potable water shortages because it doesn t consume water from any natural water storages and this can save the 1% of freshwater that is left on Earth. It is also better than building desalination plants because it is cheaper, easier to build and easier to maintain.
(Walton)

By the end of this year the usage of NEWater should rise from 7% to 30% as the contract with Malaysia ends. Out of the 4 national taps of Singapore, NEWater is certainly the most clean and environment friendly. Once overcome the psychological barrier of drinking reclaimed water, NEWater can become an inspiring source of water all over the world.

Social Factor

Misconceptions and concerns that people may have about drinking water that was formerly waste water. There is a psychological barrier when people find out that the water that they drink now was in their toilets a few days back. The water that NEWater provides is cleaner than the water from the taps of Singapore, but it is very hard for peoples brains to register this fact when they know it is reclaimed water. On the other hand many people argue that even if the solid waste is taken out, what about the proteins and polysaccharides dissolved in the water from the waste? ( ) The above point is taken into consideration a lot but the truth is that all these proteins, sugars, amino acids and polysaccharides are taken out while the water goes through reverse osmosis. The only way to educate the public about these facts and get rid of these misconceptions is to constantly advertise these facts through posters, leaflets as well as exhibitions and briefings.
(Singapore NEWater)

Environmental Factor

Processes such as NEWater reverse osmosis use enormous amounts of energy, contributing to increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and global warming. NEWater is known to be environmental friendly but a lot of people choose to ignore the fact that reverse osmosis uses a lot of power. (Singapore Highlights) A NEWater reverse osmosis would consume 2kW of power every hour that is about the same as our household would consume if all appliances were to be switched on for 2 hours at a stretch. Many people argue back though that it is necessary as it is the reverse osmosis that takes out all the fatal substances out of the water and gives NEWater its renowned name for clean water. There are ways that this power consumption can be easily lowered, however it is not economically viable and therefore not paid much heed to. (Singapore Highlights)