Urban Waters III: Using each drop of water more than once

The previous posts had illustrated the state’s promotion of engagement with water as ways of fostering greater affection between citizens and the water resource. But are all flows of water encouraged for greater interaction with humans? This last-of-three-series post focuses on the flows of used water, and its socio-political aspect that becomes more prominent when such flows of water is recycled for potable and non-potable use. It is an interesting area of water recycling, bringing to focus the metabolism of used water and how this may be a solution for cities to achieve water sustainability, though public acceptance requires much work (Po et al., 2003; Lee and Tan, 2016). This post looks at Singapore’s experience with reclaimed water, highlighting what makes it work and its potential as a sustainable resource.

National Taps

Fig 1: Singapore’s four National Taps (source: PUB, 2017)

Singapore has four national taps (Fig 1) of which, NEWater (aka Reclaimed water) accounts for 40% of total demand, a proportion set to grow. Unlike the previous posts sharing about the benefits of bringing the water flows to the citizens, the flows of used water is something that the government seeks to effectively distance from the everyday realm, citing sanitary concerns.

How NEWater works:

The process of reclaiming water is interesting in that the treatment of used water allows it to be used again either directly for non-potable use or indirectly for potable use, driving home the idea of ‘using every drop more than once’ (PUB, 2017).  Viewed in the metabolic sense, it showcases the cyclical nature of such water flows because used water channelled to the reclamation plants are treated and then channelled back into flows for either potable or non-potable use, and the flow continues – very much like the water cycle.

Sounds like the perfect solution? But would you drink such water knowing that you are technically drinking used water? Sounds yuck? You are not alone.

NEWater quality

Fig 2: NEWater quality comparison (source: PUB, 2017)

Worried that public acceptance might not be high, much emphasis was placed on public relations in the form of positive reference projects (e.g. the USA where water reclamation has been practiced for more than 20 years), quality comparisons (Fig 2), community engagement (e.g. public education in schools/ treatment plants and community events) and even a change of terminology (‘NEWater’ as specifically chosen term to accentuate its ultra-clean nature; renaming wastewater as ‘used water’ etc.) (Lee and Tan, 2016).

While technology has made NEWater production viable, it is clear that strong government support and public acceptance plays a vital role in its success – highlighting the interlinking socio-politico-technical aspects of the metabolism of used water. It is an area that cities, like Hong Kong, are studying (Chan et al., 2014) and could prove a sustainable mode of water production in the future. Do you think it can be adopted in your city?

[450 words]


Chan, P. T., K. Y. Lau, W. K. Wong and S. H. Woo (2014) ‘The success of water management in Singapore: the possibility of applying NEWater in Hong Kong’, Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong.

Lee, H. and T. P. Tan (2016) ‘Singapore’s experience with reclaimed water: NEWater’, International Journal of Water Resources Development, 32, 4, 611-621.

Po, M., J. D. Kaercher and B. E. Nancarrow (2003) ‘Literature review of factors influencing public perceptions of water reuse’, Australia: CSIRO Land and Water Technical Report.

PUB (2017) ‘NEWater’ (WWW) Singapore: PUB (https://www.pub.gov.sg; 6 November 2017).



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Yi Ming Ang

University College London Undergraduate Year 3 GEOG 3076 Urban Political Ecology Module

2 thoughts on “Urban Waters III: Using each drop of water more than once”

  1. Hi Yi Ming,

    Thank you for sharing this! During the recent summer, I had a chance of visiting the NEWater centre again during a company environmental day and was reminded of how amazing it is for Singapore to be one of the leading countries when it comes to water desalination technology!

    I thought it was interesting that you mentioned the concern of public acceptance towards drinking water from NEWater! Until today, there are still many who are not fond of the different taste of NEWater but all in all, I think that the Singapore government’s efforts on improving public opinions and reception towards this really worked! I guess it now makes sense why we always received NEWater bottles at public, national or school events (e.g. National Day, Chinese New Year events, etc.), where we subconsciously grew to become more used to NEWater! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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