8 Facts About NEWater, The System That Turns Urine to Drinking Water

Image: Vicky Jirayu / Shutterstock.com

Okay, this is a bit of inside joke for people born in the 90s.

If you’re old enough, do you remember that Stephen Chow movie where special forces officers said they’ll let their protectee drink the water, then they’ll drink pee themselves on a deserted island?

Image: sohu.com

We laughed at them back then. Drink your own pee?! Siao ah!

Fast forward twenty years later and here we are, doing the same thing, at least according to my mom lah.

But are we really?

Here are 8 unique facts about NEWater, the water system that let you drink your own (and millions of other people’s) pee.

1. NEWater was actually thought of in the 1970s

Image: nas.gov.sg

Woah, we’re already imagining using pee water even in the 70s?! That’s even earlier than Stephen Chow.

Okay, just kidding but it’s true. Singapore thought of the NEWater system back in the 1970s, but the idea was dismissed.

Not because the idea’s too dirty to consider but the fact that back then, membranes to filter the water was both expensive and unreliable.

In 2001, this idea was brought forward to be examined again and this time, the go-ahead was given.

And the rest, as people always say, is history.

2. 5 NEWater plants now operating in S’pore

Image: cnn.com

Despite most people’s misgivings at the idea of treating sewage water initially, Singapore now has 5 NEWater plants supplying up to 40% of Singapore’s current water needs.

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PUB has high aspirations, hoping to meet 85% of Singapore’s water needs in 2060, which is estimated to be 860 million gallons of water a day.

3. The cost of the latest NEWater plant in Changi

Here’s how much the latest NEWater plant cost to build: a whopping $170 million.

It’s as big as 7.5 football fields and can produce 50 million gallons of water per day for 25 years.

And to bring home to point how high the water consumption is in Singapore, the NEWater plant is only able to less than 10% of Singapore’s water consumption.

Singapore’s daily water consumption is 430 million gallons of water a day with households responsible for 45% of it.

Now you know why the gahmen keep saying save water liao hor.

4. The Real Reason Why NEWater Taste So Different From Normal Drinking Water

For those who can’t get over the fact that we’re basically drinking sewage water, here’s something to put your mind at ease.

NEWater has a different taste to it. And till today, no one can determine whether it’s a good or bad thing.

Here’s what PUB has to say about NEWater: It’s clearer, has lesser organisms and cleaner than PUB water, which WHO says is safe for consumption from the tap.

Still not convinced? Here’s the ultimate example.

NEWater is used for residential use as well as industry usage.

For example, your industrial estate and commercial building air-con. Wafer fabrication plants in Singapore also uses a large amount of NEWater for their processes.

Image: funkykit.com

Fun fact: In the past, wafer fabrication plants have to process PUB water even further to meet their water standards during processing.

But they don’t have to do that with NEWater cuz it’s clean enough for them.

For household consumption, NEWater is to “top up” to the reservoir and undergo the usual treatment process before getting channelled to your home.

This means the NEWater that you get is double treated. So don’t worry lah.

5. Their treatment process basically copies Mother Nature’s way of recycling water.

If you’re still not convinced, this might just do the trick.

Drinking NEWater is no different from drinking other sources of water, be it from the Alps or Singapore river.

Why? Because their treatment process is modelled after Mother Nature’s hydrological process.

Image: pub.gov.sg

First, the water is filtered thoroughly, then undergo reverse osmosis because you can never be too safe.

Then finally, they use UV light to remove any remaining organisms. Then, they add chemicals to restore pH balance.

But here’s the very interesting thing. Noticed the last bit at the end of the diagram?

6. The Real Reason Why NEWater Is So Important

Singapore is known for two things: the government and our lack of natural resources. So, we have to get water from our friendly neighbours, Malaysia.

When you buy stuff from other people, there are two things you have to contend with: increasing cost (think inflation, yo) and threats.

Both of which has happened before.

Back in 1997, the government raised the price of water in Singapore because elements in Johor were threatening to stop the supply of water from Johor to Singapore.

And that wasn’t the only time the matter of suspending water supply came up.

Believe it or not, we don’t usually drink NEWater despite having 5 NEWater plants operating in Singapore today.

7. If we can taste NEWater from the tap today, it means we’re in trouble

Now let’s do some awesome math again.

Remember Singapore’s daily water consumption? 430 million gallons. Households account for 45% of it, with industries accounting for the remaining amount.

NEWater currently accounts for 40% of Singapore’s daily consumption needs.

Combined with the fact that PUB said NEWater is mainly used for industries, it means that most of the time, we don’t get to drink NEWater.

Only when there’s a dry spell or disruption to our water supply, will we get to drink NEWater.

Which, believe it or not, happened back in Oct 2017.

8. NEWater Has Already Proven Its Importance on October 2017

On 29 Oct 2017, Singapore PUB agency announced that they’ve “temporarily suspended water supply from Johor River to Singapore due to high ammonia levels detected” the day before.

Investigations revealed that a poultry farm and a factory in Kota Tinggi were responsible for the pollution, and ordered to shut down.

Thankfully, water supply in Singapore wasn’t affected and our various desalination and water plants stepped up to pick up the slack.

Now we all know the reason why water tasted so different in those months, ne?

So there you go, 8 unique facts about NEWater that might make you appreciate it even more.

Of course, if you want to find out more, there’s actually a NEWater visitor centre tour you might want to check out.

Because it’s free, so why not?

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