From Toilet to Tap, Singapore Turns to Recycled Water

Singapore's Public Utilities Board is looking at the findings of an international panel that has declared recycled water, or "Newater," safe to drink. It is expected to deliver its recommendations to the government in September.

Joan Rose, a microbiology expert from the United States who sat on the panel, stressed the importance of education to help the public get over squeamishness about drinking water that had once gurgled down drains and whirled down toilet bowls.

"There is this 'yuck' factor," Rose told a news conference yesterday.

"It's really important that the monitoring and water quality data are there for people to look at and to compare to what they are currently getting," she said.

Two years of tests on recycled water produced at a Singapore demonstration plant showed it was consistently of high quality and met World Health Organization guidelines, the panel said.

Some of the nine scientists and doctors demonstrated their confidence by sipping bottles of Newater as reporters watched.

Resource-scarce Singapore is building two plants to produce 15 million gallons (68 million liters) of recycled water per day for industrial use that will be ready by the end of the year.

Newater pouring out of household taps may not be far behind.

Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said over the weekend that recycled water was a "serious alternative" and would be sufficient to replace the entire supply Singapore gets from Malaysia under a 1961 agreement which expires in 2011.

The government has also called a tender to build a desalination plant.

Water is the thorniest issue between the neighbors as they cannot agree on pricing. Singapore now pays three Malaysian cents (less than one U.S. cent) for every thousand gallons of water piped in but Malaysia wants to make Singaporeans pay 100 times more within a few years.

They are to hold a second round of talks next month after seeing, and rejecting, each other's proposals last week.

Rose said using recycled water to recharge reservoirs before its treatment to produce drinking water had been in practice in the United States for more than 20 years. Studies showed no evidence of any adverse health effects, she added.

Panel chairman Ong Choon Nam said his team would recommend that Singapore use recycled water to replenish its reservoirs.

"People are not very used to consuming reclaimed water, so this is the main reason why we are introducing this Newater back into the reservoirs – to overcome the psychological barrier," he said.


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