Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

What California Can Learn from Singapore's Brilliant Water Strategy


All it takes is a glance at Singapore’s water conservation strategy to realize the city-state understands the importance of conserving water. Singapore seems to have a better grasp on water conservation than even California, a state that has suffered six long years of drought and has become one of America's conservation leaders.

Singapore’s water demand is about 430 million gallons daily, but it's likely to double by 2061 when its current water agreement with Malaysia runs out, Motherboard contributor Meredith Rutland Bauer wrote in an analysis published last week.

The government wants to reduce domestic water consumption from the current 151 liters to 147 liters per person, per day by 2020. So, lawmakers want to make every resident aware of the need for water conservation. As Singapore’s national water agency, PUB, states on its website: “Every drop counts, every contribution matters, no matter how big or small.”

Singapore's water supply comes from four different sources, which it calls the Four National Taps, that supply water to over 5 million people. The Four National Taps consist of water from the following:

  • Local catchment: Rainwater that is collected and stored in the country’s 17 reservoirs and treated to become drinking water. Singapore is one of the few nations in the world to harvest urban rainwater on a large scale to be used for drinking water.

  • Imported water: The country imports water from Malaysia’s Johor River and will be able to do so until 2061.

  • Reclaimed water: Used water that is treated and recycled. It is able to meet about 40 percent of Singapore’s water needs, but the government plans to expand the capacity of reclaimed water to meet 55 percent of water needs.

  • Desalinated water meets 25 percent of the country’s water needs. Singapore plans to increase desalinated water production to meet 30 percent of its water needs by 2060.

The Water Resources Institute ranked Singapore as one of the most water-stressed countries in the world in 2015. Singapore is one of eight countries most vulnerable to disruption of its water supply. The tiny country lacks enough room to collect and store all the water it needs, according to a 2016 publication by PUB called Our Water, Our Future. So, Singapore developed the Four National Taps.

There was a time in Singapore’s history, about 50 years ago, when people had to line up in the streets for water during periods of water rationing caused by prolonged dry spells. However, in a few decades, PUB has been able to transform the country into one where water people have no memory of the water rationing.

It did so by “tapping technology and embarking on ambitious engineering projects,” as PUB’s publication states. Singapore began collecting and treating rainwater, reclaiming water used by its citizens and building desalination plants.

PUB launched water conservation awareness programs in 2009 and claims that water conservation “has become an inseparable part of the people, public and private sectors.”

The awareness programs typically run during the drier period from January to April and has support from supermarket and fast food chains. They typically consist of television commercials, a radio jingle, posters and handbooks available in print on the Internet, a mobile showroom rolled out in shopping malls, social media campaigning, and online games.

What California can learn from Singapore

Just as Singapore is a water-poor place, so is California, the most populous state in the U.S. At the moment, a big swath of the state is experiencing what meteorologists are calling a super storm.

As the Weather Channel described it, the state has gone from drought to deluge. Some parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains received up to 12 inches of rain. Unfortunately, the state severely lacks storage to capture all of that rainwater and has had to release water from its reservoirs in order to avoid flooding.

The Pacific Institute describes storms in California as both a blessing and a curse: The state and its residents desperately need every drop of rainfall, but storms can often bring floods and mudslides. And the state lacks the storage to capture those precious drops of water falling from the sky.

What California needs is not more surface storage or new dams. What is needed is groundwater recharge. The state is pumping groundwater at an unsustainable rate.

One district in the state’s San Joaquin Valley, the Alta Irrigation District, is bucking this trend. It puts excess water in small recharge ponds during wet periods to refill its groundwater. During dry periods, groundwater is pumped out to meet water needs.

As Pacific Institute describes, “Done right, this is a sustainable, brilliant, water-management tool.” And it is a tool every major watershed in the Golden State should watch. 

Image credit: Flickr/Shlabotnik

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman