Transcript of speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at the official opening of the Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant, on 4 February 2021.
Dr Lee Boon Yang, Chairman, Keppel Corporation
Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
A very good afternoon to all of you.
I am pleased to join all of you for the opening of the Keppel Marina East Desalination Plant (MEDP). Our first desalination plant was SingSpring Desalination Plant. It was opened 15 years ago. Desalination became our fourth tap. That was a major milestone on our water journey.
We have come a long way since. Today, we open our fourth desalination plant and in a few months’ time, the fifth plant will come on stream, in Jurong Island.
Desalination is key to a sustainable water supply
We have expanded our desalination capacity because our water demand continues to grow. Currently Singapore consumes 430 million gallons of water a day. In the next 30 years, we expect water demand to almost double. Local catchments and water imported from Malaysia are already insufficient to meet our daily needs. We have supplemented our supply with NEWater and desalination. Both of these were the fruit of many years of planning, research and innovation by PUB engineers.
Desalinating seawater is not a new idea. Primary school students learn how to convert seawater to potable water in science classes in the lab. The challenge is to do this in large volumes and in an energy-efficient and cost-effective way. It took more than two decades of research, particularly on membrane technology, to make desalination viable and it was almost another decade before our first desalination plant became operational.
But with each new plant, we have improved our technologies and capabilities to produce desalinated water more efficiently. We have tapped renewable energy, reduced the energy usage, and found ways to use less land, and we have been able to do this because PUB has a team of excellent engineers, who are laser-focused on their mission to ensure a diversified and sustainable water supply for Singapore.
I met some of the PUB team when we visited the Bukit Timah Waterworks last December. This is the oldest waterworks in Singapore, originally built in 1889. Actually it is right behind the Istana, but I have not had the chance to visit until now. It is no longer in active use, but is still kept operational as a standby facility. The structures and equipment have been meticulously maintained, and are still in good working condition. The underground water storage tank, which I went into, looked pristine after 130 years. It is a tribute to the people who built Bukit Timah Waterworks all those years ago, and also to the engineers who have maintained it and kept it in good working order more than a century since.
PUB has ideas to repurpose the Bukit Timah Waterworks into a visitor centre. I think this is an excellent idea. Water treatment technology will keep on improving. We will surely never stop building newer waterworks and facilities, each one different and slightly better than the previous ones. But it will be good to preserve something of what we have inherited, and which has served us well. So that every generation can understand the long journey that we have been on, and appreciate how we have got here.
MEDP – An iconic and progressive desalination plant
The Marina East Desalination Plant is of course very different from Bukit Timah Water Works. Not just in the technology it uses, but in its scale and scope but in conceiving and building it, we too are looking ahead, planning long term, and building for future generations.
This plant will be able to produce 30 million gallons of potable water daily. As Dr Lee said, it is also our first desalination plant capable of treating both seawater and rainwater. In dry weather, the plant will treat seawater, like our other desalination plants but during the rainy season, like last month, the plant will draw fresh water from Marina Reservoir. This will consume less energy than treating seawater. Having this option to switch to treating reservoir water will save costs and give us more operational flexibility.
Compared to our other desalination plants, Marina East also uses land more efficiently, and is more accessible to the public. The water treatment facilities are located underground. On the surface, we have created a 20,000 square metre open green rooftop and recreation space, for the public to visit and enjoy. The multi-functional design is similar to the Marina Barrage, which is hugely popular. This green space has already been open to the public since last September. I encourage everyone to visit. But of course for now, please keep to groups of eight or below.
The Government will continue to plan ahead, to build up our infrastructure ahead of time, and to invest and develop new technologies to secure our water supply. But Singaporeans also need to play our part, to use water only when we truly need to, and to make conserving water our daily way of life. Because for us, water is not an inexhaustible gift of nature. It is a strategic and scarce resource, and also a precious fruit of our labours, always to be husbanded and used wisely. We are always pushing the limits of our water resources. And producing each additional drop of water gets harder and harder, and more and more expensive. We require more infrastructure, new technologies, more extensive treatment, all of which inevitably means a higher incremental cost.
Furthermore, as we debated in Parliament a few days ago, climate change is making weather conditions more volatile around the world. It will become harder for us to ensure a stable and reliable water supply. This January was the second wettest January on record. The only time Singapore got more rain in a January was back in 1893, a few years after the Bukit Timah Waterworks was built. Our reservoirs have filled up, including Linggiu Reservoir in Johor, which is currently full. But it is just as easy to imagine more frequent and longer periods of drought. This happened to us just a few years ago, in 2016. Linggiu Reservoir went down to 20% of its capacity. I was really worried, and tracking the situation daily, because there was a real risk to our water supply. It was a vivid reminder of why we have to be obsessed with saving water, and making every drop count.
To help households track their water consumption, PUB is installing some 300,000 smart water meters across the island. These will provide households with more detailed water consumption data, so that you can better manage your water usage, and save on your water bills.
Once again, let me congratulate all those who were involved in building Marina East Desalination Plant including the staff of Keppel and PUB, and the contractors, and not forgetting the many sub-contractors and migrant workers involved in the construction. Despite delays and challenges caused by COVID-19, you pushed on, and completed the plant on time. I hope that a century from now, there will still be a plant here, next to Marina Reservoir, upgraded and modernised many times over the years, but still providing Singapore with an affordable, reliable supply of clean drinking water.
It is with great pleasure and satisfaction that I now declare the Marina East Desalination Plant open!
Thank you very much!
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