The Singapore Public Utilities Board (PUB) is known globally as a leading water utility. Because of the nation’s precarious geographic and political situation, PUB has led the way in developing alternative sources of water, such as reuse and desalination. The agency has undertaken and supported significant R&D work for water technology, which serves the dual purposes of meeting its own long-term water supply goals and helping new products reach international markets.
Although PUB has led in reuse and desalination, it plans to expand its capacity further to meet projected water demands of population growth and industry through 2060, as shown below. Note the relatively small proportion of “traditional” local water supplies, compared to reuse and desalination, and that future water supplies will be derived 100 percent from alternative supplies.
This raises the question: what agency in the United States might assume such a leadership role here? There have been several “water technology hubs” on a smaller scale, such as the Milwaukee Water Council and Houston Water Innovation Hub, and agencies such as Orange County Water District in California have adopted new technologies. But will a large agency commit to investment in water supply and treatment technologies on a larger scale for a longer term? Will such a program be implemented by the City of Los Angeles through its One Water LA program? Or will another agency step forward, such as the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, City of Houston or New York City?
In recent decades, US cities, districts and states have been reluctant to invest in new water supplies based on the perception of cost and environmental impacts, even when those concerns have been shown to be chimeric. Moving forward, however, certain areas must act, if they are to maintain safe, reliable water supplies. For example, California cities and agriculture will need to make substantial investments based on regulatory changes that will reduce the quantity of surface and groundwater available in future, as will Texas industry in order to make water available for economic development along the Gulf Coast. But who will have the courage to step up and make real investments?