From a nation which struggled with the scarcity of water in its early years to a global leader in water sustainability today, Singapore has certainly come a long way.

Singapore-Malaysia Water Agreements – Imported water from our Neighbour 

Singapore Water Agreement with Malaysia (1)

Historically, Singapore had to rely on imported water from Malaysia due to its lack of natural water resources, limited land space and water storage facilities.

  • 1927 Water Agreement – The very first agreement signed between Singapore and Malaysia, in which Singapore paid rent on the land in Johor to supply water and in turn, received raw water at no cost.
  • 1961 Agreement – Replaced the 1927 agreement, where Singapore paid for both land and water, but had exclusive rights to draw water from the designated lands up till 2011. This agreement expired in August 2011.
  • 1962 Johor River Water Agreement – Valid till 2061.
  • 1990 Agreement – Allowed Singapore to construct a dam across Sungei Linggui (a river in Malaysia) to enable Singapore to buy treated water from the new dam. Singapore would bore the building and maintenance costs of the dam.

 In both the 1961 and 1962 agreements, Singapore agreed to provide Johor with a daily supply of treated water with the raw water supplied from Johor. Today, Singapore continues to import water from Johor under these bilateral agreements, where Singapore will have the exclusive right to draw up to 250 million gallons of water each day from the Johor River.

Solving water scarcity – Being self-sufficent

Having to rely heavily on a single water supplier subjected Singapore to potential hikes in water prices. That is why the Singapore government has worked hard to handle the challenges of providing sustainable water supply for the country so that the country does not solely rely on imported water from Malaysia. Today, Singapore has successfully developed new sources of water and created more efficient water catchment and treatment processes.

Singapore’s Water Policy

Known as the ‘Four National Taps’, Singapore draws its water from four sources: Imported water from Malaysia, local catchments to collect rainwater, highly purified NEWater and desalinated water. The Word Health Organisation has also recognised Singapore’s tap water as suitable for drinking without further filtration.


NEWater was first introduced in 2003. Advanced technologies are used to treat high grade used water which is converted and made suitable for drinking and industrial use. The quality is so high that it is used in place of potable water (drinking water). There are currently five NEWater plants which meet about 30% of the country’s water demand, a significant breakthrough of how Singapore addresses its water supply in an innovative manner. The Public Utilities Board (PUB), Singapore’s national water agency plans to meet up to 55% of Singapore’s water demand by 2060, by increasing the production of NEWater by threefold.

Local Catchment

PUB has also improved local water catchment facilities by inventing technology which processes brackish rainwater and then shift to seawater desalination. It is estimated this new technology will increase water catchment by up to 90% in the long term. To date, half of Singapore is water catchment. Singapore has 17 reservoirs and through its drains, canals, rivers and reservoirs, is one of the few countries to harvest urban storm water on a large scale for its water supply. The country’s water catchment area will increase from two-thirds to 90% of Singapore’s land area by 2060.

Desalinated water (treated seawater)

Singapore’s first desalination plant produces 30 million gallons of water daily and meets about 10% of the country’s water needs. Combined with its second plant, 25% of the current water needs is now met. PUB plans to build two more desalination plants to meet up to 30% of Singapore’s water demand by 2060.

Let’s save and conserve water

“Although we can be confident of meeting our water needs, let us remember that every drop of water is precious. Do continue to practise good water-saving habits and avoid unnecessary consumption. We can make every drop count.”, said Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in 2014.

PUB has also encouraged more efficient water usage through its Water Conservation Awareness Programme and by engaging its community. One such initiative is the “ABC Programme” – “Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters”, introduced in 2008 to transform Singapore’s reservoirs into beautiful community spaces and encourage greater public appreciation for water. Marina Barrage, the 15th reservoir is such example and Singapore’s only city reservoir which facilitates freshwater catchment. More than 100 potential locations have been identified for the programme by 2030

Singapore’s water policy – Global Achievement

In 2007, Singapore received the Stockholm Water Industry Award and has been ranked in the top 5% of water utilities in the world. The country has successfully managed its water and addressed the water shortage issue with its water policy. Today, Singapore is recognised and transformed into a Global HydroHub for its expertise in water technologies.


PUB (website)