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NEWater -- groaningly obviously derived from "new water", and pronounced as such -- is the Singapore government's catchy brand name for what is officially called a sustainable water supply, which could be gently described as recycled household water, or less gently just distilled piss. Since February 21, 2003, NEWater (at a share of 1% or so) has been introduced into drinking water in the city-state.

But Why?

Since their less than amicable separation in 1965, Singapore and Malaysia have made bickering into an art form. One prickly issue that was thought to have been solved was that of water: Singapore has almost no sources of its own, so in two agreements dating back to 1961 and 1962, Malaysia agreed to pipe water across at a fixed rate to meet Singapore's needs.

Alas, the rate agreed back in the sixties was 3 sen per 1000 gallons, a sen being the Malaysian version of the cent. At 100 sen to the ringgit and the current rate of 3.75 ringgit to the dollar, this works out to 0.8¢ per cubic metre, cheap by any standard and less than the cost of production (says Malaysia). So how about 60 sen until 2011 (when the first agreement expires), and 3 RM until 2061? But Singapore, predictably, said "too bad" -- contracts are contracts, and it's not their fault if Malaysia didn't index the rate to inflation. But as a goodwill gesture, how about 45 sen until 2011, and 60 sen onwards? Malaysia didn't like this very much, and grumbled loudly about shutting off the supply unless something was done.

NEWater to the Rescue!

What then? Singapore has no other immediate neighbors to turn to; it has negotiated with Indonesia as well, but the nearest possible water source is on Riau, 450 kilometers away -- and the coutry's relations down South have been even worse in the past. Singapore has no sources of energy either (except maybe kiasuism), so desalination is too expensive an option. So the answer was simple -- let's recycle water!

It's been done before, of course. Space stations, for example, are as self-contained as possible and circulate their own water. And really, any modern water system works by processing waste water and dumping it into a reservoir (often cunningly disguised as a lake), then sucking it back out and sanitizing it into potable water. Sitting in the reservoir, if anything, only makes things worse; "fish fuck in it", as beer drinkers like to say, and there's a host of other unwanted inputs as well. So Singapore just decided to cut the reservoir out of the loop.

As the very brand shows, NEWater was launched with quite a bit of hype, the attempted spin being that this was yet another technological first, a win for independent Singapore and a slap in the face of the nefarious Dr M. However, while Singapore's long-suffering citizens didn't object loudly to drinking their own piss, swallowing the government's BS was a bit too much to expect and Newater instantly became the butt of a million jokes. Within a week or two, the government realized that maybe this wasn't going to work quite as well as planned, and the media stopped mentioning the issue.

So How Does It Taste?

The way water does in most hot countries, where it would instantly start to breed nastiness if bacteria were not chemically nuked into oblivion: in other words, like chlorine. But no, not even the most imaginative critic could conjure up a toilet bowl from it... which hasn't stopped a boom in the sales of bottled water though.


Personal experience

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