Pictures of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong drinking recycled waste water were splashed across newspapers here Friday in a signal to Malaysia that Singapore can survive without buying water from its neighbour.
"We now have our own water," Goh told reporters after a tennis workout, swigging a chilled bottle of "Newater," which the city-state plans to mass-produce if talks with Malaysia fail to produce new long-term deals.
Newater, made from waste water using the latest technology, will make its popular debut on August 9, when some 60,000 Singaporeans and foreign guests attending a traditional National Day parade will be supplied with free bottles.
The water issue has been a key irritant in relations since Singapore was kicked out of the Malaysian Federation and became a separate state in 1965.
Goh said, "if necessary, we will just be completely self-sufficient" in water but added that Singapore would like to have good relations with Malaysia and continue buying water from its neighbor even in the longer term.
"It's a trade and it has to be on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis. Both sides must agree on the quantity and, most importantly, on the price," said the 61-year-old tennis buff, who also did a "taste test" with tap water.
Goh said local tap water, which is totally potable off the faucet, was a bit sweeter but drinking chilled Newater, he could not detect the difference.
No decision has been made on when Newater is to be released into reservoirs across the island. Apart from being drinkable, it is said to be in high demand from semiconductor plants, which require pure water to produce chips.
Singapore has proposed that the future cost of water bought from Malaysia be pegged to the spending on producing alternative sources such as Newater.
Affluent but resource-starved Singapore relies on Malaysia for half its daily water needs, and is resorting to technology to cut the dependence. An international panel of experts recently certified Newater, purified using membrane filters and radiation, as totally safe to drink.
Two treatment plants are to start operations next year and two more will come on stream in 2011 to augment water sourced from local reservoirs and catchment basins.
The water supply deals are part of a package of unresolved issues with Malaysia including a proposed new bridge link, use of Malaysian airspace by Singaporean aircraft and the location of Malaysia's customs, immigration and quarantine facilities in Singapore territory.
Singapore has declared it would be able to let one of two water agreements with Malaysia lapse in 2011, serving notice that it was increasingly becoming self-sufficient in water.
It also said that after a second accord expires in 2061, Singapore would continue to buy water from Malaysia only if the price was competitive.