Singapore Water Management

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Lead Authors: Heidi Davidz, Alex Lee, Alice Squires, Contributing Author: Richard Turner

This example was produced as a SE example directly for the SEBoK. It describes a systems engineering approach in the development of a sustainable National Water Management System for the Republic of Singapore. It demonstrates the successful outcome of long-term planning and a systems approach to preempt a critical water shortage. The example is primarily based on information taken from a paper presented at the INCOSE International Symposium in 2008. (Chia 2008.)


When Singapore achieved independence in 1965, water supply depended on water catchment in local reservoirs and two bilateral water agreements with its closest neighbor, Malaysia. These water agreements are registered with the United Nations. The first agreement expired in August 2011, and the second agreement will expire in 2061 (Singapore 2012). After several failed attempts to renegotiate the extension of the first water agreement, Singapore determined that it was necessary to achieve full water self-sufficiency by 2060 in case the second water agreement also could not be extended. An intermediate goal was to match the supply of the first water agreement before it expired. This was achieved in several ways. In 2001, the Public Utilities Board (PUB), the national water agency responsible for treating raw water in Singapore, was charged to also begin managing wastewater and stormwater, allowing for an integrated and holistic approach to water management.

This example examines Singapore’s water management system from a large-scale systems engineering perspective, particularly focusing on the goals, boundaries (see Concepts of Systems Thinking), stakeholders (see Stakeholder Needs and Requirements), and complexities involved in this type of a national system. This approach illustrates how Systems Thinking (illustrated through causal loop diagrams) and other systems engineering tools may be used to understand systems complexities. Concepts and methodologies of learning organizations were applied to enable understanding of behavioral complexities. Lean thinking facilitated a long-term strategic philosophy, built on the premise of continuous improvements.

Perhaps more importantly, it shows that while systems engineering, especially the Systems Approach, is necessary for the conceptualization and planning of such a complex system, it is not sufficient for success. It is the systemic structures that have been put in place over decades, political will, leadership, people, and culture that make such tasks realizable.

The supply of water in Singapore is managed in totality. Collecting rainwater, purchasing water, and purifying water utilizing reverse osmosis and desalination were all considered. Approaches included even incentivizing consumers to change their habits by making drains and canals recreational areas to encourage the public not to dispose of waste in their drains. By managing sewage and drainage together with water, environmental considerations are taken into account as well. By carefully adjusting organizational boundaries, Singapore has managed to reduce silo thinking and parochial interests. The relationships between the industry innovators, government, suppliers and users, and technology innovators create opportunities for Singapore’s water management. This demonstrates how multiple stakeholder interests can be combined to create a viable water management solution. Continuous improvements through the use of technology and elimination of waste, such as reducing water that is not accounted for in the system, help to assure the sustainability of an adequate supply of water for a growing Singapore population. The Singapore Water Management system is already in successful operation and is being studied by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and by other nations.


The supply of water in Singapore is managed in totality through a systems approach, i.e., water catchment, supply, sewage and drainage. The importance of relationships between the stakeholders is also recognized. Industry innovators, political leadership, suppliers, and consumers are all involved; the project has been able to incentivize this diverse group to work together for a common goal, i.e., assuring the sustainability of an adequate supply of water for Singapore into the future.

Utilizing systems engineering and taking into consideration the systemic structures and culture required have helped Singapore achieve its first milestone of supplying its own water resources by 2010. Singapore has been able to overcome the shortfall that would have come about with the expiry of the first water agreement with Malaysia in 2011.


Works Cited

Chia, A. 2008. "A large-scale systems engineering perspective of water management in Singapore." Proceedings of the 18th Annual INCOSE International Symposium, 15-19 June 2008, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Singapore Government. 2012. "The Singapore Water Story." Available at Accessed August 2012.

Primary References


Additional References

Public Utilities Board. 2007. "PUB Main Website". Available at Accessed August 2011.

Tortajada, C. 2006. "Water management in Singapore." International Journal of Water Resources Development. vol. 22, no. 2 p. 227-240.

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