Singapore has good fresh drinking water

Urban water management
“Water to go” and a floating farm

Cities and metropolises are growing all over the world, and accordingly more drinking water is needed there. How can cities make their water management sustainable? We present some ideas.

From Petra Schönhöfer

Free drinking water gushes from Berlin's 132 public fountains. Around 90 percent of this is obtained in the city itself. | Photo (detail): © Adobe


Berlin has a water cycle that is unique in Germany: More than 90 percent of the drinking water comes from the city area. And not just the water that runs out of the tap at home, but also that which gushes out of the 132 public fountains as free “water-to-go”. Berlin's sophisticated water management system requires a sewage network with 154 pumping stations, around 9,600 kilometers of sewer network and around 1,170 kilometers of penstocks. A number of best practice examples can be found in the urban area, such as the “offshore” mixed water storage in the Spree, the retention floor filters for rainwater treatment or the many gray water recycling and rainwater utilization systems in residential and office buildings. As the largest municipal company in Germany, Berliner Wasserbetriebe even obtains a particularly water-friendly recycling fertilizer from sewage sludge with the "Berlin Plant". Among other things, it reduces the growth of algae in the surrounding waters.

“Garden City” Singapore: The abundance of greenery and urban parks, such as Fort Canning Park here, have become green recreational areas for residents. | Photo (detail): © Adobe / Angelika Bentin


Singapore is a green city by tradition: since the declaration of independence in 1965, the government has been striving to turn the city-state into a “garden city”. Lush greenery cleans the air and water management has become a model for the rest of the world. Little by little, around 8,000 kilometers of waterways and 17 water reservoirs were created. While the five million metropolis was still heavily dependent on its neighbor Malaysia for its water supply 50 years ago, Singapore now produces fresh water itself using three processes: reprocessing of wastewater, water collection systems for rainwater and desalination of seawater. The rainwater is treated by plants and soil, completely without chemicals, which promotes biodiversity and benefits urban parks, which have become green recreational areas for residents.

Augsburg's many canals deliver renewable energy and the small bridges enrich the cityscape of the old town. | Photo (detail): © Adobe


In 2019, Augsburg's historic water management system was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The outstanding architectural systems for the use of running water and for the drinking water supply date from the 15th to the early 20th century, including the oldest water tower and the oldest waterworks in Germany (1901/1902). The historic canal network was created together with the flourishing textile industry in Augsburg and is still intact today, despite the decline of this branch of industry in the 20th century. Augsburg remained a city of water: Its many canals now supply renewable energy, as their easily controllable volume flow makes them particularly suitable for generating electricity using hydropower. The flowing water and the many small bridges also enrich the cityscape of the old town.

On Rotterdam's floating farm, the “Floating Farm”, 35 cows live in a stable on the water. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance / Mike Corder / AP Photo


Sometimes too much water is more of a problem than too little. This is the case with the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, which is largely up to seven meters below sea level. The rising sea level caused by climate change can already be felt here. To protect the urban area, Rotterdam has an impressive dyke system and the world's largest storm surge barrier, the Maeslantkering. Roof gardens are designed to catch additional rainwater, such as the 1,000 square meter DakAkker Rooftop Farm, which holds almost 60 liters of water per square meter, offers natural cooling and is used for growing food. The approach taken by the Rotterdam “Floating Farm” is even more unusual: 35 cows are currently living here in a stable on the water. The floating farm collects and filters rainwater for the cows to drink and uses electricity from a floating solar power plant.
Clean nature parks and proximity to water determine life in Hammarby Sjöstad, Sweden. | Photo (detail): © Adobe


In the 1990s, the place was a polluted industrial area, it was not until 2004 when it was applied as an Olympic Village that it got up again: Hammarby Sjöstad is located a few kilometers south of Stockholm city center. Nothing came of the application for the Olympics, nevertheless Hammarby Sjöstad has become an eco-star with a role model function. Clean nature parks and the proximity to water determine the life of the around 30,000 inhabitants. The water management is also exemplary: the wastewater from 900,000 Stockholm residents is treated in a sewage treatment plant. The waste heat is used for heating and the cold water for cooling for the warehouses of supermarkets. The remaining sewage sludge is fermented together with the organic waste to produce environmentally friendly biogas.

The Gihon Spring on the Temple Mount provided Jerusalem with drinking water for millennia. Today the ancient tunnel system and the Siloam pond are part of a unique archaeological park. | Photo (detail): © Adobe


Water scarcity has been a cause of conflict in Israel for decades, but the problem has recently become even more acute. Droughts are getting longer and more frequent. This water shortage has made people inventive: computer-controlled drip systems irrigate Israel's fields. In desalination plants, so much drinking water is obtained from seawater by means of reverse osmosis that they can cover around half of the total water requirement. Israel is world champion in wastewater treatment: 75 percent of the wastewater is reused here, especially in agriculture. Around 15 percent of the Israeli population, around one million people, live in Jerusalem. For millennia, the Gihon spring in the Kidron Valley at the foot of the Temple Mount provided fresh water here. Today the ancient tunnel system and the Siloam pond are part of a unique archaeological park. The city receives its water resources through the environmental award-winning water supply company Hagihon, saves water and promotes greater awareness of water quality in the population, for example for the maintenance of the popular roof water tanks.
View from Emeryville to the Golden Gate Bridge: The small town in the San Francisco Bay stands out with its sustainable water management. | Photo (detail): © Adobe


The small town on the Bay of San Francisco is best known as the headquarters of the film company Pixar. But located in the state of California, which has long been a pioneer in environmental protection and renewable energies in the USA, Emeryville is also attracting attention with its sustainable water management. In order to be able to use rainwater better, the city not only relies on cisterns and water tanks, but has also made sure that parked cars are literally removed from the street and housed indoors. Thanks to large parking garages with green roofs, there is now less need for sealed parking space for cars in the city center. In addition to major public campaigns on topics such as wastewater and water saving, residents can also enjoy a special landscape program. By avoiding waste and reducing fertilizer consumption, among other things, the cultural landscape of the bay is preserved. This not only increases the quality of life, but also new biodiversity has emerged along the San Francisco Bay.


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