As a result, the plant was unstable, creating issues with costs and reliability.
Recalling the early days of the project, he said his team would often end up working through the night, racing to get the plant up and running.
“In those days, the plant was like my first home, I would only go home for dinner and then run back to the plant,” he said.
Problems continued to plague the plants even after it officially opened in May 2000.
“It was three months of hell because it seemed like everything we did was wrong, and everyone was just working day and night, like there was no tomorrow, to fix the problems.”
For Mr Peck, whose son had just been born, it also meant having to juggle being a new parent and operating a plant at the same time.
But despite the challenges, the team never gave up and instead, drew strength from one another.
“I didn’t have to justify or persuade people that it was an important project, it just came naturally,” said Mr Seah.
Noting the amount of personal sacrifices involved, he expressed great appreciation for those who gave it their all.
“They had to sacrifice time with their children, their family, and even their social life, because sometimes they had to work until 2 or 3am. These were all the sacrifices they made,” he said.
“They could have easily not done this and treated the project like routine work but they knew that the work they were doing was not routine.
“That was the beauty about this project – everyone including industry consultants and suppliers from the private sector were on the same page.”
Then, in August 2000 – three months after the plant opened – the team made a major breakthrough.
“We realised the key issue … The membranes at the plant were only being disinfected intermittently out of fear that regular cleaning might end up damaging them,” said Mr Seah.
In the end, all it took to solve the problem was to go back to the basics.
“We did simple lab tests – no different from the ones you do in school – where you do a simple titration to see what is the point where, based on dosage, (the membrane would be damaged),” said Mr Seah.
“We realised that there was no way that we could get to that (point) because our dosing was too low,” he said.
“So we assessed that those fears were unwarranted and started regularly disinfecting the membranes.”
Their assessment proved to be correct as the plant started to stabilize.
“Water was coming in and going out (in a continuous flow), and when we looked at our screens to see the performance of the plant, it was a very nice straight line,” said Mr Seah.
“That was when we knew that we had more or less got it.”
FIRST DROP OF SUCCESS
Although tests showed that the reclaimed water was well within global drinking standards and safe, there were still some – including Mr Peck – who were sceptical about whether the technology really worked.
But the moment they saw, tasted and touched the water – all doubts were thrown out of the window.
Recalling that moment, Mr Peck said everyone, including Mr Seah and contractors of the project, had gathered at the plant for the testing.
As the factory hummed, they held their breath in excitement as the water started flowing through the pipes.
“We would move with the water as it passed through different stages, and when we finally came to the last stage, someone opened the tap and said this is the water,” said Mr Peck.
What came out was crystal-clear water, much to the delight – and relief – of everyone at the plant.