Bringing water to the people and people to the water in Singapore

Gerry Miller, Deputy Director of Water Resources, Black & Veatch, Kansas City, Missouri; Nguan Sen Tan, Director of Catchment & Waterways Department, PUB Singapore; William Lim Chuan Hoe, Deputy Director of Catchment & Waterways Department, PUB Singapore; James Currie, Managing Director, Black & Veatch, Singapore; Kin Joe Cheng, Project Manager, Black & Veatch, Singapore

Necessity has been described as the mother of invention—which may explain why the city-state of Singapore has long been a leader in water resources management. More than 4.5 million people reside within a geographic area one-fourth the size of Rhode Island. Optimization of water resources is essential for a highly urbanized island nation surrounded by ocean water, and PUB Singapore has adopted an effective multifaceted approach to water resources management by adding new sources of supply while striving to make the most of existing supplies.

As the national water agency, PUB has a mission to secure an adequate supply of water at an affordable cost to Singaporeans. Its strategy—"Water for All: Conserve, Value, Enjoy"—captures the board's intent to ensure a sustainable water supply by diversifying supply sources and managing demand. The board obtains water from four sources and has implemented a public education program to bring Singaporeans closer to water so they will fully realize its value and embrace conservation.

Four National Taps
As a result of a concerted effort to diversify supply options, PUB now has four sources of supply. The first "National Tap" is stormwater. Catchments span half of Singapore, and total catchment area will be increased to two-thirds of the land area with three new reservoir schemes. The second water source is imported water from neighboring Johore, Malaysia.

NEWater is the third National Tap. PUB's NEWater program provides a sustainable solution to Singapore's water supply. Advanced treatment of used water with microfiltration/ultafiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet filtration provides multi-barrier, dual-membrane treatment for direct non-potable use and indirect potable use (mixed and blended with reservoir water). A continuous public education and acceptance program is an important aspect of NEWater.

Fourthly, Singapore is tapping into desalination of seawater. The Singapore-Tuas Seawater Desalination Plant earned distinction in the Desalination Plant of the Year category at the 2006 Global Water Awards. The 36 million-gallon-per-day (136,380 cubic-meter-per-day) seawater reverse-osmosis (SWRO) plant is the largest of its kind in Asia and one of the largest in the world. The plant, designed by Black & Veatch in collaboration with EPC contractor Hydrochem (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hyflux), is one of the most energy-efficient SWRO plants in the world.

Singapore's ABC Waters Program
Singapore's Active, Beautiful, and Clean (ABC) Waters Programme spans the nation's water resources and extends beyond the functional use of reservoirs and collection channels. Simply stated, the ABCs are:

  • Active - Introduce new recreational and community spaces for all to enjoy; bring people closer to our waters

  • Beautiful - Transform utilitarian canals and drains into naturalized rivers and streams

  • Clean - Treat water close to source; build people-water relationships to instill sense of ownership of our water; public education in keeping our waters clean

Through its ABC Waters Programme, PUB seeks to:

  • Develop these water bodies into vibrant, clean and aesthetically pleasing lifestyle attractions for all to enjoy;

  • Tap ideas, expertise and resources from watershed managers to develop and manage catchments and water bodies as new community spaces, while protecting water quality and public safety; and

  • Get the community closer to the water so that they will learn to treasure it more.

An Education and Community Engagement Plan provides the framework for developing a systematic strategy for reaching key audiences with specific key messages critical to the success of the ABC Waters Programme. It is essential for gaining the support and involvement of the 3P (People, Public and Private) sectors. Its ultimate purpose is to increase public stewardship of the water bodies and waterways, as well as to inform people about the ABC Waters Programme.

Physical aspects of the plan promote personal bonding with the local waters and associated land. They can include such tangible activities as erecting signs that indicate the names of waterways, canals, and major drains; designing and installing storyboards with interpretive displays to convey key messages (e.g., history, the water cycle); providing education sites at selected locations; and creating a center to highlight the importance of water for Singapore as well as PUB's achievements in addressing the need for an approach to managing and conserving water resources.

Western Catchment Master Plan
In the summer of 2006, PUB engaged Black & Veatch to serve as watershed manager for the Western Catchment. Other companies were engaged to serve in that capacity for the other two catchments. The role of each watershed manager is to prepare a master plan for its respective catchment and then implement selected projects over a three-year period as an initial stage of the ABC Waters Programme. Selected projects from the plan completed by Black & Veatch in June 2007 have been identified for implementation.

Development of the Western Catchment Master Plan included research and analysis of many factors, including:

  • Principles for successfully integrating water bodies and activities;

  • Principles for sustainable urban drainage for clean water;

  • Natural resources, including terrain, surface geology and soils, climate, and vegetation;

  • Existing water quantity and quality;

  • Demographics and urban patterns as well as historical, cultural, and heritage factors; and

  • Existing water-based and water-related recreation.

  Western Catchment area in Singapore (Courtesy of Black & Veatch)

Singapore has a tropical urban hydrology strongly influenced by short-duration, high-intensity rainfall and generally urbanized catchments with extensive impervious paved areas that are drained by a hydraulically efficient stormwater collection and conveyance system. The original natural streams in the Western Catchment, as elsewhere in Singapore, have been largely replaced by straightened, concrete-lined channels to enlarge their hydraulic capacities. Most of the waterways are intermittent streams, and the waterways not separated from the open seas by tidal gates are subjected to tidal influence. PUB's assets in the Western Catchment include seven major water bodies or reservoirs, four rivers, and numerous smaller rivers and major drains.

It is recognized that waterways will not be used unless they are attractive, accessible, and continuous. For example, improvements largely focus on making waterways more interesting, pleasant, enjoyable, satisfying, and fulfilling to attract people. The waterways must be easily accessible and offer visitors the opportunity to follow through to a desired destination. The waterways must also contain water beyond their dry weather flow channels.

Two of the six projects in the Western Catchment Master Plan that have been selected for immediate development are briefly described below.

Wetlands are being added to the northern part of Jurong Lake to improve water quality, and visitors will be able to enjoy the improvements by strolling an adjacent boardwalk. (Courtesy of Black & Veatch)

Jurong Lake. Presently surrounding the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, Jurong Lake Park has been selected for transformation. Highlights of the proposals are providing wetlands and a geyser fountain within the north part of the lake to improve water quality; fishing areas; paths and pavilions ringing the lake; visitor facilities including shelters and a refreshment center; family water-based activities in the form of pedal boats and a children's fish pond; significantly increased access from the eastern and northern sides; and a historical and science-based focus on water through storyboards and other means. The lake and park will become more active through the addition of areas for fishing and kayaking and mini-dragon boating as well as a dock for water play. It will become more beautiful through the addition of a geyser with boardwalks, a promenade, and wetlands to soften the edges. And it will become cleaner through the installation of gross pollutant traps upstream of the lake to reduce litter entering the lake, the use of interpretive storyboards to instruct the public about the history of the lake and the importance of keeping the water clean, aeration via the new geyser, and water quality improvements using wetlands.

One of the improvements planned for Pandan Reservoir is the addition of rowing and kayaking lanes to facilitate more interaction with and appreciation of the water. (Courtesy of Black & Veatch)

Pandan Reservoir. The man-made Pandan Reservoir is currently a competitive water sports area that was formed through the construction of a 3.85-mile-long (6.2-kilometer-long) earthen dike that is approximately 4.4 yards (4 meters) higher than the road level. As is, the reservoir is not highly visible to the public. Pandan Reservoir provides some wonderful opportunities for development as a major water-based recreation center in the western part of Singapore, full of vibrancy and activity. It can be the place to learn or improve water sports skills, fish, indulge in remote control model boating, learn about mangrove habitats, or simply enjoy a waterside picnic.

In the future, it will become more active through enhancements that will include a viewing deck, car parks, public toilets, and changing rooms; the addition of rowing and kayaking lanes for training and competition; and facilities for fishing, sailing and remote-control boating. Improvements to make the reservoir more beautiful include the addition of a floating island to serve as a landmark and 455 yard (500 meter) racing lanes for the rowers; softscaping the harsh rock embankments; and landscaping and shelters. The reservoir will become cleaner through the addition of rock pools along the Ulu Pandan canal that will serve as a place for fish to hide and breed and will provide a safe wading area for the public.

Pandan Reservoir, located in Singapore's Western Catchment and shown here in existing form, is being transformed into a more active, beautiful, and clean water body. (Courtesy of Black & Veatch)

Jurong Lake and Pandan Reservoir are but two elements of the Western Catchment Master Plan, which, in turn, is but only one piece of a bigger picture. In many ways and on many levels, Singapore is moving ahead with a holistic, integrated approach to water management that can serve as an example for communities worldwide.

Gerry Miller can be reached at (913) 458-3678 or; James Currie can be reached at; and Kin Joe Cheng can be reached at