Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My letter has been published

Back from Pulau Semakau, and I've just discovered that my rebuttal to Syu Ying Kwok's letter has been published. Unfortunately, it was published online, which means that those who only read the print edition won't get to see why the original idea was simply rubbish.

Tekong-Ubin reservoir not practical (mirror)

I REFER to Mr Syu Ying Kwok's letter on Friday, 'After Marina Barrage, Tekong-Ubin reservoir". While the need for a constant supply of fresh water will no doubt be essential to Singapore's survival, I am afraid that the idea of connecting Pulau Ubin and Tekong to mainland Singapore to form a new reservoir is simply not feasible, and overlooks many important reasons which render it an untenable idea.

Construction of the Marina Barrage involved building a dam across the mouth of the Singapore River. Ideally, over time, the saltwater in the estuary will be flushed out, to be replaced by fresh water from further upstream. Mr Syu's letter already pointed out a major difficulty with replicating this scenario for a hypothetical Ubin-Tekong reservoir: damming up an area of sea with the aim of converting all that seawater to fresh water is simply not a sound idea, especially when there are few, if any, rivers to supply fresh water to the enclosed area.

Building pumps to pump out all the seawater will involve great costs, while the cheaper alternative, letting all the seawater evaporate naturally, will take years, if not decades, and will most likely result in a giant saline lake, which defeats the whole purpose of building a reservoir to store fresh water for human consumption. Dumping in large volumes of fresh water to dilute and flush out all the seawater would be self-defeating, especially since the amount of fresh water required would probably exceed the potential capacity of the reservoir.

When reclamation at Pulau Tekong has already become the subject of territorial disputes with Malaysia, and when the issue of Pedra Branca has yet to be resolved, proposing to build such a reservoir so close to international boundaries will surely not sit easily with our neighbours. The Malaysian authorities will be unhappy for another reason: Mr Syu failed to take into account the fact that the proposed reservoir would destroy an internationally important shipping lane. Ships travelling between Pasir Gudang, Sembawang Shipyard, and the rest of the world stand to lose an essential route if the area was dammed up. Are the economic and political risks worth it?

Because the area is currently subject to heavy maritime traffic, dredging is constantly being carried out, and there is also quite a high risk of pollution. What happens if the water in the reservoir gets contaminated? The area also sits right at the mouth of the Johor River, which in recent years has experienced heavy flooding during the December monsoons. There is the chance that heavy rains will wash a mixture of floodwaters and seawater right into the reservoir. And with a sea-level rise due to climate change, or occasional storm surges, there will always be the risk of seawater breaching the dams and infiltrating the reservoir. What are the costs involved in preparing against such occurrences, or in rectifying the situation if such contamination occurs?

Lastly, building such a reservoir will severely impact a number of ecologically significant nature areas that many have come to love. Places like Chek Jawa, Changi Beach and the Pasir Ris mangroves will all be lost forever if such a scheme is ever implemented. These sites, rich in biodiversity, are irreplaceable in terms of their value as part of our natural heritage, and have also become important places for leisure and recreation. Not to mention that damming up the sea will lead to massive die-offs of marine life as the salinity of the water changes, which will present a major pollution problem.

Ultimately, in lieu of all these other points, which the original letter failed to take into consideration, are the great costs involved in constructing and maintaining such a reservoir justified?

There are simply too many costs in return for attaining self-sufficiency in our water supply. We already possess technologies like desalination and reverse-osmosis which can help us achieve this objective, without the potential economic, political and ecological nightmare that would ensue if an Ubin-Tekong reservoir was built. While it is important that we foster an environment that is receptive to new ideas that will help us maintain our competitive edge, it would be advisable that people carry out more research into the viability of their ideas before voicing them out in public spaces like the Straits Times forum.

Ivan Kwan Wei Ming

2 days after my television appearance, I'm making my mark in the papers as well. I guess I'm just stepping up my involvement; if I can't actively contribute by devoting more time towards exploring and guiding in our nature areas, at the very least, I can speak up on behalf of our natural heritage. Besides, it really is important to act quickly to rebut such stupid ideas.

I'm really keen on rallying a group of people to become more involved in writing letters to the press to counteract any silly nonsense. Not to mention the fact that places like STOMP and even the ST Discussion Board are full of people with absolutely deplorable mindsets and attitudes towards nature and the environment, and sometimes it can be quite unbearable and painful to see the insensitivity and stupidity that is on display. It might be a good idea to have more "warriors" to neutralise all the stupid people and raise the collective IQ of these forums.

Oh, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) have also replied to Syu Ying Kwok:

Strategy in place on long-term water supply (mirror)

PUB, the national water agency, thanks Mr Syu Ying Kwok for his letter last Friday, 'After Marina Barrage, Tekong-Ubin reservoir'. The waterway between Pulau Ubin, Pulau Tekong and the mainland is a major shipping lane and there are currently no plans to convert it into a reservoir.

Mr Syu can be assured that PUB has put in place a long-term strategy to ensure a diversified and sustainable supply of water for Singapore. This is known as the Four National Taps, which are water from local catchment, imported water, Newater and desalinated water.

While the Marina Barrage will create a new source of water supply, two other new freshwater lakes are also being developed by building dams across Sungei Punggol and Sungei Serangoon. By next year, these three new reservoirs will increase the water catchment area from half to two-thirds of Singapore's land area. Our third and fourth National Taps, Newater and desalinated water, are also important pillars of Singapore's water supply. Demand for Newater has grown strongly and the fifth and largest plant is now being built at Changi. Newater will be able to meet 30 per cent of Singapore's total water needs by 2011.

But ensuring a sufficient water supply is only half the battle. To provide water for all, PUB calls on all Singaporeans to play their part to conserve water, keep the environment clean to ensure clean water in our reservoirs, and build a relationship with water by enjoying our water resources. We can then have enough water for all uses.

Tan Yok Gin
Director, Policy and Planning