Punggol Dam blamed for Marina's litter problem
JUDITH TAN The New Paper 28 Jan 16;
Seeing all the rubbish floating in the Punggol marina is almost like a blast from the past.
Styrofoam cups and boxes, plastic oil drums, food wrappers, plastic bags and drink containers blanket the waters' surface.
And it has been happening since 2011 - litter washes up into the marina with the tide and some remains when the tide goes out, said Marina Country Club general manager Derrick Ong.
The litter problem became so bad that the propellers of at least three boats fell off at sea after they got entangled with the trash, he added.
Marina Country Club is on Northshore Drive near Punggol Way and near the mouth of Sungei Punggol in the north-east of Singapore.
At high tide, water from the Johor Strait flows into the river and the marina.
Mr Ong, 46, said the litter problem started when Punggol Dam, located near the club, was built in 2011.
The estuary of Sungei Punggol was dammed to form a reservoir that year.
When there is heavy rain and the reservoir's water level is high, the tidal gates are opened to allow the excess water from the reservoir to be discharged into the sea to prevent flooding.
Mr Ong told The New Paper: "The tide used to flow into Sungei Punggol all the way to Sengkang Community Club.
"Now, with the dam there, the rubbish and silt get collected at the piece of land near the dam. No one cleans it so whenever the floodgates open, the litter is flushed into our waters."
The dam is about a stone's throw from Pier 6, where boats fuel up before leaving the marina.
Mr Ong said high tide brings the litter in and between 1 per cent and 10 per cent of it is left behind when the tide goes out.
The rest is carried out by the tide and the club's employees clear what is left at the top of the ramp at Pier 5.
The rubbish collected every week is enough to fill one skip tank, he said.
Mr Ong said he had several meetings with officers from Public Utilities Board and National Environment Agency and had offered to clear the litter for a fee.
"I asked if $15,000 a month was fair. After all, I would also be charged for waste disposal. They never got back to me after that," he said.
The stench and gunk had an impact on those in the area.
A boat owner, who declined to be named, said: "The water becomes like pea soup. It isn't anything to crow about."
He sent TNP photos he took of the piers and a temporary drain adjoining the marina last November and December to show how bad the situation was.
He said it would worsen during the rainy season as the tide would carry the rubbish through the jetty into the marina where they park their boats.
"When it is low tide, the rubbish collects within the marina and doesn't get washed out. The water in the marina gets caked in and the rubbish often leaves a bad smell," he said.
The boat owner recently had overseas guests and wanted to take them out on his boat.
He said: "I felt ashamed because of the litter and the stench. It wasn't befitting the clean-and-green reputation of Singapore."
Another person affected by the rubbish is skipper of SwiftLady Fishing Charters, Mr Anthony Lee.
Whenever he takes clients out in his two fishing charter boats, he will have to dive into the murky waters to clear pieces of rope and plastic bags from the propellers of his boats before heading out.
"Visibility is bad, but I have to do it," said Mr Lee.
"It's quite dangerous to do this, but it's a good thing I am a strong swimmer. There's just too much rubbish."
Mr Vincent Lim, who runs a wakeboarding business out of Marina Country Club, is looking at moving his business to Sentosa.
"That or move to the Maldives," said Mr Lim, who has been water-skiing and later wakeboarding in the area since he was 17.
He is worried about the contamination in the waters..
"The waters here in Punggol are no longer conducive. My clients might fall sick," said Mr Lim, who is now in his 30s.
TNP approached the relevant government agencies and sent queries on the litter problem on Jan 15.
Boat owners later told TNP that cleaning teams turned up that weekend to drain the water and clear the rubbish.
The boat owner, who did not want to be named, was sceptical.
He said: "The water was drained and the place cleaned, but for how long? I hope this will be for the long term. We will see."
SLA, PUB closely monitoring site
The Punggol Dam acts as a barrier to separate the reservoir from the sea.
This is to prevent flooding in the Punggol area, said the Public Utilities Board (PUB).
"When there is heavy rain and the reservoir water level is high, the tidal gates are opened to allow the excess water from the reservoir to be discharged to the sea. This is to alleviate flood risks in the upstream catchment," said its spokesman, adding that it is not used to flush litter out to the marina.
In a joint reply, Singapore Land Authority and PUB explained that a temporary drain leading to the sea bordering the Marina Country Club was constructed on State land as part of the North Eastern Coast reclamation project.
The project was first announced in Parliament in 1984, to reclaim 875ha of shallow foreshore and swampland at the north-eastern coast of Singapore from Pasir Ris to Jalan Kayu, including Punggol.
"As the location is subject to tidal influence, litter may be brought in during high tides. We will continue to closely monitor the condition of the site and ensure it is regularly cleaned and maintained," the statement said.
The two agencies will also look into measures to reduce the litter brought in by the tides.
"We are reviewing the need for the drain," they said.
The New Paper understands that the temporary drain was part of a drainage system to capture rainfall and channel it towards the sea.
As for the maintenance of common channels, fairways and anchorages, Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it deploys garbage collection and flotsam retrieval craft on a daily basis.
It collects garbage from ships at the anchorages and retrieves flotsam and debris along the common channels, fairways and anchorages.
An MPA spokesman said: "This is to ensure that all vessels will be able to navigate safely within the port and to ensure that the port waters are kept clean.
"However, due to currents, wind and tides, flotsam and debris may be washed towards the shorelines overnight."
MPA said it takes a serious view on and enforces strict regulations against the pollution of the sea within Singapore port waters.
It also said that it is an offence for anyone to litter in Singapore waters
If convicted, offenders can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed up to two years or both.
When contacted, the Municipal Services Office, which coordinates public agencies to work more closely together especially when responsibilities are split, said it is monitoring the issue.
Its spokesman said it will work with the government agencies to ensure regular monitoring and cleaning of the area.
She said: "We will also work with them to put in place systemic arrangements to prevent future recurrence."
During high tide, the water carries litter from the open sea into the marina. The rubbish covers the water surface where the boats are moored at Marina Country Club in Punggol. Between 1 and 10 per cent of it is left when the tide goes out.
The litter problem started when Punggol Dam was built in 2011 to dam the estuary of Sungei Punggol and form a reservoir. Whenever the floodgates open to regulate the water in the reservoir, the litter is flushed into the marina.
Punggol Dam blamed for Marina's litter problem