Taps turned off at NUS as part of water rationing exercise for students

CYNTHIA CHOO Today Online 22 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE — On Thursday morning (March 22), National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate Harith Hakim was greeted by buckets of water in the men’s toilet as he went to brush his teeth and shower before class.

Mr Hakim, 22, who lives in Ridge View Residential College (RVRC), was one of 670 students involved in a 10-hour water rationing exercise held at a NUS residential college for the first time. Organised in conjunction with World Water Day, the 7am to 5pm exercise saw water supply cut off at 27 toilets, 123 shower cubicles and 14 pantries at the college.

Residents were allocated 10 litres of water each to use during the exercise, with the water supplied via buckets and jerry cans.

Mr Hakim said it was a “stark” reminder of how much he had taken running water for granted.

“I was startled to see buckets placed in the toilet in the morning... having to use scoops of water to brush my teeth and shower really made me more aware of how we much take running water for granted,” said the second-year mechanical engineering student.

Minister for Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli visited RVRC on Thursday to observe the water rationing exercise.

The college was chosen to pilot the exercise due to its focus on sustainability and the environment. Under a living-learning programme, RVRC’s students are encouraged to take on a sustainability project every year.

Mr Masagos commended NUS’ efforts on pioneering a water rationing exercise among students, as he said it was one method to cultivate good water conservation habits.

He added: “We have to do that in a safe environment, and the university is one such place. We hope to see this in other institutes of higher learning where in a controlled way, we can implement a water rationing exercise, and students and also staff can participate.”

Mr Masagos also saw a demonstration of the smart shower facilities in RVRC during the tour of the college’s facilities on Thursday.

About 70 smart shower devices were installed in RVRC in August last year as part of a joint study conducted by researchers from the Institute of Water Policy under the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and the Department of Economics at NUS.

The devices provide residents with real-time information on water usage during showers via a numerical display. They can also set water conservation goals, and monitor their water usage history via a mobile application.

Over the four month study, which involved about 350 students, researchers found that each student used about five litres of water less on average during a shower.

Professor Lorenz Goeffer, who was one of the study’s researchers, said that the results were encouraging.

“Even though students don’t have a financial stake in the water they use, they cut down on water usage when they are made aware of how much they use,” he said.

Prof Goeffer said further studies are required before they decide whether to roll out smart showers at other residential colleges and hostels around the campus. He also noted a “slight constraint” as the devices had to be installed on handheld shower heads, and that many are currently fixed to the walls.

The latest Public Utilities Board study on water consumption published last year showed that showers make up the highest water usage in a household.

As part of its water conservation efforts, the water agency will install smart shower devices in about 10,000 new Build-To-Order homes by the end of 2019. The first tranche of 300 flats in Bukit Batok were fitted with smart shower devices last week.

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