Best of our wild blogs; 3 Aug 15

The awful sight of trash in the Sungei Pandan mangrove
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Rare coastal horseshoe crabs (Tachypleus gigas) badly entangled by discarded fishing lines at East Coast Park
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

crested goshawk @ JEG-Aug2015

ICCS 2015 Organisers’ Workshops: Why and how do we conduct coastal cleanups?
News from the International Coastal Cleanup Singapore

Orange Awlet (Burara harisa consobrina) @ Yishun Avenue 1
Monday Morgue

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'Unprecedented' low levels of water at key Johor reservoir of concern: Vivian Balakrishnan

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan says the water levels at the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor are at about 55 per cent of normal levels, which is "unprecedented" since the reservoir started its operations in 1995.
Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia 3 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: A critical component for Singapore to import water from Malaysia, the Linggiu Reservoir, is facing an all-time low in water levels and this is a source of concern, according to Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (Aug 3).

The Linggiu Reservoir in Johor improves the yield of water from the Johor River, where Singapore imports its water. Water from the reservoir is released downstream, to push back sea water intrusion. This process allows Singapore to extract up to 250 million gallons of water per day and, without the Reservoir, it would not be possible for the sea water to be pushed back.

Dr Balakrishnan said the water levels at the reservoir are at about 55 per cent of normal levels, and this situation is "unprecedented" since the Reservoir started its operations in 1995. There have been 77 occasions this year when national water agency PUB was unable to extract water from the Johor River due to low levels of water upstream at the Linggiu Reservoir.

Imported water makes up about 60 per cent of its total water consumption needs. The Linggiu Reservoir is operated by PUB.


However, Dr Balakrishnan added the situation, though of concern, is not a cause for alarm, as Singapore's NEWater and desalination plants have been functioning at 90 per cent capacity to make up for the situation.

He said he does not see water restrictions in the foreseeable future, although this may be revisited if water levels do not show signs of improvement. This could mean imposing regulations on unnecessary watering of plants or the washing of vehicles.

Dr Balakrishnan added water rationing is not on the cards as of now.

- CNA/dl

Dry weather affecting water supply from M’sia: Vivian Balakrishnan
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 3 Aug 15;

JOHOR — The reservoir in Malaysia that enables Singapore to reliably draw water from the Johor River is at an unprecedented low of about 55 per cent and Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan today (August 3) expressed concern and called for the public to conserve water.

Speaking during a visit to Linggiu Reservoir in Johor, Dr Balakrishnan said that water restrictions — such as halting the running of water features for aesthetic reasons — are possible if dry weather continues, but does not envisage water rationing.

Water from the Linggiu Reservoir is released into the Johor River to enable water to be drawn. The Johor River supplies up to 60 per cent of Singapore’s daily water needs (410 million gallons a day) and is the largest of Singapore’s “four taps” that also include desalination and NEWater.

Singapore has to draw more from its other taps if it is unable to draw the maximum 250 million gallons a day from the Johor River, as allowed under the 1962 water agreement with Malaysia.

Both Singapore and Malaysia have experience drier weather this year. Singapore’s rainfall in the first half of the year was 25 per cent lower than average. The El NiƱo weather phenomenon could bring drier and warmer weather in the second half of this year.

When completed in March 2016, the Johor Barrage across the Johor River will keep saltwater out during dry seasons and allow Singapore and Johor to draw its full capacity even during dry seasons.

But with climate change and more extreme weather, the reliable yield of the river will be affected.

Water supply from Johor ‘hit by dry weather’
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 4 Aug 15;

JOHOR — With the reservoir that enables Singapore to reliably draw water from the Johor River at a historic low, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan today (Aug 3) called on the public to save water and warned that restrictions could kick in if the situation worsens. These could include banning the unnecessary watering of plants or the running of water features for aesthetic reasons.

The Linggiu Reservoir in Johor receded to about slightly more than half (54.5 per cent) of its capacity today (Aug 3), the lowest in its 20-year history. Water from the reservoir is released into the Johor River to prevent saltwater intrusion from the sea into the river, as salty water cannot be treated by the water plant further downstream. This enables Singapore to draw a maximum of 250 million gallons per day from the river allowed under the 1962 water agreement between Singapore and Malaysia.

Writing on Facebook, Dr Balakrishnan, who visited the reservoir today, noted that Singapore is in a “much stronger and secure position now” thanks to its investments in desalination and NEWater over the decades. However, it should never take things for granted, he said.

“Water has always been an existential issue for us since independence 50 years ago... We have to constantly be aware of potential problems and prepare well ahead of time,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

He added: “No other country has pursued water security with such a single minded focus on such a scale. Without these investments we would be in a very precarious position.”

The Johor River is Singapore’s source of imported water and supplies up to 60 per cent of Singapore’s daily water needs. Linggiu Reservoir’s levels have not recovered since the dry spell early last year and that has become a concern, said Dr Balakrishnan. The previous low was 63 per cent in May 2010. There have been 77 occasions this year where the PUB was temporarily unable to draw water from the river due to salinity intrusions caused by tide levels.

A new NEWater plant will be completed by next year and a third desalination plant will be completed in Tuas in 2017, boosting capacity by 80 million gallons per day. Desalination and NEWater are expected to meet up to 80 per cent of water demand in 2060. Speaking to reporters at the Linggiu Reservoir, he called these two “national taps” an insurance policy developed over the last two decades - they are “the reason why I can be concerned but not alarmed”, he added.

Singapore’s rainfall in the first half of this year was 25 per cent below average and PUB has also kept water levels at the Republic’s reservoirs high by running desalination and NEWater plants at almost full capacity, as another buffer.

Sufficient rain brought by the North East Monsoon at the end of the year could reverse the falling trend, said Dr Balakrishnan, who was at the reservoir today with PUB chief executive Ng Joo Hee and other officials. But the El Nino weather phenomenon predicted by weather experts could mean more dry weather for Singapore and Malaysia in the months ahead.

Water restrictions would be the next step if the situation worsens, but Dr Balakrishnan said water rationing is unlikely in the “foreseeable future”. “For now, all I’m asking for is water conservation,” he said.

Singapore has buffer capacity through desalination and water recycling, which can provide for up to 55 per cent of water needs.

The Linggiu Reservoir is built and operated by Singapore but owned by the State of Johor. It began operating in 1995 and is part of a 1990 agreement between both countries. The Johor River serves both Singapore and Johor and has a catchment area roughly twice the size of Singapore.

The Malaysian government is building a barrage across the Johor River to keep out saltwater intrusions during dry seasons and allow the full capacity of the river to be drawn even during dry spells. The Johor River Barrage is expected to be ready around March next year. But with climate change and more extreme weather, the reliable yield of the river will be affected.

Among other ways, households can save water by taking shorter showers and using water from the washing-machine rinse-cycle to flush the toilets and mop the floor, according to the PUB.

Johor reservoir's water level at historic low
Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 4 Aug 15;

Dry weather has led to a sharp decline in water level in an important reservoir which helps supply water from Malaysia to Singapore, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday. The water in the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor has been steadily depleting due to prolonged dry weather in Malaysia and has now reached a historic low of 54.5 per cent of the reservoir's capacity.

Dr Balakrishnan said this is cause for concern, especially as it affects Singapore's ability to draw its full 250 million gallons entitlement from Malaysia's Johor River.

Under a 1962 agreement, Singapore can draw up to 250 million gallons of water a day from the river. This can meet up to 60 per cent of the Republic's current needs.

In 1994, Singapore built the Linggiu Reservoir upstream of the river, so that it can collect and release rainwater to push seawater back into the sea, ensuring Singapore's water supply. But since the start of this year, national water agency PUB has had to stop drawing water from the river temporarily on 77 occasions, due to seawater intruding from the sea into the river.

A weather phenomenon called El Nino is also expected to lead to even drier weather than usual for Singapore and Malaysia for the rest of the year, which will further affect the water supply from the river as well as Singapore's own reservoirs which store rainwater. If the situation continues to worsen, Singapore may have to restrict some uses of drinkable water, such as for washing vehicles and floors, said Dr Balakrishnan at a media briefing at the reservoir.

He added, however, that water rationing is not on the cards. Singapore has been keeping its own reservoirs healthy by ramping up water supply from its seawater treatment and Newater plants. "The key point that I want to share is that we are concerned but there is no need for alarm," said Dr Balakrishnan, even as he urged Singaporeans to do their part by using less water.

Reservoirs here healthy due to higher production
Carolyn Khew and Feng Zengkun, Straits Times AsiaOne 4 Aug 15;

Singapore's reservoirs may be quite full but that is because national water agency PUB has been ramping up its water production from Newater and desalination to almost full capacity, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

In fact, Singapore's rainfall, which is the main source of water for reservoirs, in the first half of this year was 25 per cent lower than average, due to drier- than-usual weather.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore's water supply from Malaysia has been affected by recent dry weather.

If the dry weather continues, water restrictions may have to kick in although the Government is not about to implement water rationing. "This means that PUB will say certain things are not permissible, for instance, unnecessary watering of plants and landscaping with potable water," he said, adding that the use of drinkable water for vehicle washing and to clean up floors might also be restricted.

Dr Cecilia Tortajada, a senior research fellow from the Institute of Water Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said that while the situation may be worrying, it is not alarming.

"Singapore has been aware for several years of the challenges associated with climate change either within Singapore or in the catchment area of the Johor River... Infrastructural projects are being planned and will be implemented, which is the right decision," said Dr Tortajada. "A main challenge, however, will be to make water use much more efficient in Singapore, making use of pricing and non-pricing mechanisms."

Singapore's agreement to obtain water from Malaysia ends in 2061 and plans are already afoot to ensure that the country can meet up to 80 per cent of its water needs through treated seawater and Newater by 2060.

By next year, the Malaysian government will build a barrage across the Johor River to better secure Malaysia's and Singapore's supply of water from the river.

By then, Singapore would have completed building another Newater plant - its fifth. Another seawater treatment plant to be completed by 2017 will be able to produce up to 130 million gallons of water a day from seawater, up from the current maximum of 100 million gallons a day.

The plants will ensure that Singapore can meet up to about 70 per cent of its water needs using treated seawater and Newater, which are not affected by the weather, unlike water from the Johor River and captured rainwater.

During the event, Dr Balakrishnan also urged Singaporeans to be mindful of their water usage.

"We have to conserve water with the dry weather... Fortunately we are in a secure position because of the investments and insurance policies we have bought for Singapore but do not take the climate and weather for granted," he said.

Use less water, urges minister
Feng Zengkun, New Paper AsiaOne 4 Aug 15;

Singaporeans have to start conserving their water use even more because dry weather is affecting the country's major source of water, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

The Republic can draw up to 250 million gallons of water a day, or up to about 60 per cent of its water needs, from the Johor River in Malaysia.

But this is only possible because the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor releases water into the river, preventing seawater from intruding into the river.

Since last year, water levels in the reservoir have been steadily depleting, and have now reached a historic low of 54.5 per cent of its capacity.

Singapore's national water agency PUB has already had to stop extracting water from the river temporarily 77 times this year.

An El Nino weather phenomenon is also expected to lead to even drier weather than usual for the rest of the year, which will further affect the water supply from the river as well as Singapore's own reservoirs which stores rainwater.

If the situation continues to worsen, Singapore may introduce water restrictions, such as banning the use of water jets to clean common areas, said Dr Balakrishnan at a press conference at the reservoir.

He added, however, that water rationing, will not be necessary for now. This is because Singapore has been keeping its own reservoirs full by ramping up water supply from its seawater and used-water treatment plants.

"The key point that I want to share is that we are concerned but there is no need for alarm," said Dr Balakrishnan, even as he urged Singaporeans to do their part by using less water.

Several infrastructural projects in the next few years are also expected to help Singapore.

For one thing, the Johor River will be dammed by a barrage by March next year to stop seawater intrusion.

Singapore will also finish building another used-water treatment plant by next year, and another seawater treatment plant by 2017.

Once those plants are up and running, Singapore will be able to meet up to about 70 per cent of its water needs using treated seawater and used water, which are not affected by the weather, unlike water from the Johor River and captured rainwater.

Treated seawater and used water supplies up to 55 per cent of water needs here now.

Singapore's agreement to obtain water from Malaysia ends in 2061.

By then, the Republic is expected to meet up to 80 per cent of its water needs through treated seawater and used water.

PM Lee watching Singapore's water stocks closely
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong notes that Linggiu Reservoir is only half full due to prolonged dry weather.
Channel NewsAsia 5 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged those in Singapore to conserve water, in light of "unprecedented" low levels of water at Linggiu Reservoir in Johor.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday (Aug 5), Mr Lee said he is watching the country’s water stocks closely amid celebrations for Singapore’s Golden Jubilee, and noted that Linggiu Reservoir is only half full due to prolonged dry weather.

On Monday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan visited Linggiu Reservoir and said the Government is very concerned. The reservoir is key to Singapore’s water supply, and there have been 77 occasions in 2015 thus far when national water agency PUB was unable to extract water from the Johor River due to low levels of water upstream at Linggiu Reservoir.

Imported water makes up about 60 per cent of Singapore’s water consumption needs. The Linggiu Reservoir is operated by PUB.

“If the dry weather continues and Linggiu Reservoir is emptied, PUB will be unable to draw all the water we are entitled to from the Johor River,” PM Lee said.

Mr Lee added that following a visit to Linggiu Reservoir in 2012, he decided to build more NEWater and desalination plants to make Singapore’s water support more resilient. “One more NEWater plant will be completed next year, and a third desalination plant in 2017,” he said.

“In Singapore, water will always be a precious resource. Never take it for granted, or waste it. Please do your part to conserve water,” said Mr Lee.

- CNA/dl

PM Lee urges Singaporeans to conserve water
The water level in Johor’s Linggiu Reservoir, which helps supply water from Malaysia to Singapore, at 55 per cent in August 2015.
AsiaOne 5 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE - Water levels at the Linggiu Reservoir in Johor has fallen to record lows, leading Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to urge Singaporeans to conserve water, following Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's warning on Monday.

The Linggiu Reservoir is a key reservoir which enables Singapore to draw water from the Johor River.

PM Lee cautioned on his Facebook page that the Public Utilities Board will be unable to draw all the water from the Johor River if the dry weather continues and Linggiu Reservoir is emptied.

The Linggiu Reservoir ensures that the Johor River can provide 250 million gallons per day for Singapore, Dr Balakrishnan wrote on his Facebook page on Monday.

"In fact, the probable onset of the El Nino dry spell means this is likely to drop further, compromising our biggest source of water," he added.

Imported water makes up about 60 per cent of Singapore's water consumption needs.

PM Lee visited Linggiu Reservoir in 2012 and decided to build more NEWater and desalination plants, to make our water supply more resilient.

"One more NEWater plant will be completed next year, and a third desalination plant in 2017," PM Lee wrote. Singapore currently has four NEWater plants.

These additional capacities will ensure that about 70 per cent of Singapore's water needs can be met using treated seawater and Newater then.

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Singapore 2.0: Lee Seeks Smart City Revamp as Old Model Ebbs

Sharon Chen Bloomberg 3 Aug 15;

Roads filled with driverless cars, every home linked with fiber-optic cable, gardens in the sky, shining towers of scientists creating the future. Singapore is at it again, trying to plan the next leap up the development ladder.

For 50 years, Singapore has punched above its weight class, thanks to a run of political stability, long-term planning, transparency and openness to investment. Along the way, the tiny Southeast Asian nation turned from a center of colonial administration and trading into a major container port, an oil-refining hub, an electronics manufacturer, and a banking center.

Now as the nation passes the half-century mark on Aug. 9, Singapore’s challenges have evolved. Its founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, died this year, and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is betting billions of dollars on a “Smart Nation” plan to take the city state to the next level. His task is to take a nation where more than 45 percent of the resident labor still do non-professional jobs like cleaning and staffing assembly lines, and turn it into a global center for research and innovation.

If he succeeds, the country could become a model for other advanced nations that share similar problems -- rapid immigration, reliance on imported low-cost labor, an aging population, lackluster productivity, and rising social and health care costs.

“This is ultimately a long-term vision, there is still a significant proportion of the local labor force that may not have the necessary skill set,” said Irvin Seah, a Singapore-based economist at DBS Group Holdings Ltd. who was part of a government-wide economic review in 2001. “We have often been a test-bed for many interesting economic development policies.”

Speed of Development

A glimpse of that vision can be seen in Jurong Lake District, a 360-hectare development area in the island’s west where the government has installed more than 1,000 sensors to monitor and control everything from vehicles to trash cans. The sleepy fringe of the city is being transformed into a second central business district, with shiny waterfront condominiums, a new Science Centre and the terminal for a planned high-speed railway to Kuala Lumpur.

“Singapore has changed completely, the government does things very quickly,” said Ho Soon Chye, a 60-year-old security officer who earns S$7 ($5) an hour guarding a Chinese temple in the city’s financial district. “But things are so much more expensive. It’s hard for those who don’t earn a lot, and there are more foreigners taking our jobs.”

Ho’s generation grew up in a nation where people’s lives visibly improved under the iron control of a government that made policy for almost every major industry and venture in the state. To make the transition, Lee needs to make the island’s workers more efficient and more innovative and that may mean relaxing that control.

Growth Model

“The Singapore growth model will have to move beyond the institutional strength of the government to human capital,” said Deyi Tan, a Singapore-based economist at Morgan Stanley. “Although the high level of government involvement has been an important feature of the growth model, it increases the economy’s vulnerability to potential policy group think and erroneous sector bets.”

Recent attempts that focused on attracting capital, rather than investment, have had mixed results. The nation has become a regional center for wealth management. The opening of two casinos after ending a four-decade ban boosted growth to a record in 2010.

At the same time, the influx of wealthy foreigners helped widen the nation’s income gap to among the biggest in developed countries, while casino gaming revenue from high-end players have tumbled after a crackdown on corruption in China.

Smarter Organization

Meanwhile, Singapore’s traditional pillars of growth are cracking. Electronics exports have repeatedly declined in recent years, labor productivity fell for a fourth quarter in the first three months of the year and the economy contracted the most since 2012 in the quarter ended June 30.

The latest economic restructuring began in 2010 and has focused on slowing the inflow of cheap foreign labor and urging companies to produce more with fewer workers.

“We will stop talking about productivity and start talking about efficiency,” said Wai Ho Leong, a Singapore-based economist at Barclays Plc. “It’s about smarter organization of the existing resources. The economy is now diverse enough to support pushing into more interesting areas.”

Tech Parks

In Singapore, those areas have gleaming tech parks with names that announce their focus -- Mediapolis, Biopolis, Fusionopolis -- which have lured entrepreneurs from overseas to help turn the city into a cauldron of innovation.

“I was a huge critic of Singapore, I felt there was no freedom of expression and in innovation that’s very important,” said Saibal Chowdhury, an Indian national who decided not to move to Singapore 16 years ago while working for Hewlett-Packard Co. in the city. “I see the opportunity now and that’s the difference Singapore has made.”

His startup, Urbanetic, gives city planners in poorer municipalities access to 3D-imaging for urban planning, and is awaiting approval on a S$500,000 convertible loan from the Singapore government. In many cases, the government is trying to step back and become a facilitator and investor, rather than trying to drive the innovation.

Maturing Investors
“In the 90s they may have wanted to do the investment themselves,” said Kay-Mok Ku, a partner at venture capital firm Gobi Partners who helped manage a S$500 million interactive digital media fund in 2006. “Today we see them more maturing as an ecosystem builder.”

Venture capital deals in the nation increased to $454 million in 2013 from $12 million in 2007, according to Morgan Stanley.

Lee’s administration committed S$16.1 billion to research and development from 2011 to 2015, a 20 percent increase over the previous period. Vertex Venture Holdings Ltd., a unit of state-owned investment company Temasek Holdings, has spent more than $1.2 billion investing in more than 350 startups as well as venture capital and private equity funds globally. Temasek in July announced a joint $200 million venture debt financing fund with United Overseas Bank Ltd.

Growth Sectors

“Our future will depend not only on adapting and perfecting what has been done elsewhere, but more and more on creating value in Singapore -- through new skills and technologies, original business solutions and a spirit of experimentation in society,” Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in a speech on Monday.

Advanced manufacturing, applied health sciences, smart and sustainable urban solutions, logistics and aerospace, as well as Asian and global financial services can help drive the city’s growth in the coming years, the Singapore Economic Development Board said in an e-mailed response to questions. Its corporate investment arm, EDBI, is pursuing opportunities in sectors including digital health, energy efficiency, the Internet of Things and Robotics, the unit said.

“We are starting from a position of strength with global leaderships in multiple sectors,” the EDB said. “To take us to the next stage, we will have to grow our innovation capacity by leveraging the capabilities of our local small and medium enterprises and forging deeper collaborations between local and international companies.”

Great Experiment

To bring its Smart City ambitions to fruition, the government partnered with Dassault Systemes as part of a S$73 million project to create a virtual 3D copy of Singapore so government agencies, citizens and businesses can develop urban technologies. The company is banking on Singapore to prove Smart Cities can be a reality.

“People don’t believe, they have to see,” Dassault Systemes Chief Executive Bernard Charles told reporters on July 16. “Many countries and cities of the world are looking at Singapore as a great experimentation.”

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From open sewage to high-tech hydrohub, Singapore leads water revolution

ALISA TANG Reuters 3 Aug 15;

SINGAPORE, August 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Fifty years ago Singapore had to ration water, and its smelly rivers were devoid of fish and choked with waste from shipbuilding, pig farms and toilets that emptied directly into streams.

But it's a very different story today. The world's most densely populated country now collects rainwater from two-thirds of its land, recycles wastewater and is even developing technology that mimics human kidneys to desalinate seawater.

"In about a lifetime, we have transformed Singapore," said George Madhavan, an engineer who has worked for the national PUB water agency for 30 years and is now communications director.

"It's not rocket science - it is more political will ... The key success factor is really government - the leadership to pull different agencies together to come up with a plan ..."

As governments around the world wrestle with water crises from droughts to floods, many are looking to the tiny Asian city-state of Singapore for solutions.

In many countries, a flood prevention agency focuses on quickly draining away storm water, while another manages drinking water.

In Singapore, PUB "manages the entire water loop", Madhavan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Its aim is to capture every drop of rain it can and recycle as much used water as possible.

"That means that ideally, we don't sell you water. We rent you water. We take it back, we clean it. We're like a laundry service. Then you can multiply your supply of water many, many times," Madhavan said.

"The water that you drink today is the same water that dinosaurs drank. We don't create or destroy water. It just goes around. So we are using engineering to shorten the loop."


Following independence on August 9, 1965, the new 700 sq km country relied on three reservoirs and water imported from neighboring Malaysia.

Today, it collects rainwater through an 8,000-km drain network that empties into 17 reservoirs, and reclaims used water from a deep tunnel sewerage system up to 60 meters below ground.

Singapore, which is recognized as a global leader in water technology, set up a water planning unit in 1972. Unlike Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, it does not have land outside the city to act as huge catchment areas.

Eleven government agencies joined up from 1977 to 1987 to clean the heavily polluted Singapore River and Kallang Basin in the main commercial area.

The city relocated 610 pig farms and 500 duck farms (later barring such farms), transferred 5,000 street hawkers to food centers, and moved boats east to the Pasir Panjang area.

Madhavan said the biggest challenge was relocating 46,000 squatters living in squalid conditions without sewers into housing blocks.

More than 260 tonnes of rubbish were removed, the area was landscaped, and in 1987, fish returned to the waters.

Worried about pollution, authorities initially kept people away from the waterways.

"We even had warning signs about crocodiles (which had been spotted in the reservoirs) to keep people away," Madhavan said.

Singapore has since shifted its stance, opening waterfront areas such as Marina Reservoir, where people kayak, bike and fly kites against a backdrop of the city's highrise skyline.


Singapore's "four national taps" supply 400 million gallons each day for 5.4 million people.

The island's two natural sources are rain and, through an agreement that expires in 2061, up to 250 million gallons per day from Malaysia's Johor River.

As climate change makes nature's sources less reliable, Singapore is focusing on its reclaimed and desalinated water taps.

NEWater, introduced in 2003, is the name for used water from the sewerage system, treated and further purified through microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection.

Meeting 30 percent of demand, NEWater is potable but mainly used by industries and during the dry season to top up reservoirs. Singapore aims for NEWater to meet 55 percent of demand by 2060.

The island's first desalination plant opened in 2005, and desalinated water meets a quarter of demand.

Desalinated water and NEWater are fairly independent of the weather but on the downside, require more energy to produce, Madhavan said.

Conventional reverse osmosis requires 3.5 to 4 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to squeeze seawater through a membrane to make 1,000 liters of freshwater.

Singapore is now building a demonstration plant to scale up tests on electrochemical desalting, which uses an electric field to pull salt out of seawater. Madhavan said PUB hopes to halve energy use.

University researchers are also developing "the holy grail of desalination" - technology that imitates the kidneys, he said.

"This will take some years ... They more or less understand how the kidney works to do desalting. But it's now how to engineer it, how to build it, the enzymes that are key to this process."

(Reporting by Alisa Tang, Editing by Emma Batha.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit

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Malaysia: ‘Hot zone’ near Kuantan?

ALIZA SHAH New Straits Times

KUANTAN: THE fallout from uncontrolled and unregulated mining of bauxite in Pahang may be unleashing deadly radioactive material into the environment, contaminating the air and water sources.

This disturbing finding was made after the New Straits Times Special Probes Team commissioned an independent laboratory analysis of samples taken from a river and its estuary nearby that had been contaminated by bauxite residues.

The samples were obtained in Sungai Pengorak and Pantai Pengorak, near Kampung Selamat, where the waters had turned deep, dark red, instead of its natural green or azure hue. The photos created a buzz on social media recently, sparking concerns of a major contamination crisis.

Like most ores, bauxite contains traces of metals such as arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel and naturally-occurring radioactive materials, such as thorium and uranium.

Most of these elements remain with the residue, and that is why many countries which mine bauxite for the extraction of aluminium, do it with sound extraction, disposal and rehabilitation processes.

Pahang Public Amenities and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Soffi Abdul Razak, however, was quick to downplay the concerns. On May 26, he declared that the so-called “red sea” phenomenon was not harmful to humans or marine life.

Soffi said analysis conducted by the state Environment Department (DoE) showed that waters near Tanjung Gelang, which had apparently been contaminated by bauxite washed up from the stockpile in Kuantan Port after recent rains, were free of heavy metals.

The results of the independent analysis by the NST Probes team, however, contradicted the findings by the state DoE. Our results, which came from samples taken five days after Soffi’s announcement, showed that not only had the uncontrolled mining resulted in the areas being contaminated with heavy metals, they also detected early stages of radiation contamination.

Four samples, two each from Sungai Pengorak and Pantai Pengorak, showed traces of thorium-232, thorium-230, uranium-234, uranium-238, and high levels of aluminium.

Thorium is a radioactive metal that is usually found in rocks and the soil. In the form of dust, thorium if inhaled, will remain in the lungs for a long time, while some may enter the bloodstream and be deposited in the bones. Inhaling thorium dust increases the risk of developing lung, pancreatic and bone cancers.

Uranium is highly radioactive and is used as a source of abundant, concentrated energy through nuclear fission. It can enter the body through inhalation, swells and cuts in the skin. Radiation poisoning can lead to cancer, or kidney and liver damage. In the long run, chronic ingestion of uranium through food, water or inhalation can lead to internal irradiation or chemical toxicity.

Bauxite ore contains 30 to 50 per cent hydrated aluminium oxide, making it the main source of aluminium. In its natural state, bauxite ores contain significant levels of natural radiation due to the presence of uranium (U-238) and thorium (Th-232). The levels of U-238 and Th-232 can range from 120 to 350 becquerel (Bq)/kg and 450 to 1,000 Bq/kg, depending on the ore.

However, there is a threefold increase in radionuclide content if the bauxite is in the form of “red mud” — the main solid residue that is the by-product alumina. This material contains iron, silica and titanium that have been removed from the digestion process.

Geochemistry and marine radiochemistry expert Professor Dr Che Abd Rahim Mohamed was presented with the lab results, and using the standard set by the World Nuclear Association, confirmed the initial stages of radioactive contamination as presented by the samples.

The NST had, in October last year, carried an exclusive report on the discovery of large deposits of bauxite in the vast oil palm plantations of Felda Bukit Goh. The settlers were told by mining companies in meetings to explain their proposals that they would each be able to rake in up to RM1.8 million in profits.

The NST was then made to understand that the discovery of bauxite deposits in the settlement was made by a company that tested the earth in the 1980s. However, the aluminium ores were not fully matured then and the company abandoned its plan to mine the bauxite.

Months before the aggressive mining activities began, the state Land and Mines Department said permits could be issued only after approval from the state executive council. The landowners were told that only they could apply for permits to unearth the aluminium ore.

The rules spelt out included that they must submit a consultant’s report, how it would be transported and how the by-products would be disposed off.

‘Long-term exposure will put villagers’ health at risk’
New Straits Times 3 Aug 15;

KUANTAN: The poorly-regulated mining of bauxite near here has resulted in the contamination of nearby waterways with heavy metals.

The results from a different set of laboratory analysis indicated high concentrations of aluminium in Sungai Pengorak, which recorded 0.7miligramme/litre (mg/l), 0.2 mg/l above the permissible level, placing it in the fifth-class of the National Water Quality Standards for Malaysia — the worst possible.

KUANTAN: Radioactive contamination from the aggressive mining of bauxite in Pahang will put local communities in danger.

Geochemistry and marine radiochemistry expert Professor Dr Che Abd Rahim Mohamed said the early stages of radioactive contamination in Sungai Pengorak and Pantai Pengorak, near Kampung Selamat, were exposing villagers to health risks.

“Prolonged exposure to polluted water and red dust from bauxite mining can increase the risk of developing cancer.

“As we breathe, residues from the bauxite will fill our lungs and create blockage, and can lead to cancer.

“There is a serious risk to marine life, too.

“The red dust will clog the gills of fish, causing them to suffocate and die.”

Rahim said the effects of overexposure to the red dust that contained radioactive elements (surface elements) would be known only when it affected the skin, respiratory system and genes.

“The Asian Rare Earth plant in Ipoh, which was closed down when the radioactive waste was proven to be hazardous to the public, is a good example.

“There are cases of people who live near the area who suffered genetic defects that led to stunted growth.”

Rahim said the nutrient-rich run-off from bauxite would enter waterways, triggering a bloom of harmful microalgae in the area.

“A high concentration of iron will encourage microalgae to bloom.

“Fish and other marine life will eat the toxic microalgae, causing them to be contaminated as well.

“Prolonged consumption of contaminated marine life will expedite the effects of radioactive and heavy metal poisoning in humans.

“We have cases in Sabah and Kelantan, where people were poisoned after eating marine life contaminated by microalgae bloom.

“Bathing in waters with a high content of microalgae will also cause itchiness,” he said, adding that the abundance of nutrients would attract jellyfish to the area.

Rahim said iron and manganese sediments from bauxite would settle on top of shellfish, such as cockles, and disrupt their respiratory process.

“Photos (taken by the team) showing hundreds of dead cockles at the seashore prove that the sea was heavily polluted due to mining activities.
“The dark red colour is also one of the signs that the water had been contaminated with iron.”

Tengku Mahkota of Pahang Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah recently raised his concern over illegal bauxite mining in the district and urged the authorities to take action against the culprits.

He said lax enforcement had resulted in illegal miners becoming bold and greedy.

Expert: Halt mining until pollution plugged
New Straits Times 3 Aug 15;

Samples taken from Pantai Pengorak, near Kampung Selamat, also showed alarming amounts of total suspended solids (TSS) at 462mg/l and turbidity at 174NTU, which explained the sea’s muddy condition. The reading, according to the Malaysian Marine Water Quality Criteria and Standard, showed that the water quality at the port and oil and gas rigs off Pahang were much better.

Water expert Dr Zaki Zainudin said the laboratory results were consistent with the murky appearance of the water at the source.

“TSS and turbidity levels at the coastal zones are definitely much higher than the ambient levels. The elevation of the TSS and turbidity in the water usually stems from sediment transport (earth, soil) either due to erosion or other activities.

“We are looking at only one aspect of the adverse impact. There may be others as well,” he said, adding that more studies and analysis should be carried out on the polluted areas.

Zaki said mining activities at the affected areas should be halted altogether until the sources of pollution were plugged, and proper mitigating and management measures were introduced.

“If indeed the contamination is the result of mining activities, appropriate measures, such as the implementation of a comprehensive Erosion and Sediment Control Plan, must be carried out before we see further damage. The effectiveness of the control measures should then be further assessed through continuous monitoring of the ambient water quality (river and coastal).”

Zaki’s points were echoed by geochemistry and marine radiochemistry expert Professor Dr Che Abd Rahim Mohamed, who asked the authorities to build a sedimentation pond to trap the bauxite residues.

“They need to prepare several settling ponds that can accommodate the bauxite residues and rainwater. The water can be released only after the sediments, which contain toxic materials, settle down in the ponds.”

Another environmental expert, who declined to be named, said the “red sea” phenomenon and poor road conditions near Kuantan Port were evidence of poor management not by the operators only, but also the port management.

“The miners should conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and among the things that they need to control is the dispersion of dust.”

The EIA would require them to determine the wind direction as part of the controlling measures.

“From there, the mining companies will need to come up with a mitigation plan to stop the dust from settling in residential areas,” the expert said, adding that lorries transporting the ore should also be properly sealed.

The expert added that the bauxite stockpiles kept at Kuantan Port, which he believed to be the cause of contamination in Sungai Pengorak, should be properly covered to reduce sediment run-off.

“Berms must be built around the stockpile. From the photos (taken by the NST team), it is clear that the berms are not designed for this purpose, that is to trap rainwater mixed with bauxite sediment from flowing into other water sources.”

Mining companies, he added, should have a system at each site where every lorry leaving the area would first have to pass a wash area to prevent sediments from being tracked off the site.

Water, fish contain high level of arsenic
ALIZA SHAH New Straits Times 5 Aug 15;

KUANTAN: DO not consume fish or other seafood from water sources contaminated with bauxite and its residue!

Public health experts have warned those here that the water sources where bauxite had seeped in were heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals, some with carcinogens.

The desperate call stemmed from the independent laboratory test results commissioned two weeks ago by the New Straits Times Probes Team on live fish samples obtained from Pantai Pengorak and Sungai Pengorak here.

Tests were conducted for metal concentration in fish from the Gebeng coastal area that had been contaminated with bauxite.

The NST received the test results late on Monday and were shocked by the readings.

The most disturbing reading was the arsenic level. The Food Regulation 1985 states that the permissible level for arsenic in fish and fishery product is 1mg/kg.

The mean reading for arsenic in the three fish samples that were submitted for the test was 101.5mg/kg, very much higher than the permissible level.

In the first sample (Fish 1), the trace of arsenic was at 70.8. Fish 2 registered 93.2, while Fish 3 was at a staggering 104.5.

“We don’t eat fish by the gramme. Imagine the levels of carcinogens being consumed in one serving,” said a scientist assisting the Probes Team in analysing the results.

Environmental health expert Professor Dr Jamal Hisham Hashim said the public should avoid consuming seafood harvested from the area as the high concentration of arsenic in them could cause cancer.

“The level of arsenic is way above the permissible limits and this poses a danger to those who consume them or are exposed to the contaminated water.

“Arsenic and nickel are two elements that can cause cancer.

“The concentration of these heavy metals would be higher in fish that had been in the water for a longer time,” he said. (The fish that were obtained as samples were only the size of a palm.)

“Contaminated smaller fish that are fed on by larger species would also result in increased levels of toxicity in the larger animal.

“This is because the larger animal is not only being contaminated through its exposure from the water, but also from the heavy metals in the smaller fish that they feed on.”

Jamal said the state government must move in quickly to mitigate the risks the public here are facing.

It is crucial, he said, that the Department of Environment and state Health Department establish the source of contamination and issue a red alert to fishermen to stop fishing in areas contaminated with bauxite.

The authorities, he said, must make sure that the fish were not sold to the public as they would not be able to tell whether the fish were contaminated or not.

“As long as the reading for heavy metals in the areas remains above the permissible level, fish and other seafood sourced from the areas cannot be sold or consumed,” he said.

The lab results also showed high traces of other heavy metals, including iron, zinc, copper, nickel and lead.

This startling find by the NST Probes Team showed how pollution from unsustainable bauxite mining here is exposing residents to health risks that go beyond dusty roads — from radiation poisoning, to the dangers posed by carcinogens in the water sources and food chain.

Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer in the skin, lungs, bladder and kidneys.

It can also cause other skin changes, such as thickening and pigmentation.

Exposure to arsenic by inhalation can also cause lung cancer. The likelihood of cancer is related to the level and duration of exposure.

Exposure to nickel can result in lung, nose, larynx and prostate cancers.

Other health risks include lung embolism, respiratory failure, birth defects, asthma and chronic bronchitis, heart disorders and allergic reactions, such as skin rashes.

Meanwhile, environmental experts who expressed their concerns about the lab results said the state government must be transparent in publishing its analysis of heavy metals, which it publicly said had been carried out.

“Those with knowledge will know that high levels of heavy metals found in marine life contaminated by bauxite will automatically mean that the water is highly-contaminated.

“We are curious to know as they had earlier declared the water to be safe,” said one expert based here, adding that even if the water turned clear from the reddish colour that it was, the fish there could not be consumed as they would still have traces of heavy metals in them.

Samples taken from bauxite mining area
ONG HAN SEAN The Star 6 Aug 15;

KUANTAN: Samples have been taken from the Sungai Pengorak area here to be tested for radioactive contamination allegedly caused by bauxite residues.

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob said the results would be known in about a month’s time.

“The Department of Environment (DoE) and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board have already collected water, earth and bauxite samples from the sites. They have been sent to Dengkil for analysis but the findings can only be established one month from now,” Adnan told reporters after the state exco meeting here yesterday.

He said the DoE had reported that water samples collected from Sungai Pengorak and the nearby sea contained pollutants that exceeded acceptable standards.

Adnan also said the state government was not in denial of the issues raised but for the time being, bauxite mining operations would still be allowed to continue.

“There have been some improvements to bauxite mining activities ever since we issued strict orders.

“However, we cannot take the drastic measure of cancelling all of the mining licences outright because these activities contribute to the economy,” he said.

Adnan was responding to a news report alleging that unregulated bauxite mining had released radioactive materials into the environment.

The latest report contradicted state Public Amenities and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Seri Mohd Soffi Abd Razak’s earlier statement that samples from the same sites did not contain heavy metals hazardous to life forms.

Mohd Soffi said his previous statement was based on the results of a test conducted following the “red sea” incident on May 14.

“The Environment Department took samples from Sungai Pengorak and Pantai Pengorak as well as lorry wash troughs in the area. It was sent to the Chemistry Department for analysis, which did not find any traces of heavy metals.

“The Fisheries Department also confirmed that dead fish found on the beach were actually thrown overboard by fishermen who sorted out their catch while still at sea,” he said

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Indonesia: Rp6b needed to cope with drought in Yogyakarta

Slamet Susanto, 2 Aug 15;

The Yogyakarta Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) has warned that the budget it needs to respond to the drought in the province will amount to Rp 6 billion (US$444,000) this year.

“It’s an on-call budget that is ready to use at any time. We have proposed the budget to the Yogyakarta administration,” BPBD Yogyakarta chairman Gatot Saptadi said on Sunday.

He said such funds, which were agreed during a coordination meeting on drought anticipation attended by representatives of regional disaster mitigation agencies in Yogyakarta, would be used to cover various drought-readiness measures such as clean water supplies.

Gatot further explained it was probable that the dry season in 2015 would lead to a drought emergency because according to Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) data, there would be a long dry spell this year.

“We have increased the alert status of drought crisis in the province [to level 3],” he said. (ebf)

Storm Damages Bogor Homes as Indonesia Prepares for Prolonged Drought
Dry season could last until November due to El Nino
Vento Saudale Jakarta Globe 1 Aug 15;

Bogor, West Java. Heavy rains and strong winds damaged at least 67 homes in Bogor district or Friday and briefly refilled water reservoirs, as President Joko Widodo convened key ministers to discuss tackling the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon, which could postpone the arrival of the rainy season until November.

Already, a number regions across the country are experiencing droughts, reported on Friday, such as parts of Java, South Sulawesi, Lampung, East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara. Parts of these regions haven’t seen any rain since May.

Besides dwindling supplies of water — for people as well as crops – prolonged droughts also heighten the risk of wildfires.

The Indonesian dry season usually doesn’t last beyond October.

No casualties were reported in Bogor, but families whose homes were destroyed had to find shelter with relatives or in local government buildings.

Bogor, nicknamed the City of Rain, had experienced a lengthy drought before Friday’s rainstorm.

The city of Bogor in West Java, to the south of Jakarta, had been longing for some rain. (Antara Photo/Arif Firmansyah)
The city of Bogor in West Java, to the south of Jakarta, had been longing for some rain. (Antara Photo/Arif Firmansyah)

Budi Aksomo, an official with the Bogor Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD), said roofs had been blown away, but that the extent of the damage was still being calculated.

The official called on people to remain vigilant, as winds can be particularly strong when it rains hard during the dry season.

Water levels at the Katulampa Dam, on the Ciliwung river, rose dramatically during Friday’s rainstorm, but had dropped by Saturday, on official at the dam confirmed.

In Jakarta on Friday, Joko stressed the need to protect farmers and fishermen from the impacts of El Nino, a phenomenon caused by high sea water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific ocean, which affects air pressure and the weather in various parts of the globe.

Coordinating Minister for the Economy Sofyan Djalil, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Indroyono Soesilo, Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti and Minister for Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning Ferry Mursyidan Baldan were present at the meeting with the president.

“We’re looking for solutions, particularly with regard to our vigilance in the face of a number of hotspots that could spark forest fires, which we have to watch out for,” Joko was quoted as saying by “The most important is how we can safe or farmers and our fishermen.”

The president has already instructed Agriculture Minister Amran Sulaiman to send water pumps to the hardest-hit areas and in the longer term Joko plans to increase the number of water reservoirs to better prepare the country for dry spells.

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