Friday, April 18, 2008

What's wrong with an Ubin-Tekong reservoir?

On April 18, 2008, Syu Ying Kwok wrote in to Straits Times Forum suggesting that after the Marine Barrage, to make the biggest reservoir ever, we should connect Ubin, Tekong and Singapore together to form the biggest reservoir ever. In fact, Syu esq. wrote that "If we can do this, the volume of this new body of water will be at least twice that of MacRitchie, Lower Peirce, Seletar and the new Marina reservoirs combined."

Sure, as we all know, for Singapore to be fully self-sustainable in water supply is one of our most important national prerogative. In fact, somebody commented on ST Online Forum that "it has been long overdue"! However, are we becoming myopic in our hunt for water?

Do you know where we are talking about? Check out the map. The blue placemarker at the far most left of the map is Sembawang Shipyard. Across is Pasir Gudang. The blue boundary indicates possible ubin-tekong reservoir location. within the boundary is Chek Jawa
View Larger Map

Here are some reasons why having a Ubin-Tekong reservoir is ecologically, politically and logically problematic:

1) Humans can only drink fresh water. The idea of reservoirs is to dam up rivers, which is a source of fresh water, so that we can pool this fresh water together to become a constant reservoir of fresh water supply. The marina barrage was already a problem because it is at an estuary which we have never dammed up before. This means they have to flush out all the sea water from the area before we can slowly let fresh water from further upstream (from Pierce Reservoir) fill up the reservoir. Now if we dam up the sea, where will we get this supply of fresh water to fill up this mega swimming pool? Malaysia?

2) In the first place, would Malaysia sit back and let us build this mega swimming pool at their door step? When the Pedra Branca dispute is not even settled (results out middle or end of May 08), mere suggestions of such a mega infringement of international boundaries is simply unimaginable. Let's not forget the quarrel over Tekong's reclamation.

Aerial view of Tekong Reclamation. Photo by Helen.

3) Why would they be upset you say? Well, you do now that the area between Ubin, Tekong and Singapore happens to be one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world! Ships travel between Pasir Gudang, Sembawang Shipyard and the world. Even if we ignore our neighbors, surely you would not want to kill one of our biggest industry at Sembawang would you? Previously when we wanted to connect Singapore to Ubin and Tekong via MRT line, there was already a big hoohaa. If you look at the google map above, you'll realize that for a ship to want to travel to any of the northern ports and shipyards in Singapore, you'll have to travel through the place where the supposed Ubin-Tekong Reservoir is. We have to keep to our side of the international boundary after all!

Shipping Lane between Sekudu and Singapore. Photo by Juanhui

4) Being a shipping lane, that area is also potentially polluted and constantly dredged. If we think that technology can overcome everything like the Marina Barrage then alright. But how much do you think this venture will cost? If we look at the cost benefit analysis, it'll probably not be justifiable. As a tax payer, I'm not willing to have my money being spent on building another swimming pool which may start a war when there are now a lot more other technologies out there to provide water in a more intelligent way. Yes, we are all about technology but as a Professor of mine said, it is no longer at technology's forefront to build reservoirs to collect water. Desalinization and reverse osmosis is just some of the examples of newer technologies but even those have been circulated for a while now. Besides, with potential sea level rise, a swimming pool out in the sea risk submergence or infiltration of salt water. Once salt water infiltrates the reservoir, do we have to flush out the fresh water and start over?

5) While most people may not care what happens ecologically but let me highlight a few items. If we are to reclaim Ubin Tekong and Singapore, then it's goodbye chek jawa. Goodbye Sekudu. Goodbye dugongs. Goodbye coral reefs. Goodbye mangroves. If that doesn't mean anything to you? Think seafood. We always see fishers off the waters of Ubin because there are fantastic amount of seafood there. Goodbye fish farms off Ubin. We'll now have even lower self-reliance on seafood supply and have to further import from others. Is it a worthy trade off?

Marine life found at Chek Jawa. Photo by WildSingapore.

I hope it becomes more apparent now that there are far more issues than benefits to building such a Ubin-Tekong reservoir. Honestly there are more reasons that I did not mention. Although we are a country that prides ourselves in our ability to overcome anything with technology, you could not begin to imagine what a diplomatic and economic nightmare it would be to create such a monster out in the most sensitive area out in our international boundary.

Sincerely, I hope that Singaporeans will make more informed decisions before speaking out in nationally published newspaper that is also read by many of our neighbors in Malaysia and beyond. How come we don't get positive letters in the Forum pages expounding the beauty of our northern islands instead?! Not news worthy enough?

update @ 12.58pm (18 Apr)
Finally somebody who thought things through posted a comment on ST Online Forum citing Malaysia sensitivities in the Straits of Johor.

update @ 2.26pm (18 Apr)
Ria at Wildfilms talks about the amazing northern shores of Singapore and what individuals like us should do when faced with such dam ideas.

update @ 19 Apr

Ivan K. has submitted a reply to Straits Times Forum. Hopefully it gets published.

Related Reads:

"After Marina Barrage, Tekong-Ubin reservoir" Syu Ying Kwok, ST Forum, 18 Apr 2008
"Singapore and Malaysia resolve land reclamation dispute" Channelnewsasia, 26 Apr 2005
"Singapore: Target - Private housing for a third of the population" The Business Times, 13 Sep 1991
"Singapore opens first desalination plant to cut dependence on Malaysia", AFP, 13 Sep 2005
"Fourth National Tap Flows", PUB, 13 Sep 2005
"Singapore Pioneers New Membrane Technology", PUB Annual Report, 06/07


pinto said...

An idea that has not been thought through carefully. This suggestion should be thrown into an incinerator and buried at Pulau Semakau. No, it's not even worth recycling.

Ivan said...

pinto is right. This is one of the most ridiculous ideas I've heard in a long time. On par with the one suggesting sticking Disneyland in Sungei Buloh.


SD said...

Singapore just happens to have a lot of armchair critics, but they do not know the whole picture. It's difficult to criticise them. It would have been a good idea, if Johore belonged to Singapore and the marine life wasn't as rich there. There are a lot of factors actually that are beyond the grasp of a lot Singaporeans, even though they consider themselves to learned. A certain economics prof comes to mind.

Joseph Lai Tuck Kwong said...

Haha! I want to laugh. I mean, something that is so wildly speculative should appear in our national newspaper! It's so nutty! My goodness, I think I hear my Malaysian friends laughing across the causeway too. They would be saying, 'Huh? world-class education there ah?'. I am embarassed... totally embarassed as a Singapore!

Liana said...

and you wonder how it was even published in the forum. it was either (hopefully) a joke to show how stupid some people are or the editor is a bit vacant in the head.

the person who wrote in is obviously thinking very simplistically. just like how many singaporeans come up to me and say that they would never support SPCA because we "kill animals".

they just never stop to use their brains.

tya said...

nice pict