Tuesday 17 January 2012

Droughts a bigger worry than flash floods: Vivian Balakrishnan

Features to alleviate flooding woes should store water too, he says
By Kezia Toh, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2012

DROUGHTS are more worrying than flash floods, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday, as Singapore approaches the dry spell of the North-east Monsoon next month.

Changing weather patterns mean that there is a greater likelihood of intense rain - as well as dry spells, he said.

'What is happening to the weather now is greater variability, there are days with very intense rain, and those days of intense rains may be increasing,' said Dr Balakrishnan.

'But it is equally possible, and indeed likely, that there will also be dry spells.'

He cited a drought in the early part of 2010 which affected Johor Baru in neighbouring Malaysia as well as Singapore, which led to a dip in water levels in reservoirs here and in Johor.

'Prolonged drought is something that is of greater worry to me, than a flash flood which can be resolved in 15 minutes to half an hour,' he said.

His comments came as Singapore approaches the dry phase of the North-east Monsoon in February and March, which typically sees fair and occasionally windy days with little or no rain.

That is why recommendations by an expert panel last week to tackle flooding problems should also cater to possible droughts, said Dr Balakrishnan, who was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of Eco Day Out 2012 @ South West, a recycling event organised by the South West Community Development Council, the National Environment Agency and Hong Kah grassroots organisations.

The panel had proposed detention ponds and green roofs to alleviate flooding problems.

These features, said Dr Balakrishnan, can also store water which will be recycled to wash cars and streets, and water the plants, during dry spells.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan also spelled out a timeline for plans to ease flooding woes.

Improvement works at Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza - which bore the brunt of the waterworks in June 2010 and last month - must be completed within three months, he said.

Meanwhile, the decision whether to install a detention pond to solve Orchard Road's flood woes, and where to locate it, should be made in the next six months, he added.

It would require land the size of two to three football fields, and store excess stormwater temporarily, releasing it at a controlled rate to protect downstream areas.

The Stamford Canal will also be scrutinised for any possible increase in capacity, he said.

Last week, the panel advised the authorities to invest in a digital map of land heights, known as a digital elevation map, and said it would have to be accurate to within 10cm to be useful.

Within a year, the beginning of the elevation map should take shape, said Dr Balakrishnan.

But the proposals still need careful planning before they can become reality, he said, counting finances and trade-offs such as land use as factors.

He said: 'It does take some time to make sure we've considered all the factors, and come up with a plan that is realistic, implementable, and one which the public will agree is worth the money that will be spent.'

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