Sunday, 2 March 2014

Dry spell: S'pore has 'margin' of water safety

Country's water technology ensures sufficient supply, says minister
By David Ee, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2014

THE prolonged dry weather is expected to continue for "at least another two or three weeks", Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

But while "we cannot be sure how prolonged this dry spell will be", he reassured Singaporeans that the country's water technology means it will be fine "no matter how long this goes on, whether the next few weeks or the next few months".

Singapore's investments in desalination and Newater - high grade reclaimed water - are paying off, he said at a school event at Marina Barrage, "giving us a safety margin which today we are tapping".

These two sources together are able to meet 55 per cent of the Republic's water demand - about 400 million gallons a day (mgd) on average - regardless of how much rain falls.

Because of this, he does not currently foresee a need for water rationing, which was last seen here during a drought in the 1960s. He also ruled out cloud-seeding, saying it would have little effect on an island as small as Singapore.

Reservoirs and water imported from Malaysia are Singapore's two other sources of water.

The Republic has seen barely any rain over the past 11/2 months, in one of its longest-ever dry spells. National water agency PUB is now pumping 35 million gallons of Newater a day into reservoirs to maintain water levels.

Even so, Singapore's water technology "is not limitless", said Dr Balakrishnan. He stressed the importance of conserving water, noting that daily consumption has gone up by about 4 per cent during this period.

The immediate plan is to reduce consumption.

PUB is issuing 25,000 advisories to heavy water users, while households will be given water-saving tips. Town councils will also be told to use less water for cleaning.

"We do need to conserve water and to understand that the good fortune that we have now has not come cheaply, has not come easily," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Singapore's demand for water is expected to double to nearly 800 mgd by around 2060. The second agreement to import water from Malaysia expires in 2061.

The minister added: "You only need to look at the region to understand that people are suffering and are having to confront this brutal reality (of water shortage). It is a good reminder for us that we need to prepare well in advance."

Across the border, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor have already begun rationing water, and Johor could soon follow as Malaysia endures one of its longest dry spells in years. A draft United Nations report yesterday also warned that the droughts hitting the region could reduce crop harvests and cause food prices to spike.

Already, the price of palm oil, the world's most-used edible oil and one of the most important crops in South-east Asia, is surging as the weather hampers production.

PUB calls for water to be conserved amid dry spell
It has sent advisories to heavy users, and will be planning roadshows
By David Ee, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2014

NATIONAL water agency PUB has been urging businesses and home owners to use less water, as Singapore goes through one of its longest periods of dry weather.

In the past two weeks, PUB has begun to issue 25,000 advisories to heavy water users such as shopping malls, hotels, wafer fabrication plants and landscaping firms.

The advisories urge them, for example, to clean areas using water only when necessary, reuse water for non-drinking uses whenever possible, and to switch off water features like fountains.

It has also sent advice to nearly 400 home owners with high water consumption, offering tips such as taking showers within five minutes, putting thimbles on taps, and washing vegetables in a filled sink rather than under a running tap.

In the coming weeks, it will organise a series of roadshows in schools and malls to press home the message of water conservation.

PUB 3P Network director George Madhavan noted that Singapore now has 17 reservoirs compared to just three in the 1960s, and "a more diversified" water supply with Newater and desalinated water.

But, he said, "We do not know how long this dry spell will last. All of us have to play our part to conserve water and make every drop count."

Singapore has seen barely any rainfall since the middle of January, apart from isolated and brief showers earlier last month.

Town councils are also being asked not to use water unnecessarily for cleaning, by cutting down on the use of water jets.

At least one town council has taken heed. Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC Zainal Sapari wrote on Facebook yesterday morning that he has asked the town council to suspend the monthly block washing.

"(A) dirty block is an irritation but using precious water for this purpose is not wise given the dry spell we are experiencing," he wrote.

Meanwhile, The Straits Times understands that the National Parks Board has, for several years, stopped the routine watering of most plants in order to conserve water.

But to help newly planted saplings and significant trees, such as Heritage Trees, cope with the dry weather, it has started watering them with water that is not meant for drinking.

"Certainly, as far as the grass is concerned, we will have to let it go brown," said Minister for The Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday morning.

"We can't afford to pour... water just to keep our lawns looking green. We will have to accept a certain amount of dryness, a certain amount of brownness even."

Every drop of water is precious, he added, and the dry spell is "a stark reminder" of that.

He called on Singaporeans to conserve water in everyday activities, such as when taking a shower or washing clothes.

"We can and we should conserve water," he said.

"If we all do our part, there will be no disruption to our lives."

Landscape firms and farms feel the blues
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2014

AS A rare spell of dry weather here persists, grass has turned brown and farmers and landscapers are feeling the blues.

Farmers are turning to tap water as their reservoirs run out quickly, but this also means higher utility costs.

"There is no rain water to replenish our reservoirs, they are almost dry," said Mr Alan Toh, 50, director of Yili Vegetation & Trading in Kranji. "We need to mix tap water with existing reservoir water to water our plants."

His vegetables - including caixin and xiao bai cai - need to be watered more often to ensure they survive. But this has raised his utilities costs by about 40 per cent in the last month.

"We have to cut back production," said Mr Toh, whose farm can produce up to nine tonnes of vegetables a month. "If this continues, how will farmers survive?"

Nearby plot Farm 85 is in the same bind. "None of us wants to use tap water - it's expensive. But in this case, we have no choice," said owner Tan Koon Hua, 45.

The water situation is so dire that farmers from the Kranji Countryside Association (KCA) met PUB representatives yesterday to ask for help.

The national water agency offered them non-potable water, or untreated water, at 25 cents per cubic m, excluding transportation. While this is much cheaper than potable water, farmers said this did not help.

"We thank PUB for their generosity, but when you add in trucking costs for the water, the solution is just not feasible," said Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim, chairman of the KCA, which represents nearly 40 farms in the Lim Chu Kang area.

She hopes PUB can waive fees such as the water conservation tax instead for the time being.

Landscaping businesses too are feeling the heat.

At Island Landscape & Nursery, workers have been scrambling to water the plants in condominiums and private gardens where it has projects. It sees operating costs rising by about 20 per cent but will "do its best to cope", said senior manager of production Bipin Krishna.

The dry weather may mean withering bottom lines for some, but a few bright spots remain.

"My mango tree, frangipani and bougainvillea are flowering like crazy. They like dry heat," said Mrs Singh-Lim.

The weather has also led to "unusually heavy" flowering among yellow flame trees in Singapore, said Nature Society president Shawn Lum.

Chairman of the Landscape Industry Association (Singapore) John Tan hopes landscape firms will share water resources.

"The Met service says the dry weather would persist into the first half of March. We are praying for a miracle," he said.

Drought could raise food prices: UN report
The Straits Times, 1 Mar 2014

KUALA LUMPUR - The drought parching Singapore and swathes of Malaysia and Indonesia could raise food prices, slow economic growth and disrupt water supply in the region.

A draft United Nations report yesterday warned that global warming will reduce the world's crop production by up to 2 per cent every decade and wreak US$1.45 trillion (S$1.83 trillion) of economic damage by the end of the century.

The warning came as the region continues to cope with the impact of the dry spell.

Water rationing in and around Kuala Lumpur will be expanded, with 300,000 households expected to experience cuts for the whole of March.

Singapore, which had a record 27 consecutive days without rain from Jan 13, is preparing for the dry spell to persist into the first half of this month.

In Indonesia's Riau province in Sumatra, officials declared a state of emergency as forest fires blanketed the region in haze.

Farmers are using the dry weather to clear land for farming through burning.

In Thailand, where 15 provinces covering 2,667 villages have been declared as emergency areas battling water shortages, farmers have been urged not to plant the third crop after they harvest their second crop this month.

The drought's fallout may escalate to slower economic growth from just "discomfort" if it continues, Malaysia's international trade minister said yesterday.

The price of palm oil, the world's most-used edible oil and one of the most important crops in South-east Asia, is surging as the weather hampers production.

"The impact will be on growth and inflation," said Mr Leong Wai Ho, Singapore-based senior regional economist at Barclays Investment Bank. While he does not forecast a wave of plantation layoffs, higher prices may hurt consumers in the region.

South-east Asia is under the influence of the North-east Monsoon, which brings dry and stable air from the South China Sea and lessens the likelihood of rainfall.

"February is the driest month for Singapore," said assistant professor of geography Winston Chow at the National University of Singapore. "What is not normal is the length of the dry spell."

The region's countries join Australia, Brazil and the United States among nations battling drought.

Some parts of Indonesia, however, are grappling with floods, including the main cocoa-growing region of Sulawesi. Coffee shipments from Indonesia may drop 17 per cent this year to the lowest since 2011 as rain cuts output.

Meantime, the UN draft report said the planet's crop production will decline by up to 2 per cent every decade as rainfall patterns shift and droughts batter farmland, even as demand for food rises at a projected 14 per cent.

The document is the second volume in a trilogy by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.



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