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  The Straits Times, 11 Jul 05
Taking care for good fun at reservoirs
By Alexis Hooi

AS A child, Mrs Kelly Groshong would visit Henry Hagg Lake in the north-west American state of Oregon, splashing in the clear waters or picnicking on its lush green shores. These days, the 28-year-old day-care provider continues that tradition with her charges once or twice a week. Mrs Groshong said: 'It's beautiful here. And we make sure it's not messed up by clearing our trash before leaving.'

It is a responsibility most of the more than 600,000 annual visitors to the lake have adopted, so that all who go there can enjoy it. Hagg Lake was one of four stops in a recent visit by officials of the Public Utilities Board (PUB) to the United States.

The 10-day trip provided an insight into how residents and civic groups took ownership of the water resources. That is of particular interest to the authorities here as Singapore opens its reservoirs for more recreational activities while trying to keep its drinking water supplies pollution-free.

The 457ha Hagg Lake covers almost one and a half times the area of Sentosa. It was created when a dam was built across a tributary of the area's major Tualatin River in the mid-1970s. It serves more than half a million people.

A quarter of its water is used for drinking, while the rest is for flood control, irrigation and industrial purposes. Non-profit groups and government officials work together to organise, participate and support recreational water activities at the place.

It has at least eight kinds of fish, including two popular varieties which end up on the table - the smallmouth bass and yellow perch. Angling ranks as the top leisure activity at the lake. Other popular ones include swimming, boating and water-skiing.

Oregon Bass and Panfish Club vice-president Don Davis said its 300 members and most other anglers stick to the one bass a day limit on how much they can catch. The 58-year-old said: 'People here are very civic conscious and understand the regulations. It's the only way to preserve the lake and meet the needs of the different interest groups.'

Non-profit groups like Stop Oregon Litter And Vandalism also engage more than 80,000 volunteers a year to remove rubbish from the lake, among other public places. Oregon parks supervisor Chris Wayland, 55, said: 'The idea is to provide stewardship and empowerment to people for their water, which is what draws them here.'

In the eastern state of Massachusetts, the users of Boston city's Charles River have also adopted the waterway, even though the water from the river is not used for drinking. A dam was built across it to control flooding in the area, creating a freshwater basin. People now row, sail, boat, windsurf and canoe within a 15km stretch, with minimal regulation by the authorities.

Mr Charlie Zechel is the executive director of Community Boating Inc, a non-profit group that rents its 140 boats for sailing and runs other watersports programmes on the river. He explained that the various stakeholders steer clear of each other's areas by constantly communicating via radio. 'This is just the way you've got to operate here, to have a share of what belongs to the community,' he shrugs. Massachusetts' director of planning in the department of conservation and recreation, Ms Julia O'Brien, said of the authorities' role: 'We're just the primary steward.'

In both Oregon and Boston, citizens agreed that there has been little urging by officials to care for their environmental resources. People just got together and started doing what they felt was right.

The kind of ownership displayed by the two communities is one that the Singaporean authorities would like to see as they make water resources more accessible. So far, kayaking for the public is available at the MacRitchie and Bedok reservoirs.

With the opening of at least six other reservoirs in the pipeline for recreation, they would like to see people playing an active role in sustaining the supply and quality of the country's water.

The stance comes as Singapore's plan to secure its water supply chugs along steadily on course. About 90 million litres of Newater a day are now piped to about 100 customers like wafer fabrication plants and commercial buildings, through three plants at Bedok, Seletar and Kranji. More than 18 million litres of the water - reclaimed from used water - will go into reservoirs to end up as drinking water this year. That is more than 1 per cent of Singapore's daily consumption. In six years' time, the amount is due to go up to almost 46 million litres.

By the end of next year, however, Singapore will already be supplying the nation with almost 114 million litres of Newater a day. Most of this will be for industrial use. By 2011, the PUB intends to turn out 250 million litres of Newater daily, or more than 15 per cent of Singapore's total water demand.

The treated water will supplement two of Singapore's other 'national taps' - imported water from Johor and the country's first, state-of-the-art, desalination plant. This $200 million plant in Tuas, slated to open later this year, is expected to meet a tenth of Singapore's daily water needs. That is more than 136 million litres of water a day, or enough to fill about 55 Olympic-size swimming pools.

In two years' time, the Marina Barrage - a $226 million dam built across the Marina Channel to create Singapore's 15th reservoir - will be ready. This will increase the flow of Singapore's fourth water tap, by expanding the island's water catchment area from half to two-thirds of its area.

The downtown reservoir will also be a focal point of the PUB's efforts to have the public enjoy and appreciate the country's water resources. PUB director Yap Kheng Guan said the reservoir will offer many recreational opportunities which will help Singaporeans value, and demand that they conserve, their water resources. 'It's a unique project that will also check floods in the city,' added the 53-year-old.

But the public will need to take ownership of it if it is to serve all the purposes the PUB has in mind for it, he stressed.

The chairman of environmental group Waterways Watch Society, Mr Eugene Heng, also believes the opening of reservoirs to the public must be accompanied by greater respect for such resources. The former bank executive leads close to 100 volunteers who clean up waterways like the Singapore, Kallang and Geylang rivers at least once a week. They can haul out about 4,000 pieces of rubbish in just one year.

The 56-year-old said: 'There's still a lot that needs to be done to educate ourselves on keeping our waters clean. 'This is particularly necessary, as once you start opening up the reservoirs and other areas for recreation, it's going to be hard to close them to the public again.'

Waterways Watch website has more about their work
Related articles on Re-creation in our wild places and water issues
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