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  Straits Times 12 Oct 07
Host of steps for crystal-clear waters
Result: an ideal place for leisure and good source of water when reservoir is ready in 2009
By Arti Mulchand

AT THE worksite of the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort, workers busy themselves removing buckets of thick, brown silt from silt traps at the site's periphery.

Elsewhere within the 20.6ha grounds, four water-treatment plants pump away, removing silt from dirty water before it finds its way into Marina Bay, while close-circuit cameras on site, and one more atop nearby Republic Plaza, keep an eye on the situation.

Without such measures, Singapore's skyline could well be fronted by a murky brown bay.

The site is among 338 construction sites in the 10,000ha catchment that feed into what will soon be Marina Reservoir.

Construction companies are among key players in a plan to ensure that when the reservoir is ready in 2009, it is an ideal setting for recreational activities and a good source of water.

That plan has been 30 years in the making, explains MrYap Kheng Guan, director of the 3P (People, Public and Private) Network for PUB, the national water agency.

'It's not as simple as three years and you have a reservoir. There was 10 years of creating the hardware - cleaning up the rivers between 1977 and 1987, and then you have to get rid of pollution sources,' he said.

It was the only way that the 1987 vision of then-prime minister Lee Kuan Yew - of building a dam across the Marina channel to create a freshwater lake - could be realised.

It was not easy, considering that the project draws on Singapore's largest and most urbanised catchment, occupying about one-third of its land area, stretching from Bishan in the north to Katong in the east and Ulu Pandan in the west.

Through the Singapore, Geylang and Kallang Rivers, and the Rochor and Stamford canals, water, and everything in it, will stream into the reservoir, so keeping it clean means having to keep out potential pollution by people and industries.

One way is to stem silt from construction sites, a strictly enforced strategy put in place five years ago.

Other industries that could sully the catchment were also identified and checked for any pollution threat with the help of agencies such as the Housing Board and the JTC Corporation.

Some problems have self-rectified: The planned relocation of 241 motor worshops in Eunos and Defu industrial estates to Kaki Bukit in 2009, for instance, results in a cleaner catchment.

Meanwhile, mitigating measures, such as silt curtains that drop down to the seabed along the rivers, keeping out silt and litter, were put in place - and CCTV sets at the Singapore and Kallang rivers and Marina Bay keep watch that they work.

Repair work is also under way along hundreds of kilometres of sewage pipes that channel away used water in the catchment. Some of the pipes are old and they leak, and used water containing organic matter and nutrients could cause excessive algae growth in the reservoir.

Since 1994, 360km of public sewers within the catchment have been fixed, and since last year, over $150 million has gone into fixing a further 300km of public sewers and 300km of private ones.

The final prong of the plan: making people aware that they determine what goes into the reservoir - junk they drop into drains in Bishan could pop up in Marina - and also getting them to play pollution watchdogs, said Mr Tan.

PUB's complete strategy was put to the test during this year's National Day Parade, held for the first time at Marina Bay. Work kicked in by May: The catchment was surveyed, sources of pollution identified, construction sites briefed and areas with a lot of silt deposits cleared.

Days ahead, silt control measures were checked, and 15 boats scoured Marina Bay and the nearby rivers for flotsam and silt. SMS weather alerts also meant construction sites had all plans in place when the skies opened on the morning of Aug9. By parade time, the backdrop was a sea of blue.

Said Mr Yap: 'It was tedious, but necessary. And because it worked, people are more sensitive to the fact that what they do has an effect on the water.'

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