Go with a smile!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Orchard Road Deluge

Somebody told me a funny story. Back in 1984, EW Barker was the minister for National Development. (Actually he was not, I checked and he held that portfolio at some other time, but not 1984. So you have to treat this story as apocryphal). He told the guy in charge of PUB, you know, our reservoirs have a lot of water, so you should buy less water from the Sultan of Johor this year. But the PUB guy was thinking, “what if it doesn’t rain as much this year? What if the water in my reservoirs go all the way down? I’d better be safe than sorry.”

As it turned out, it was the wrong decision, there were a lot of floods that year because there was too much water, and the drainage system couldn’t handle all that. EW Barker got very angry and said, “This !@#$ is better off looking after monkeys since he seems to be one himself”. And so that PUB guy suddenly found himself in charge of the Singapore Zoological Gardens.

Anyway, back to the main story. Floods have been occurring for a few years, not just this year. The monsoon at the end of 2006 had a very heavy rainfall, and the same mistake was made: there was too much water at McRitchie, and when the rain came, there was not enough time to drain it all away. As a result, some places at Thompson Road got flooded. I knew a florist who worked in one of the nurseries near McRitchie (you know that stretch) and she said, “well the PUB has also granted us some of this land, so if you kick up too big a fuss over it, I might not even have it back.”

Last year, there were great floods in Bukit Timah. It was categorised as a “once in 50 years event”. I thought that was particularly stupid. This means that, with the flood at Orchard Road, this is the second consecutive year in which a “once in a 50 year event” has taken place.

Let’s take apart this once in 50 year event bullshit. For the climate that we had for many years up till the 80s, to say that we would have a crazy flood once every 50 years would be plausible. But unless PUB has been living in a hole, they would have heard of climate change. We all know that the weather’s getting shittier all the time. We know that estimates have to change.

Knowing what I do about how things in Singapore work, there was probably at least 1 smart upstart who started challenging the way that you calculated how large you needed the drains to be, and he probably got shouted down by his boss to shut the fuck up and sit down.

OK, so maybe Singapore had a plan to build a great drainage system, and it was meant to last a long time. Maybe 50 years? What happens when things change? What happens when the drain that you thought was big enough suddenly isn’t? Are you going to say, “we spent money on this, we’re not touching it again”?

There are a few things. As expected, we found that debris was lying in the drains and choking up the drainage. Was it because of a lot of civil construction going on? That was what I thought at first. I thought that after they constructed Orchard Central and Somerset 313 they covered up the drain.

But now that I think a little harder, I think it has to do with the Marina Barrage. Because of the Marina Barrage, most of the basin of the Singapore River has been turned into a big reservoir, a big catchment area. And all the water that flows into the barrage has to be filtered. And I think that is where all the debris come from.

So what I think has changed is that all the drainage suddenly has to be filtered. That’s where all the debris comes from. That’s why the drains suddenly stopped working. Well, you know, the PUB has got to get its shit together and do what it’s supposed to do now.



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