PUB to start studies this year on coastal protection

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Posted March 10, 2020

As Singapore fortifies itself against rising tides that threaten to swallow its coasts, the nation's solutions and strategies will be based on science, with national water agency PUB taking the lead as the national coastal protection agency.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli told Parliament yesterday that PUB will this year embark on coastal protection studies to develop long-term strategies and engineering designs for protecting the most vulnerable segments of the coast, including Jurong Island and low-lying areas between the east and the city.

Singapore's coastal protection plans will be done in phases, starting with these areas, he added.

The expansion of PUB's role beyond storm water management to include coastal protection responsibilities will allow it to tackle inland and coastal flooding comprehensively, he said.

"With this new responsibility, one agency, PUB, will study both coastal and inland flooding holistically and develop models to guide our flood protection response," Mr Masagos said.

As the world warms due to growing amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the climate system is thrown out of whack.

This not only causes ice sheets to melt and ocean waters to expand, contributing to sea level rise, but increases the incidence of extreme weather events.

Singapore is also at risk from more erratic rainfall patterns, such as extended dry spells that dry up reservoirs or bouts of more intense rainfall that could overwhelm drainage systems.

"Good water-demand management is equally important in complementing efforts in water supply," said Mr Masagos, who yesterday also launched Singapore's 2020 water conservation campaign.

Ms Hazel Khoo, director designate of PUB's coastal protection department, told The Straits Times that a variety of factors are considered when prioritising areas for coastal protection.

These include considerations on the potential impact of a flood event, the criticality of assets within an area - such as the presence of airports, economic and industrial districts, the estimated costs of protection measures and opportunities of dovetailing coastal protection strategies with upcoming developments, she said.

"Parts of Singapore which are highly urbanised and highly industrialised, such as the City-East Coast stretch and Jurong Island, have therefore been identified as priority areas for coastal protection," she added.

Even as Singapore looks to fortifying its coast, it will also look for opportunities for urban development and to preserve its green areas, Mr Masagos noted. Reclaiming a series of islands offshore and connecting them by building barrages would create community spaces for Singaporeans and also contribute to water resilience, he said.

But the country will not just employ "hard" engineering strategies to protect its coast. "We will preserve our green carbon sinks and identify nature-based solutions. For example, planting mangroves can both stabilise Singapore's coastline by preventing erosion, while preserving our green lungs and supporting biodiversity," said Mr Masagos.

At last year's National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that $100 billion or more may be needed over the long term to protect Singapore against rising sea levels caused by climate change.

And in his Budget speech on Feb 18, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that Singapore will be setting up a new coastal and flood protection fund within PUB, with an initial injection of $5 billion.

This fund will be topped up subsequently "whenever our fiscal situation allows", Mr Heng said.

Audrey Tan