Academic journal article Human Organization

Enclave Ecology: Hardening the Land-Sea Edge to Provide Freshwater in Singapore's Hydrohub

Academic journal article Human Organization

Enclave Ecology: Hardening the Land-Sea Edge to Provide Freshwater in Singapore's Hydrohub

Article excerpt

Introduction: Parting the Waters

A global container port with deep harbors in the South China Sea, the island nation-state of Singapore prospers despite limited freshwater sources. Small, densely populated, and tightly governed, Singapore focuses human and financial capital on developing innovative methods for producing an urban aquatic system closed off from the sea. Named "the hydrohub," the system circulates freshwater throughout the built environment. The island's size limits its ability to utilize the abundant rainfall, an abundance which in any case may become less reliable with climate change. Two water treaties with Malaysia, negotiated along with independence in 1965, assure supplementary supplies through 2011 (expired) and 2061. Singapore buys and treats raw water on the mainland and pipes it across the Johor Strait into the hydrohub. A portion of treated water is sold back to Malaysia. The cost of raw and treated water is a matter of some geopolitical tension which strains the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore (for overview, see Lee 2003).

In preparation for the last treaty's expiration and to reduce tensions with Malaysia which have a tendency to find expression through invocation of the water arrangement, Singapore has been experimenting with innovative infrastructure since the 1970s (Lee 2015). Two-thirds of the island's limited land surface has been transformed into a rain catchment basin by canalizing and/or damming all major rivers. The government has named its water strategy "The Four National Taps," signaling the diversification of sources and treatment processes: (1) imported water from Malaysia; (2) rainfall; (3) recycled "used" water; and (4) desalinated seawater. Under the jurisdiction of the Public Utilities Board (PUB), the island-wide hydrohub collects, encloses, processes, and distributes water and also supports an international center for training and experimentation. In short, the hydrohub operates by collecting and storing rainwater mixed with sources from the three other "taps" in inter-linked reservoirs. A pipe and pump network enables balancing of reservoir levels. When floods threaten, the system switches modes, sending excess out to sea. The system effectively produces what I call an "enclave ecology," that is, an anthropogenic-ecological system whose structure and function is defined and designed by law and engineering to a delimited field of action.1

The one major uncontrollable aquatic form disturbing the system is flash floods, which have been increasingly difficult for PUB to manage (personal communication, geographer, May 6, 2013 and PUB engineers, May 14 and 23, 2013).2 In certain trouble spots, flooding can overwhelm the core drainage network, built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, long before the proliferation of impervious urban surfaces intensified runoff. The hydrohub also reverses the traditional intention of water engineering. The main purpose of the original drainage system was to get water out of the city; now the hydrohub needs to slow the outflow down for storage (David Higgitt, personal communication, May 6, 2013). Evolving adaptations in the construction industry, such as built-in holding tanks and rooftop gardens, take some pressure off the drainage network during flood peaks (PUB's Climate Change Group, personal communication, May 23, 2013). Flash floods sometimes cause pedestrians to walk through waist-high water, cars float away from parking spaces, small school children may fall into drainage ditches, and uninsured merchandise on or below ground level stores may be ruined. Flash floods present public relations problems for the government. Each flash flood challenges governmental effectiveness at water management, gives the citizenry a rare opportunity to express vocal criticism, interrupts the pace of commercial exchange, and undermines the city's global reputation as a first-class tourist and shopping destination.

Climate change will probably intensify flash flooding in Singapore. …

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