Not possible to eliminate flash floods?

20131102-221315.jpg In the 60s and 70s, floods were common then. Whenever it rained heavily, it’s bound to flood all over Singapore. In those days, Potong Pasir was the worst. You needed a sampan to move around during the monsoon season towards end of the year. I remember living in a zinc and wooden kampung shack at Lorong Ternak near to Kaki Bukit area when I was still a little boy in the early 70s. My home would be flooded after a heavy rainstorm. We were worried and afraid whenever it rained heavily.

With PUB massive investments on drainage infrastructure, the problem was eventually solved. Floods were unheard of during the 90s until recently. It seems that after Orchard Road was flooded few years ago, floods in Singapore are getting frequent and becoming a norm. Only recently when AYE had to be closed for traffic due to flooding. Now they are saying, “Not possible to eliminate flash floods”. Expect more flash floods in future. In other words we have come full circle. We are now back to those early years in the 60s and 70s? What is happening? Is it really so? Citing external forces beyond one’s control such as climate change and rising sea level is always the easiest to exonerate responsibility and negligence.

Before I go on to discuss about recent flooding happening in Singapore, let us look at a simple experiment or illustration. If you just take a pail of water and pour it out on the field or soil, the water will just disappear away without any trace. The soil readily absorbs the water. Now if you pour the same pail of water onto a cement or concrete floor, where would the water go? The water would be running about or remain on the cement floor surface. You could see that the water is still there. If there is a drain nearby, the water would flow into the drain. The water would just stay there if there is no drain to allow it to flow away. If you multiply or magnify this simple illustration by a million times i.e. instead of one pail of water, we now have millions of pails of water simulating a heavy tropical downpour on a huge area of concrete cement floor instead of an open field, park or natural forestry; what would happen? My dear readers, this is exactly what is happening to our beloved country!

Every available piece of land or rather inch of our 710 square km is turned into either condominiums, HDB flats, shopping malls, highways, etc. Except for small catchment areas in the heart of Singapore and pockets of undeveloped land, all available land is now in the process of converting into a huge concrete jungle. The PM announced during the last NDR that Paya Lebar airport will make way for more flats. Soon the open space at Tampines North will also be converted to housing estates. What about the old Bukit Brown cemetery at Mount Pleasant / Thomson Road will also make way for another highway. They even plan for another cross island rail or highway cutting through the catchment areas destroying what little greenery is left. My readers, all these planned developments are to cater to the 6.9 million people living on this tiny piece of rock. Massive urbanization without any thoughts on supporting infrastructure’s ability to cope. That is the problem.

If you are still not convinced of the above illustration, let us take a look at Orchard Road. About 3 years back, Orchard Road which is our prime tourist belt and shopping heaven was turned into Orchard River. Images of flooding affecting business especially those basement shops are still vividly etched on my mind. Those exposed green umbrellas of Starbucks with water covering all the tables and chairs were shocking images. It never happened before. Why did it happen – or is it a once in 50 years rare phenomenon?

For those old enough would recall that there was a big piece of empty field with an open carpark beside a huge monsoon canal just opposite the Post Office along Killiney Road. The same place now stood Orchard Central building. The canal is now covered underneath the huge shopping mall. They don’t call “monsoon canal” or “monsoon drain” for nothing! But we have here the world’s first covered monsoon drain. They are so enterprising to utilize this piece of prime land by building a huge shopping mall to reap huge profits and dividends rather than waste it by leaving it empty. Alas, Mother Nature does not function that way. The wrath incurred by Mother Nature translated into that worst Orchard Road flooding.

The above example is replicated all over the island. Barely 6 years ago; around year 2007, the entire stretch of Pasir Ris Drive 1 from Pasir Ris Drive 3 to the Esso petrol station was empty land running parallel to Tampines Expressway. Today, 4 condominium estates are completed. One EC which is opposite the Esso petrol kiosk is still under construction and the other one is on the way. It’s now condominium estates all the way without any more open spare or field. What about the intensive building activities opposite Pasir Ris MRT station. Another piece of empty hill is now being leveled getting ready for another condominium. As if not enough, the other green corridor of vast empty pockets of land along Pasir Ris Drive 3 near to Drive 12 and Drive 10 just a short distance away from the beach are all cleared for more condominium estates and an international school. Every piece of available land is quickly cleared and building construction immediately follows. It’s a vibrant booming town with so much construction going on in the usually sleepy neighborhood. It’s getting crowded. Soon ERP gantry points will have to be erected along Pasir Ris Dr 1 to prevent and regulate traffic jams.

10 years ago there was a huge green forestry opposite Tanah Merah MRT station on Bedok North side That was leveled resulting in at least 4 or 5 new condominium estates. A standard 1000 sq ft normal unit costs easily more than a million dollars. It’s better to reap huge profits than to let it go vacant to waste is the only mindset. Never mind incurring the wrath of Mother Nature. They are now going to the other side of Tanah Merah MRT station (Bedok South side) to repeat what they have done to the Bedok North side.

Next example is the latest flooding at Chai Chee. Pls refer to the newspaper report. If you take a look at the massive construction going on at the old Bedok Bus Interchange, you should understand the full impact. The open field next to the old Bedok Bus Interchange is now used as a temporary Bus Interchange. Without the open field to absorb the rain water in a heavy downpour coupled with the old existing drainage system and maybe choked waterways, floods happened. Chai Chee is already a low lying area prone to flooding but this time it was worst due to the cementing of the open field for the interim bus interchange resulting in the water not able to be absorbed to the ground. That’s my observation. I hope I’m proven wrong.

My neighbor; a retiree who spent his entire life in the construction industry told me as I’m writing this post at the Residents’ Corner of my block; that he was a director in a construction company. Their only pre-occupation was to make tons of money. According to him, they would grab all projects then announced bonuses even before the building project even started based on projected profits. When I asked him about our recent flooding problem, he declared that like other infrastructure breaking down in Singapore due to the sudden surge in population, “they did not co-ordinate” the drainage infrastructure properly. Meaning that the relevant authorities did not pay enough attention to it – not that they did not do anything at all. There is a difference between the two statements.

That guy who spent all his life in the construction industry gave me that simple analogy of the differences of a pail of water pouring on a field and cement floor which I elaborated above. According to him, it’s pure common sense. No need rocket science to understand the logic. But then, people especially capitalists are often blinded by greed that they do not see what we commoners – the suffering lot could see and connect the dots!

Now that the PM has announced that Paya Lebar airport, Tampines North open space corridor are earmarked for more compact and tiny HDB flats, I shudder to think of the implications. Will they dig deeper and bigger drainage canals to replace those open field forestry? Can they cope with bigger and heavier more frequent thunderstorms due to weather change and rising sea level?

Many would want us to blame climatic changes and rising sea level leading to our flooding problems. I would only subscribe partially to that view. To a certain extent, we are also to be blame like what my neighbor pointed out earlier. Like all other infrastructure not able to cope with the sudden surge in population, flooding is one of them in terms of upgrading drainage infrastructure. The lack of hospital beds, squeeze in public transport, frequent breakdown of public transport, high housing costs, nearly $100,000 COE, $6 ERP charges etc are all due to “lack of co-ordination” when so much immigrants came into our small tiny country over the last 5 to 10 years. This is the sad truth and we are now paying the price.

Shin Min published a news article yesterday (31 Oct) reporting that during the second heavy flooding in Chai Chee in the afternoon of 29 Oct, a 3-year-old boy was rescued by his father.

Chai Chee was earlier already flooded on 28 Oct due to a heavy downpour (‘PUB: Not possible to eliminate flash floods‘).

On 29 Oct, heavy downpour had caused multiple places in the east side of Singapore to flood. Chai Chee Road, New Upper Changi Road and Bedok South Ave 1 were all flooded. Most serious flooding occurred at Chai Chee Road in Bedok.

A resident, Mr Tay, told the reporter that Chai Chee Road is frequently flooded after a heavy downpour. Flooding at the place has occurred more than 10 times over the past 3 years.

Mdm Sim, another resident, said that at about noon, heavy flooding trapped 2 cars, 1 taxi and 1 lorry at Chai Chee. The vehicles were half immersed in the water as the water level rose.

She said, “One of the drivers, about 40 years old, saw how dangerous the situation has become and immediately grabbed his 3-year-old son to escape. He carried his son and forded across the water to reach a nearby factory.”

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin acknowledged the flooding situation at Chai Chee is “quite bad”. He wrote on his Facebook page [Link] on 30 Oct:

“As for the Chai Chee Rd/ New Upp Changi Rd junction area, we’re discussing with PUB and LTA to see what else can be done to deal with the flooding issue there. It’s quite bad when there is intense rain.

Will try and address this issues or to at least ameliorate the effects.”

In another Facebook posting, he wrote today (1 Nov) that he had a detailed meeting with PUB, NEA, LTA and Town Council to look into the flooding problems in the East side. He said:

“We were briefed on situation, what happened and why, what was in place and what will be happening. We also went to take a look on site. Will visit a few more this weekend.

I have asked them to package the info and will push it out to the public once ready. It is instructive to note what has been already done, and what is in the pipeline, so to speak.

Work has been done in a number of areas and it is encouraging to note that the situation was ok. For affected areas, we’d take interim measures where we can while the formal solution kicks in. We’d speed things up where possible but some of these are quite major efforts.”

As a temporary measure to alleviate the flooding problems at Chai Chee, a pump had been put in place. The contractor is supposed to be on 24/7 standby to activate the pump once heavy rains come. Judging from the flooding on 28 and 29 Oct, Mr Tan said that there was clearly a need for another pump. A second one was put in place yesterday (31 Oct). He added:

“These are interim measures. Road will be raised about 150mm so that cars should be able to clear the waters. We should get this done by end of year. Drains will be widened and deepened. Probably by first quarter of 2014 at Chai Chee Street.”

However, he did acknowledge that communications need to be improved so as to be able to provide timely assistance on the ground:

“Pre-emptive effort (i.e, installing pump) which helped some though not enough to ensure no flood. But area is quite a basin. So they (PUB) have added another. We have some loose ends we are also tying up in terms of comms so that we can provide more timely assistance on the ground. Will see how that pans out. Key is road raising and drain works (by PUB).”

Still, PUB is not confident in eliminating flash floods. On 28 Oct during a media interview, Chew Men Leong, chief executive of PUB, said, “Despite our best efforts, I think it’s not possible for us to eliminate flash floods.” Link

About Gintai_昇泰

I'm a Chinese Singaporean living in the Eastern part of Singapore. I tweet on current affairs & inspirational quotes. I blog on issues or events if they interest me. I write for pleasure. I also write mainly for my family and friends.
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21 Responses to Not possible to eliminate flash floods?

  1. patriot says:

    Just a personal observation that there were no man-made canal or even widening of any existing rivers. Was and is aware of dredging of rivers to deepen them which does not help in water discharge and draining when the tide is high.
    I do not understand why canals are not built despite the history of floods. Or for the Matter, why rivers are not widen when the land is been developed to capacity. Could it be that no money can be made from building them?
    Or could it be that occassional pondings do not warrant the need to build waterways to prevent them as they are not damaging. Only some little inconveniences when pondings happen which hardly affect those in ivory towers.
    There seems to be more businesses when pondings happen. Car towing companies and workshop, maybe even car dealers benefit. Goods destroyed have to be replaced, repaired or re-ordered. Affected places have to be cleaned up, all generating businesses. Good for the economy too. Quite an opportunity to some folks.
    Singaporeans may have to get use and bear with ponding, over crowding, contagious infection, haze and other pollutants as measures made are always inadequate due to inertia or inability to read consequences of nature and development.
    What can the people do?


    • Sgcynic says:

      Leader busy fixing the wrong things and people. Kakia left to run their fiefdoms on autopilot. Put the wrong people with the wrong values, principles and priorities in charge. What to do? Slap the driver and let’s move on.

  2. agongkia says:

    No amount of engineering work can prevent major flood as its an act of God though I agree that some of these flood can be prevented but will not kaykhiang here as giving my opinion on how to reduce or prevent flood may be seen as an insult to those professional or our talents like telling my grandmother how to suck eggs.

    I love to see heavy rainfall and floods but my only concern is personal safety on those uncovered pit or man hole covers on the roads or walkways.
    I have this experience in Jakarta lately and my friend is lucky to have me besides to grab while walking when she unknowing step into a deep hole on the road which cannot be seen because of the flood.
    Please dun tell me there is no such holes here.Help to report those uncover pits to the Authority if you seen one to help to reduce accidents or loss of life.Stay cool and walk slowly step by step if one need to walk in flood water.Not everyone is so fortunate to have someone besides to grab.

  3. I think the biggest culprit for Orchard Road floods is ION Orchard. The loss of that mound next to Wisma Atria resulted in the loss of an important water catchment area for Orchard Road. Back in 2003, I remember I was there as a volunteer for the Amazing Singapore Race. On weekends, huge crowds of Filipinos would gather there for picnics. Apparently, some people thought that it was a waste of prime land and went on to construct ION Orchard over it. After the completion of ION Orchard in 2009, rain water coming down Patterson Road had nowhere to go. Liat Towers and Scotts Road suffered the most in that big flood in 2010. Behind Scotts Tower, rain from Nutmeg Road (about 4 storeys above the level of Scotts Road) also went down past Mt E and Paragon, emptying into the basements of Tong Building and Lucky Plaza.

    • Toothfully,
      They are blinded by greed. It’s the slow and persistent gnawing effect of such avarice that has unleashed so much havoc. The basic understanding of moderation in the universal harmonious balance in Yin and Yang must never be compromised under the pretext of progress. Ignore it at your own peril of untold misery.

  4. Testing 1 2 3 says:

    Actually their solution is by trial and error lah. Because they need to have heavy rain in order to test out whether their solution can work or not mah. So next time, if heavy rain still flood, they will improve their solution again, until no flood lah.

    So Sinkies be patient and tolerant. Need more heavy rains before no more floods.

    • xyz says:

      They are not going to try to improve anything anymore.
      They already announced not possible to prevent flooding.
      What is the point of announcing that and then spending more money to money already spent badly?
      Now it is announced they can just leave it and they throw money at something else

  5. wviwc says:

    I also lived at Lorong Ternak in the 70s and I am around your age. You must be my neighbour.

    • I lived nearer to the dirt track running along the perimeter of Paya Lebar airport. The name of the dirt track with red earth was known as Jalan Hong Keng. There was a coffee factory, one ice cream seller and an old farmer, amongst others who used to sell his harvested vegetables at Jalan Ang Teng which is near to the present Airport Road opposite the current Hong San temple. We had to walk about 5km – approx 45 to 50 mins along Jln Hong Keng to Jln Ang Teng before reaching the bus stop at Airport Rd. Those days I had to take bus number 93 or 95 to Bartley Rd to go to school.

  6. Dan says:

    Just to share an observation. I jog regularly along the canal at Potong Pasir and noticed that the water level is below the level of culverts/drains running into the canal. This is logical given that the canal has to cater to flow and volume of rainwater from drains and culverts. However, this was not the case when the Marina Barrage was completed couple of years ago and the canal water level was just at the culverts level. Not surprising, we witnessed “ponding” at that period of time when flooding was practically unheard of in S’pore for years. Of course, PUB and other agencies denied any link of Marina Barrage to flooding, given that it was somebody’s pet project.

  7. Alan says:

    Before any new building project development is approved, each developer has to pay quite massive fees to URA known as development charges. Now forming part of this development charges, I suppose, includes a sizeable amount to pay for any potential improvement & upgrading of nearby public infrastructure & facilities affected by each development.

    Now the question is whether those related public agencies tasked with this responsibility to ensure that our current infrastructure & facilities has kept up with the pace of our fast rising developments. In other words, have they been too complacent in their responsibilities but only keep collecting the monies but never really channelled them back to the right locations to ensure potential problems do not arise.

    I honestly think those reasons of “floods occuring once in 50 years” or “no amount of engineering can resolve our flash floods” are really mere political excuses to exonerate our PAP Ministers from their complacency or to hide their political blunders.

  8. An observation ape made was that drains are covered. Good thing for ladies in heels, bad for water flow. Without adequate inlet for air, the rate of water flow in the covered/underground drains and canals are impeded.Layman iillustration – remember how we used to punch two holes at opposite ends of milk cans? Ape’s mother, an uneducated woman, explained that, if you only have an outlet, milk flowing out will create a vacuum to hold the milk but if another hole, a bigger one is created at the other end, air can go in and fill the vacuum allowing the milk to flow easily.

  9. Ape,
    That’s an interesting observation. We need “more holes” or lobang or outlets to clear excess water! Thks for your comment.

  10. KL says:

    Another observation is after two rounds of Orchard Road flooding, million dollars were spent on building barricades to prevent pond of water flowing into the shopping area. However, after the massive “ponding”. it seems that Orchard Road flooding is unheard again. Why?

    • Do you seriously think that it’s over? I hope you are right! What about other areas? It’s getting rampant nowadays. In short, we are fire fighting putting out wild bush fires all over the place. Today’s Orchard Road. Tomorrow it’s Chai Chee or AYE etc. You see the point? Take a look at those 2 pictures. They are not fake or photo shop creations. It cries our loudly our dire situation. If the drainage infrastructure is adequate then why we need to use a powerful pump to clear away the excess water?

      • KL says:

        No, I am not saying the flooding is over. I am implying there are more hidden stuff then we see on the surface. For example, if the G does not control (there is not enough resources to control any way) the work sites, drainage system may well become the dumping ground and aggravated the problem. All those unimaginable rubbish stuff flushed out from the “underground” Stamford canal during Orchard Road flooding showed that.

        I live in the most expensive town council managed estate but the labour cost component is only $4.99, the cheapest in Singapore as declared by our dear MND minister during his exchanges with WP last year. I responded in 联合早报 questioning about the significance of this 5% labour cost vis-a-vis the almost $90 town council fee that I’m paying. It was silent. Apart from the deteriorating environment in this neighbourhood, the drain is also a disposal ground and caused occasional ponding.

        • Point taken. If you read the news carefully there is on going drumming about imminent S&C charges increasing soon cuz the locals are taking over the foreign workers. Higher wages need to attract locals into cleaning jobs. That will translate to higher charges. Be prepared to pay more than what you are paying now.

  11. redbean says:

    Gintai, I like that photograph of people hanging on the fence. Amazing. It tells the way sinkies are trying to cope with their lives with all the big changes around them. It is like hanging on a string.

    • RB,
      Those ppl hanging there are school children not adults. A picture speaks a thousand words! Need we say more? Like what you say in your blog – we are hapless chickens coop up in our tiny chicken coops. Will we ever fly the coop or stay put forever? Only time will tell.

  12. Chanel says:


    Maybe the government is secretly planning to convert Singapore into Venice???!!…..after failing terribly to achieve a Swiss standard of living!!

    • 'Mat says:

      Venice! I like that.
      Gotta start building my sampan ‘cos I can’t afford a cruise ship.

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