Project Neptune
National Environment Agency

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Under the National Environment Agency’s (NEA) current water quality monitoring programme, samples are collected from Singapore’s coastal waters at various locations and tested at certified laboratories. Although the data collected are useful for studying long term trends, real-time monitoring of water quality is needed to give early alerts of issues like algal blooms and fish kills, in order to help fellow agencies like Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and Public Utilities Board (PUB) safeguard important coastal facilities such as fish farms and desalination plants. Given that water sport is one of the favourite pastimes of Singapore residents, forecasts of water quality from the system will also help the public to plan their recreational activities.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
To address these needs, Pollution Control Department of NEA proposed the setting up of a real-time water quality monitoring system, known as Neptune. The system constitutes eight buoy-based monitoring stations deployed in the coastal waters of Singapore to monitor key physical, chemical and microbiological water quality parameters such as dissolved oxygen, algal nutrients, pH and oil. The real-time data from these stations are coupled with water quality models that will enable water quality forecasting, predicting the spread of oil spills and studying the impact of proposed foreshore developments, in order to address key concerns on the coastal environment. Neptune enables NEA to actively monitor in real-time our coastal water quality, providing early warning of water pollution incidents. This in turn, allows NEA to react swiftly to water pollution incidents and mitigate the impact of such incidents to the environment. To deliver greater public value, NEA is considering making the available information from the Neptune system, such as alerts of water pollution incidents and forecasts of beach water quality, via various media platforms such as MyENV mobile application.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Project Neptune is the first ever system that monitors the coastal water quality of an entire island state in continual near real-time basis, and issue prompt alerts and early warning. Project Neptune is formulated to achieve the required tasks by integrating the latest technologies and the state-of-the-art instrumentation into the monitoring stations as well as into the complete system deliverables. For example, as conventional optical sensors for nutrients which rely on absorbance of Ultra-Violet (UV) light are more susceptible to interference in the saltwater environment, Neptune monitoring stations are equipped with the latest state-of-the-art nutrient analysers based on wet chemistry for the required testing and analysing. The seawater samples are pumped automatically into the reaction chamber where the reagents stored in bags are introduced in precise quantities to produce a colour change which is then measured accordingly. Different reagents are employed for analysing the nutrient parameters (such as ammonia, phosphate and nitrate). Upon analysis, the real-time data is transmitted to an Operational Management System (OMS) automatically. The OMS manages and processes the data promptly for the provision of alerts, early warning and trend analysis for review and action by NEA personnel. The real-time data from Project Neptune system is used for modelling and research studies and the results could potentially be beneficial for our future generation to enjoy a liveable and sustainable Singapore.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The chronology for the implementation of the project is as follows: Step 1: International scan of similar systems deployed worldwide, and equipment used. The project team reviewed continuous water quality monitoring systems used around the world and available sensors on the market for the measurement of parameters such as dissolved oxygen, in preparation for the drafting of the project proposal. Step 2: Obtaining approval and funding for project. The proposal was submitted for management’s consideration and approval, and funding was also secured for the project to move ahead. Step 3: Finding collaborator on project. The project team subsequently partnered with the Singapore-Delft Water Alliance (SDWA) on the project. SDWA is an interdisciplinary water knowledge research centre based in the National University of Singapore, and has extensive experience on water monitoring and modelling projects both in Singapore and abroad. Through our joint collaboration, SDWA would be able to provide technical advice and expertise during the preparation and implementation phases of the project. Step 4: Working out the design of the system. Together with SDWA, the technical specifications of the system were drawn up and the locations of the monitoring stations were finalised. Key considerations during this stage included the operational needs of NEA, important coastal areas of concern such as recreational beaches and the challenges of deployment in tropical waters (e.g. biofouling). Current state-of-the-art instrumentation for water quality measurement were also reviewed, as well as how the real-time data will be integrated and coupled with the water quality models. Step 5: Procurement of equipment and deployment of system. Environmental engineering firm, Greenspan (Singapore) Private Limited, was contracted to supply the hardware for the system and to deploy the stations in Singapore’s coastal waters. The approval of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore was obtained for the proposed locations of the monitoring stations, and field surveys were carried out to confirm the suitability of the locations, such as water depth and tidal conditions, for deployment of the stations. After the stations have been deployed, user acceptance tests were carried out to determine that all the components of the system are working well, and there is uninterrupted data transmission. The project team regularly reviewed the progress of the project with the contractors, and assessed the performance of the system before and during the field tests, prior to the handover to NEA. Step 6: Development of Operational Management System (OMS) and Water Quality Models. SDWA’s work on developing the OMS for handling and processing the data feeds from the stations took place concurrently with the deployment of the stations. After the handover of the stations, SDWA will complete the work on the OMS in integrating the feeds. The project team and SDWA reviewed the real-time data to assess their suitability for use in SDWA’s ongoing work in calibrating and validating the water quality models. The team also shared historical water quality data as well as data provided by other agencies with SDWA to assist in their development work on the models. Step 7: Reviewing system operation and the sharing of system outputs. The project team is reviewing the operating protocol for the system and has contacted fellow agencies on the possible sharing of the live feeds, as the real-time data may be useful in helping them assess water quality conditions near important facilities such as desalination plants. The team is also working with SDWA and fellow agencies on threshold levels for key water quality parameters for the setting of alerts. In addition, the team is looking at model outputs such as recreational water quality forecasts for possible dissemination to the public via channels such as mobile apps. Step 8: Completion of project and ongoing assessment of system performance. After the models have been fully calibrated and validated, the system is operational. The team will assess and fine-tune the system, such as alert levels and model outputs, on regular basis in order to optimise system performance.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The project team worked with SDWA in brainstorming and conceptualising the specifications and evaluation criteria to ensure the new system could meet the functional requirements. The team also reviewed similar systems employed in other countries, as well as the latest available technologies when drawing up the specifications for the system. In deciding the locations of the stations, NEA took into account factors such as long-term water quality trends, special hydrodynamic conditions, the depth of the water and navigational safety. NEA consulted various Singapore agencies such as the National Parks Board (NParks), the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and Public Utilities Board (PUB), the National Water Agency and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), to take their concerns into consideration.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The project was funded by Reinvestment Funding from the Ministry of Finance and from NEA’s Capital Expenditure budget. The ongoing maintenance of the operational Neptune system is funded by NEA’s Operating Expenditure budget.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The key outputs that contributed to the success of the initiative are as follows: • Support from NEA management for initiative • Close co-operation with consultants on project • Close communication with other Singapore agencies on their requirements

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
A Project Management Committee comprising members from NEA’s Pollution Control Department (which heads the project) and other departments involved in the project, e.g. Information Technology Department , was set up to monitor the progress of the project. The committee also includes SDWA management. Regular meetings were also held between the project team with the contractor for setting up the stations and SDWA consultants to evaluate the progress of the respective works. The system has passed the stringent and comprehensive user acceptance tests to the satisfaction of NEA before the handover.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
One key obstacle faced by the team during the development of the project is to integrate latest technologies and the state-of-the-art instrumentation within the limited space and power constraints of each monitoring station. The team has to plan carefully and thoroughly for each station integration to ensure that all the instrumentation within the station could operate at the optimal performance and efficiency, and readings are consistent and accurate. The bio-fouling in tropical waters is another issue faced by the team. To address this issue, the team worked with the consultants and contractor in creatively house the sensors within the compartments on each station instead of having the sensors to come in direct contact with the sea water. The creative solution is accomplished by pumping the required water samples to the sensors located within the station for direct measurement. In addition, the buoys are made of polyethylene instead of metal. One of the on-going key challenges is ensuring that Project Neptune is compatible with NEA’s planned Integrated Environment System (IES). Under the IES, data from Neptune will be integrated with data from other NEA systems to facilitate agency-wide response and incident management. We are working closely with our fellow ITD colleagues and our consultants on the project to ensure this compatibility.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Project Neptune has facilitated the on-site investigations and response to pollution incidents through the real-time monitoring of water quality and modelling capabilities such as prediction of oil spills. The sharing of the live data feeds and alerts with fellow Singapore agencies is also expected to help them in taking timely measures to safeguard critical coastal facilities that they oversee, such as fish farms and desalination plants. In addition, the sharing of system outputs such as beach water quality forecasts with the public (via channels such as mobile apps) will help the public to better plan their recreational activities.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Ongoing maintenance for the monitoring stations and the Operational Management System (OMS) will be funded by NEA’s operating expenditure budget. NEA has worked closely with fellow Singapore agencies during the implementation phase and has shared information on the initiative with them. The initiative has been communicated to the public through the Singapore media, and has also been shared with our Malaysian counterparts from the Ministry of National Resources and the Environment through the regular bilateral platforms.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Project Neptune has been a challenging but worthwhile initiative that will help to complement NEA’s water quality monitoring capabilities when it is operational. The lessons learned have been that good planning is key to the successful implementation of the project, as well as close working relationships with our consultants and fellow agencies. We would recommend to continually assessing the capabilities of the system, in order to fine-tune the system to meet our operational needs as well as to better serve the public.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   National Environment Agency
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Teck Choon Tan
Title:   Assistant Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   +65 67319355
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   40 Scotts Road, Environment Building
Postal Code:   228231
City:   Singapore

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