ABC Waters Programme
Public Utilities Board, Ministry of Environment and Water Resources

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Situated in the equatorial belt, Singapore enjoys abundant rainfall of over 2400 mm a year. A densely populated island-city state with only 716 sq km of land and a growing population of over 5.4 million, Singapore has limited land to collect and store the rainfall. Competing land use for housing, industries, roads, and other community facilities limit what is available for water catchment and reservoirs. Recognising the problem, Singapore embarked on projects to develop more reservoirs. However, in land-scarce Singapore, rapid population growth and economic development made it unviable to continue to expand protected water catchments. Singapore’s key innovation was to make as much of the island, including the urbanised areas, into a water catchment, and seek to harvest all the rain that fall on the land. This required coordination in land use, environmental control and, most critically, a clear separation of rainwater from used water (sewage) to ensure that the rainwater remained unpolluted and was collected and stored in reservoirs. Back in 1977, then-Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew launched a 10-year programme to clean up the Singapore River. At that time, the Singapore River and its surrounding areas were heavily polluted due to the presence of commercial activities taking place along the river banks, industries and farms located along the upstream rivers, and extensive street hawking with no proper sanitary and sewerage facilities. Through a massive clean-up operation involving many government agencies, pollutive activities were relocated to other parts of the island. The river cleaning-up exercise provided the motivation for the abolishment of the night soil removal service and consequently, a comprehensive sewerage system was built to have 100% of the population served by modern sanitation. The used water flow into a central system and was kept separate from rainwater. The judicious separation of the used water and rainwater systems allow rainwater to be collected and stored in the reservoirs without having it polluted. Because of this, Singapore was then able to move from collecting rainwater from protected catchment areas to also collecting rainwater from drains and canals in housing estates and urban areas. Today, Singapore has 17 reservoirs increasing the water catchment from half to two-thirds of Singapore’s land surface. The iconic Marina Reservoir, which is in the heart of Singapore’s city centre, was formed by damming up the estuary that is fed by 5 main river systems. With a growing population and continual developments, however, urban pollution can only increase, bringing increasing challenges in ensuring that the water quality within reservoirs is kept at a high standard. Hence, it is necessary to create a greater sense of ownership of the nation’s water assets. Thus began a systematic programme to “open up” the reservoirs and waterways for the public’s recreational use as well as water-based activities. This was a move away from the old “keep away” policy characterised by a huge number of “NO” signs with the threats of heavy fines placed around the reservoirs. These activities gradually spawned more structured approaches like a volunteer programme “Friends of Water” and a public consultation panel “Water Network”.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
With two-thirds of Singapore becoming water catchment, it is important to ensure in the long term that rainwater draining into canals and reservoirs is well managed in terms of quantity and quality. In Singapore, increasing water supply is only part of the equation to ensure water sustainability. The other part, which is equally important, is encouraging Singaporeans to take ownership of water through conserving, valuing and enjoying our waters. The Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) Programme was hence initiated by PUB, Singapore’s national water agency in 2006, to ensure a sustainable future for Singapore by radically transforming Singapore’s network of drains, canals and reservoirs beyond their traditional functions of drainage, flood control and water storage into beautiful and clean streams, rivers and lakes. This forms a seamless blue-green network which is well integrated with the adjacent land developments, continuously creating new community spaces and encouraging new lifestyle activities to flourish in and around the waters. The ABC acronym encapsulates the fundamental objectives of the programme. Three key concepts underpinned the programme: I. ACTIVE – Providing new community spaces and bringing people closer to water through recreational activities. II. BEAUTIFUL – Transforming reservoirs and waterways into aesthetically pleasing lifestyle attractions that integrate well with parks, estates and even commercial developments. III. CLEAN – Improving water quality through holistic management of our water resources in slowing down runoff, keeping water clean at source, while beautifying the landscape. Aims also to minimize pollution in the waterways through public education and by building people-water relationship. ABC Waters incorporates engineering, science, landscape design, the behavioural framework of urban design, and a commitment to community involvement. The ABC Water projects offer recreation spots that are accessible and free, enhancing the quality of life in an otherwise urbanised, fast-paced society. Innovative ABC Waters design features (environmentally sustainable green features) are also being progressively integrated within the urban environment to detain and treat runoff before it reaches the waterways. Through the ABC Waters Programme, PUB’s main objective was to bring people closer to water so they will become water stewards who appreciate and cherish this precious resource, and strive to keep Singapore’s water bodies clean. The ultimate vision is to transform Singapore into a vibrant City of Gardens and Water.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The ABC Waters Programme looks at integrating social, ecological and hydrological elements into ABC Waters projects. It views a waterway in light of the other benefits that it could bring about. For example, an understanding of the demographics and development plans of the area are important for increasing the value-add of ABC Waters projects to its vicinity. In addition, nature-based solutions are preferred. ABC Waters design features rely on natural processes to detain and cleanse urban runoff. Design features include: vegetated swales, bioretention swales, bioretention basins (e.g. rain gardens), sedimentation basins, constructed wetlands, cleansing biotopes, and bioengineering techniques.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
PUB adopted a three-pronged approach: STRATEGY 1: DEVELOPMENT OF THE ABC WATERS MASTER PLAN AND PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION To kick-start the programme, PUB embarked on three pilot projects at popular waterbodies which served as proof-of-concept and helped greatly in obtaining the community’s buy-in and support: 1. At Kolam Ayer, which is along the Kallang River, a major waterway in Singapore 2. At Bedok Reservoir, a reservoir in the east surrounded by residential developments 3. At MacRitchie Reservoir, the oldest and most popular reservoir in the central protected water catchment. Experience gained from implementing these demonstration projects led to the development of a Master Plan, identifying opportunities for over 100 potential projects across the island for implementation in phases by 2030. To date, 21 of 28 projects in the first phase of the programme have been completed by PUB. PUB is also now progressing into the programme’s second phase, with 19 projects island-wide in the pipeline. STRATEGY 2: SUSTAINED PUBLICITY & 3P PARTNERS’ ENGAGEMENT PUB’s adopts a “3P Partnership” approach, where the 3Ps represent the Public, Private and People sectors. Sustainability can only be achieved through a multi-stakeholder approach, with the community taking ownership and contributing actively to the enrichment of the environment. It also allows the government to engage the stakeholders to help strengthen water policy-making and foster closer partnerships. The three key factors of the 3P Partnership approach include: 1.Awareness – Creating interest in taking ownership of Singapore’s water resources 2.Adoption – Encouraging community involvement in doing their part for the water cause 3.Advocacy – Nurturing and building the capacity of partners to help them become advocates Publicity and community engagement programmes were rolled out; beginning with the “ABC Waters Public Exhibition” officiated by Singapore’s Prime Minister in February 2007. PUB also carried out extensive briefing sessions, consultations and roadshows involving grassroots leaders, educational institutions, and non-governmental organizations (NGO). The sessions helped to ensure that projects were built on user needs, and excited stakeholders to take ownership of the projects. Site visits were also held during the construction stage to keep stakeholders updated on the progress of projects. In addition, stakeholders were encouraged to ‘adopt’ project sites. As of October 2014, there are 293 adopters under ‘Friends of Water’ programme, of which 68.6% are educational institutions that have taken ownership of the completed projects. STRATEGY 3: ENCOURAGING ADOPTION OF THE ABC WATERS CONCEPT BY THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS Traditionally, drains were used to channel rainwater for discharge into the sea as quickly as possible to reduce flood risks. With ABC Waters, the hydraulic regime is now envisioned as detaining, retaining and treating rainwater (through nutrient removal) closer to the source, by using environmentally-sustainable green features (termed ABC Waters design features in Singapore) like bioretention swales, rain gardens and wetlands. These design features can be easily integrated into streetscapes and public open spaces. PUB developed the ABC Waters Design Guidelines in 2009 to guide developers and professionals to plan, design and incorporate ABC Waters design features in their developments through workshops, seminars and exhibitions. The ABC Waters Certification scheme was further launched in 2010 to encourage and recognise public/private developers which adopt ABC Waters designs in their developments. To build up the expertise of industry professionals in ABC Waters design features, the ABC Waters Professional Programme was launched in 2011 in conjunction with various engineering and architecture organisations. The programme covers the design, implementation and maintenance of ABC Waters design features. By empowering the industry with the requisite knowledge and skills, this strategy ensures that the materialisation of the ABC Waters Programme’s vision will be sustained in the long-run.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
International multi-disciplinary consultants were brought in to design and implement the ABC Waters sites. PUB also works closely with other public agencies such as the National Parks Board and the Housing & Development Board in Singapore. As the main objective of creating ABC Waters sites was to bring people closer to water, PUB engages the community at the design stages of each ABC Waters project to understand their needs and to encourage greater ownership of the site. PUB keeps the community updated about project progress and actively finds co-creation opportunities with 3P (People, Private, Public) partners. With this intent to build ABC Waters projects for the community, PUB sought inputs from the community through the following initiatives: - Consulting grassroots leaders and the community of the areas in which the ABC Waters project sites are located, lie during project design and construction stages. Their feedback is taken into consideration and acted upon during the project implementation. - Engaging grassroots, non-government organizations and schools to adopt the ABC Waters sites after completion. Some of the activities done by the adopters are; using the ABC Waters site as an educational site or outdoor classroom, volunteering to do clean-ups at the site and conducting guided nature walks for the community. - Collaborating with schools to develop ABC Waters Learning Trail for students. These place-based trails encourage students to explore, discover and learn at ABC Waters sites. The learning trails educate students about Singapore's water management, the development of the ABC Waters sites, its unique design features, history and rich biodiversity. These learning trails aims to cultivate civic-mindedness in young students, encouraging them to appreciate our water resources through conserving water and keeping our waterways clean.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The ABC Waters Programme is primarily funded by the Singapore Government’s Reinvestment Fund. Ministries can bid for funds from this pool of money that is part of the Singapore Government budget to support new initiatives and projects that involve two or more ministries. The ABC Waters Programme is a novel initiative that reaps benefits beyond the domain of the implementing agency (i.e. PUB). It also enhances Singaporeans’ quality of life in the urban environment and creates habitats for flora and fauna in otherwise-concrete waterways, hence is funded by the Reinvestment Fund. In realising these projects, new methods and techniques of treating waterways were explored. For example, at the Kallang River @ Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park project, bioengineering techniques were test-bedded. Significant research and development was also undertaken to customise ABC Waters design features to Singapore’s local environmental conditions. Implementation of the ABC Waters Programme relied on a team of people from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. Besides the engineers who ensured that the infrastructure was soundly in place, the team also needed people with knowledge of biology, horticulture, landscape architecture, marketing and community relations. Meetings with the community are a frequent feature in the planning and implementation of ABC Waters projects, and these often take place at night or during the weekends. Finally, when a project is implemented, effort is needed to train up other staff from other organisations in the maintenance of the ABC Waters features.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
1) The continual public engagement and education via ABC Waters projects which encourages Singaporeans to think about and cherish Singapore’s precious water resource. 2) The creation of spaces at or along Singapore’s waterways/water bodies that deliver more than the functional benefits of conveying water. They also serve as recreational and community spaces and enhance the aesthetics of the urban environment. 3) The realisation of the possibility of multi-functional use of space, and the blurring of traditional functional lines between government agencies, for example through a project such as the naturalisation of the canal banks at Kallang River @ Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. 4) The development of the ABC Waters design features as a more environmentally-sustainable approach to stormwater management. These have put Singapore on a head-start in terms of developing blue-green solutions for climate resilience. 5) The appreciation of property values for those developments located in the vicinity of ABC Waters projects.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Closely tied to the availability of funding for projects under the ABC Waters Programme are a set of articulated desired outcomes: 1) The provision of aesthetic and clean waterways and reservoirs and recreational facilities 2) Increased visitorship, and 3) The provision of avenues for the public’s enjoyment The indicators of these outcomes are monitored in each phase. Where opportunities arise, PUB also works closely with research companies/organisations/units to evaluate the impacts of the ABC Waters Programme. These include the Institute of Water Policy in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, and research units within Government. Examples of topics covered in such studies are: visitorship; eco-efficiency; attitudes towards littering; and property value. Besides the structured systems for monitoring and evaluation, another key avenue is feedback from other public agencies in government, as well as feedback from the community. As national priorities evolve, each phase of the ABC Waters Programme adapts to support, where possible, these evolving needs. In addition, feedback from the community also serves as inputs on the programme’s progress. Last but not least, ABC Waters design features implemented by other agencies should to meet stormwater treatment objectives if they are to be recognised with the ABC Waters Certification. These objectives are minimum targets for the removal of total suspended solids, total nitrogen and total phosphorus.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The main obstacles can be generally grouped into three categories: Suitability of treatment techniques in Singapore’s context - 1) ABC Waters design features were constrained by the competition for land as well as the steep learning curve in designing/constructing them. An R&D project by the National University of Singapore develops localised solutions that can help overcome these two constraints. Innovative outputs of this R&D include bioretention trees (where trees can co-exist as part of the natural cleansing system) and soak-away rain gardens (which are easier to construct than conventional rain gardens). 2) Selection of soil bioengineering techniques. PUB carried out a testbed in 2009 to identify the most appropriate techniques for application in ABC Waters sites. Project management during the construction of ABC Waters projects- 3) Maintaining the flow capacity of canals when waterways are reconstructed or enhanced. This is managed by carrying out the construction in phases and diverting the flow of water. 4) Retaining existing greenery.. Transplanting is considered for trees which have to be removed. New trees are planted to replace those trees which have to be removed. Ensuring that popular open spaces remain open. Construction is carried out in stages to ensure minimal inconvenience to the public. Influencing public behaviour - 5) At Kallang River at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park project, dry-weather flow takes the form of a narrow stream in the middle of the river. However, the river doubles up as a flood plain during storm events and water level could rise by about 3m. PUB established a comprehensive set of safety features and operating procedures to help ensure public safety. 6) Another challenge lies in educating the public, especially on the importance of the ABC Waters site clean. PUB continues its work with the community to highlight the importance of keeping the space clean.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
There are four key benefits to the ABC Waters Programme: 1) Social Impact The ABC Waters Programme aims to bring people closer to water, by creating community spaces near to water in the ABC Waters projects. Whereas Singaporeans were discouraged from getting too close to waterways and water bodies in the past, the belief underpinning the ABC Waters Programme is that people would take care of a place if they feel attached to it. Singaporeans benefit by having additional community spaces, and the programme aims to instill self-governance in the use and care of public spaces and waterways. 2) Multi functional uses of space The ABC Waters projects demonstrate the optimisation of space in land scarce Singapore. Previously, concrete canals were out of the bounds and unusable to the public. Today, they can double up as community spaces. One key example is the flagship ABC Waters project at Kallang River at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park. Being dry most of the time, the space which the canal occupies was only fully utilised during storm events to convey stormwater runoff downstream to various reservoirs. In contrast, the incorporation of naturalised rivers is integrated seamlessly with the new parks. During dry weather, the banks of the river now provide an avenue for park users to have picnics, strolls, or simply get close to water. During wet weather, the banks of the river convey stormwater runoff, similar to that of the concrete canal. 3) Ecological Impacts ABC Waters sites create habitats for flora and fauna, because greenery is enhanced and nature-based techniques are adopted. For example, naturalising the river at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park saw its biodiversity increase by 30%, with 66 species of wildflower, 59 species of birds and 22 species of dragonflies being identified. Water quality of the pond is maintained without the use of chemicals via a cleansing biotope. The natural river added 10 hectares of wildlife habitat and active recreational space that doubles up as a flood plain during rain events. 4) Increasing Singapore’s Stormwater Management Capabilities ABC Waters design features temporarily detain and cleanse stormwater runoff at source before it flows into Singapore’s waterways and reservoirs, hence helping to minimise the hydrological impact of urbanised catchments and safeguard water quality. This increases Singapore’s resilience in face of urbanisation and climate changes.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The ABC Waters Programme is being sustained through: • A review and development of catchment management objectives and the incorporation of these into the corporate objectives of government agencies whose functions impact on catchment management: this has led to a revision of the Code of Practice on Surface Water Drainage (6th edition- Addendum 1) to facilitate better stormwater management practices on site. • The development of uniform standard and engineering procedures for designing ABC Waters features for stormwater management; PUB first published “ABC Waters Design Guidelines” in 2009 to guide the industry how to implement ABC Waters design features. • Industry capacity-building initiatives such as training courses and construction of demonstration/pilot projects; PUB worked with local Professional Bodies to conduct courses on “ABC Waters Design” and launch the ABC Waters Professional scheme in May 2013. • Engaging government agencies as stakeholders in the planning, design and construction of demonstration/pilot projects; e.g. collaborate with Singapore’s Housing & Development Board to pilot an “ABC Waters” public housing precinct in Punggol. • Strengthening local scientific research efforts e.g. R&D projects to prove the concept of ABC Waters Design and fine-tune the design for local soil and weather conditions. The “ABC Waters Certification” scheme, in place since 2010, provides recognition to public agencies and private developers in Singapore who embrace the ABC Waters Design concept in their projects. The adaptation of ABC Waters Programme in other countries, after having due regard of a country’s particular state of the social and economic development, could proceed using a three prong approach as follows: a. Setting Appropriate Polices The government must be prepared to adopt policies of water resource management that embrace the ethos of “creating more value with less impact”. Policies should intend to use land and water resources more optimally, eliminate subsidies, minimise impacts, support innovation, and encourage community participation. Frameworks to recognise and reward efforts amongst developers, professionals and other stakeholders should be established. Performance targets and indicators may be set. b. Capacity Building Governments must provide the enabling environment for implementation of action programmes for sustainable water sensitive urban design. Capacity building in people and institutions is crucial to support these projects. Where appropriate, supporting institutional and legal frameworks must be put in place. Identification of education and training needs for well qualified personnel and specialists to implement the projects should also be taken of. Nationally, schools and universities can be encouraged to include the appropriate curricula, and externally, inter-governmental technical cooperation schemes should be explored. Concurrently, local governments can begin to prepare the implementation of pilot schemes to provide the required on-site training and working conditions to encourage and retain the trained personnel. c. Pilot Projects Once the resources and institutional support are available, governments can begin to consider implementing small scale pilot projects as demonstration schemes to test the viability of application in their respective urban contexts. ABC Waters concepts could be adaptively integrated as part of urban planning and water resource management in selected local areas.

 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)
1)Importance of community engagement and feedback The process of engagement and gathering feedback lowered the barriers of entry and enabled PUB’s partners to feel that that their contribution matters. Through the ABC Waters programme, PUB created opportunities for Singaporeans to go beyond just being customers to also be partners, collaborators and co-creators with the organisation, supporting their ground-up water initiatives to achieve even better public outcomes for water sustainability in Singapore. This has enabled PUB to earn and maintain the trust of citizens by assuring them of water sustainability and when PUB supports them to take ownership of Singapore’s waters. This mutual trust goes a long way in building strong relationships with their partners. PUB had to identify the needs of the community and align them to PUB’s products and vision. Besides education, PUB also needs to continuously engage the stakeholders so that partnerships and collaborations can be sustained and deemed mutually beneficial. Also, perseverance to create collaborations and buy-in from stakeholders is critical towards greater receptivity for PUB’s efforts and creates a sense of stewardship from all stakeholders. 2)Balancing hydraulics, community needs and the preservation of habitats The design for each ABC Waters project is specific to each site and takes into consideration the surrounding landscape. Appropriate ABC Waters design features (which helps to cleanse the stormwater runoff before it is channelled to the waterways) will also be incorporated in the design of the project. Consultation with stakeholders are carried out to ensure that the project is developed in a sustainable manner, and that it addresses the community needs and enhances the living environment for the residents. 3)Adoption of robust designs Under Phase 1 of the Programme, as PUB was still at its learning stage, there were certain design features which could be further improved. These became learning points for PUB when implementing future ABC Waters projects. For example, play features such as the Archimedes Screw at Kolam Ayer Waterfront were too well-received by residents that they were over-used. Replacement of parts was difficult as they were not locally available. There was also vandalism of lightings and timber railings. In response, PUB has since chosen to adopt designs that are more robust and less susceptible to vandalism.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Public Utilities Board, Ministry of Environment and Water Resources
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Nguan Sen Tan
Title:   Chief Sustainability Officer  
Telephone/ Fax:   +65-67313210
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   40 Scotts Road #07-01 Environment Building
Postal Code:   228231
City:   Singapore
State/Province:   Singapore

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