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2nd Water Research Conference (Singapore 2013)

The 2nd Water Research Conference brought together a diverse range of urban water specialists. Unlike the 7th Water Sensitive Urban Design Conference in Melbourne the 2nd Water Research conference had a much greater spread of participants including researchers from China, Taiwan, Singapore, USA, Australia, India and many more countries. Some of the highlights were the number of experts presenting Keynote speeches. These included:

  • The Singapore Water Story – Harry Seah, Chief Technology Officer, PUB
  • Urban water management under change, drivers, systems and frameworks – Wolfgang Rauch, Editor of Water Research
  • ‘Our liveable city’: A water sensitive approach to building cities of the future – Ana Deletic, Monash University.

In the presentation by Harry Seah it was fascinating to see how Singapore has evolved, and how they have transitioned in their management of water. Essentially, Singapore has realized that water shortages are a potential threat to their country, and as a result they have invested in improving the management of water. This investment goes beyond just infrastructure but into educating people, by creating what they term “Active, Beautiful, Clean” (ABC) infrastructure. Additionally when they see a need they are willing to invest whatever resources are required for research and development.

Wolfgang Rauch provided a fascinating case study of Innsbruck, making the point that water infrastructure is relatively cheap with respect to the whole economy, but that the impacts of poor water infrastructure have huge impacts on the economy.

Finally, Ana Deletic presented the approach for transitioning towards a Water Sensitive City that is being undertaken in Australia and how stormwater harvesting can be implemented in an urban setting. This was of particular interest to the research group as it directly relates to the PhD topic being addressed as part of the WSUD project.

These three presentations provided a lot of insight into how urban water management is currently being viewed in Singapore, Australia, and Europe. Along with several other presentations they provided the research team with a number of interesting and relevant issues that need to be considered or included in the WSUD research going forward.

Visiting Singapore

The opportunity to visit Singapore was another highlight as Singapore’s management of water is arguably the best in the world. Singapore aims to become the first Water Sensitive City in the world and it was hugely valuable to visit a number of their projects. For instance, it was inspirational to see how they are able to harvest stormwater and use it to fill an urban reservoir – which was previously a harbour and is now a ‘waterfront’ – for use to supply water to businesses and residents in the city.

Figure A1: Marina Bay, which acts as a reservoir collecting the city’s stormwater runoff for use as a water source

 

Singapore has a strategy known as the ‘Four Taps’, which relates to their available water resources. The four taps are: 1. Optimising the use of the local catchment (e.g. by way of stormwater harvesting – Figure A1); 2. Imported water (e.g. from Malaysia); 3. NEWater (NEWater is high-grade reclaimed / recycled water); and 4. Desalination.

Of most interest during this trip was the opportunity to see how it was possible to integrate these different taps into a densely populated city like Singapore. One of the approaches which has been used is the development of ABC (‘Active, Beautiful, Clean’) public parks such as Bishan. The following figures highlight the value of open spaces such as this.

 

Figure A2: The canal outside of Bishan Park – how it used to look inside!

 

Figure A3: The entrance to the park, with a ‘natural waterway

 

Figure A4: (Clockwise from top left): Treatment wetlands in action, advanced educational signage, simple educational signage, pathway designed to encourage interaction with water

 

It was evident that an important part of Singapore’s strategy is education. Every park, wetland, river and pond had information explaining how it worked, why it was important and what people could do to help. This forms part of the 3P strategy of ‘Public, Private, and People’. The results are evident in the beautiful, clean urban areas and urban waterways.

Figure A5: Floating wetlands in a river

 

While all of the figures present an ideal for urban water management, Singapore is still transitioning towards true water sensitivity. There are many of the older neighbourhoods which are still managed in a very conventional manner. However there is a commitment from government both in terms of research – encouraging academics to present new ideas, and funding for research – as well as supporting maintenance programs without which many of these facilities would not be successful.

Presentation

The UWM research team also presented a paper entitled “Transitioning to Water Sensitive Cities in South Africa”. We are hoping to publish it soon!