Minister: It's a flood, not ponding

NATIONAL water agency PUB should not have used the word "ponding" to describe floods, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament yesterday.

This was in response to Workers' Party Member of Parliament (MP) Yaw Shin Leong's question on the difference between flash floods and ponding.

The word was used by PUB to describe the floods that hit Orchard Road on Dec 23.

"As far as I'm concerned, I call a spade a spade - a flood is a flood," he said firmly.

"As long as there is water accumulating somewhere where it is not supposed to be, as long as it has implications on human safety or business operations, that is a flood," he added.

During the episode last month, in which about 153mm of rainfall was recorded over three hours, businesses in Liat Towers and Lucky Plaza were affected. It was the third time in the past 18 months that the area was hit by flooding.

The first was on June 16, 2010, when about 100mm of rain fell in two hours, causing floods that reached 30cm in depth. And on June 5 last year, about 124mm of rain fell over four hours, causing 10cm-deep flood waters.

Dr Balakrishnan highlighted that the amount of rainfall recorded in these three incidents increased with each occurrence.

"These three episodes are really part of a larger and longer pattern of rainfall change that is occurring in Singapore," he explained, adding that a panel of experts also concluded that Singapore is experiencing an increase in the intensity of rainfall.

This, coupled with increasing urbanisation, poses an ongoing challenge for Singapore's drainage infrastructure, said Dr Balakrishnan.

Over the last 30 years, the Government has invested more than $2 billion in drainage infrastructure, reducing the total low-lying flood-prone area from 3,200ha in the 1970s to 49ha today.

To prevent similar floods from happening again, PUB estimated that the capacity of Stamford Canal, which runs along Orchard Road, will have to be increased by 30 per cent.

But it will be a very costly and technically complex project due to physical constraints, noted Dr Balakrishnan.

He said PUB was evaluating available options with a "consultancy study" which would be completed in May, and explained that he was trying to "maximise the current utility" of Stamford Canal without taking up more land or further disrupting traffic and businesses.

"Singapore does not intend to be Venice, with canals everywhere, so there has to be a reasonable limit to how much we prepare for the future," Dr Balakrishnan said.

"The assurance I will give you is that we will do so on the basis of evidence, science and discipline, as far as fiscal expenditure is concerned."

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