Singapore’s national water agency, Public Utility Board (PUB), is a member of the organization The Leading Utilities Of The World (LUOW), as they have gained recognition in sustainability mitigating water scarcity issues and developing innovative water technologies. The Water Center at Penn hosted Singapore PUB at The University of Pennsylvania Singh Center for Nanotechnology to exchange ideas about our respective approaches to water management. This event attracted over 50 researchers, students, and water professionals to gain insight into adopting a transdisciplinary approach to water management.

Mr. Tan Nguan Sen, Chief Sustainability Officer at PUB, described how Singapore’s water scarcity issues propelled the municipal leaders to being a strategic water management transformation. What once was a city with polluted waterways, seasonal flooding and open sewers, with only two national taps and imported water from Malaysia, is now capable of providing potable water for the entire city population with four national taps, a diversified water supply, and complete modern means of sanitation.

What lessons can water professionals learn from PUB? PUB takes a cooperative, watershed approach centered on two key strategies: increasing water supply and managing demand. Its approach is better known as the ABC Waters Program – Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters.

To increase water supply, PUB maximizes rainwater collection through green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). They have broken the mold of traditional sustainability practices by using a closed loop system which continuously collects and treats all water (including sewer water). 

Simultaneously, PUB manages demand through educational campaigns designed to create a paradigm shift in how Singaporeans perceive water. By creating a stronger relationship between residents and their water resources, PUB has helped Singaporeans evolve from being passive about water to becoming guardians of Singapore’s water resources.

Left to right: Fran Lawn, GSI Partners Manager of the Sustainable Business Network, Andy Kricun, Executive Director/Chief Engineer, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, Allison Lassiter, Assistant Professor, City & Regional Planning at PennDesign and Stephanie Chiorean, Environmental Scientist & Planner at Philadelphia Water Department

The relationship shift between Singapore residents and their water resources began in 2004 when major reservoirs were opened to recreational use. PUB’s premise was that the more people enjoyed the water, the more they would cherish and protect it. Meanwhile educational programs were launched to educate residents on the importance of water.

Like many other cities, Singapore has been dealing with increased urbanization, which leads to more impervious surfaces and therefore more water run-off.  Combined with climate change and its associated increase in rainfall intensity, PUB’s challenges have only increased over the years. To tackle these additional issues, PUB has taken a three-pronged approach. The approach includes development of an ABC Master Plan which takes a holistic, multidisciplinary view of waterway enhancement as an integrated part of urban planning and stormwater management. Many beautiful examples of ABC Water Design were shared during PUB’s presentation including wetlands, rain gardens and bio-retention swales.

Following Mr. Tan Nguan Sen’s impressive  presentation, Howard Neukrug, Executive Director at  The Water Center at Penn, led a discussion between  the PUB team and panelists Fran Lawn, GSI Partners  Manager of the Sustainable Business Network, Andy  Kricun, Executive Director/Chief Engineer, Camden  County Municipal Utilities Authority, Allison Lassiter,  Assistant Professor, City & Regional Planning at  PennDesign and Stephanie Chiorean, Environmental  Scientist & Planner at Philadelphia Water  Department. It was clear from the enthusiasm of the  panel and audience that PUB’s ABC Waters Program  is something to aspire to in the Philadelphia area. The Water Center at Penn looks forward to fueling more of these discussions between stakeholders from across the world coming together to address our shared water problems.