Random Discourse – Floods & Engineering

I found the following letter to the ST Forum while going through this forum thread on ION Orchard:

Preserve open space at Orchard MRT station
25 Aug 05

In his National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at length about the development of the Orchard Road, Bras Basah Road and Bugis Junction areas.

Old Photo

Orchard MRT (pre-ION Orchard days)

In particular, he said that the development of the Bras Basah Road area with the relocation of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and Singapore Management University there was to bring back students to re-create the buzz which he remembered as his old school was in that area.

However, what has happened to the old buildings there? They have become museums, and a landmark cathedral has been converted to serve as restaurants and pubs.

PM Lee presented a slide showing an imposing tower being built on the green hill behind Orchard MRT station. Would the prime minister in 40 years’ time then decide that there is not enough open space in the Orchard Road area and have a few obsolete buildings torn down?

Take New York, one of the cities PM Lee mentioned. Smack in the centre of Manhattan Island is prime property, ideal for all sorts of buildings, yet the early town planners literally carved out a huge section of the city for Central Park. In the Singaporean context, it would be considered a waste.

But it is not. The open space that is now Ngee Ann City is lost. The open space that was behind Wisma Atria is lost. The open space between Bras Basah Road and Stamford Road is lost. The Botanic Gardens is too inaccessible from Orchard Road.

The Orchard MRT station’s open space should be preserved. Must everything prime be built upon? Let us learn from the lessons of the evacuation of the Bras Basah Road area.

Michael Loh Yik Ming

Ultimately, the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] awarded that open space to a group led by CapitaLand Ltd which submitted the top bid of S$1.38 billion. A follow-up post revealed that the developers need to borrow S$1.56 billion in their bid to build Orchard Road’s biggest monument to consumerism. I wonder whether all of that money is subjected to GST. *chuckles*

Anyway, the PUB first blamed a blockage at the culvert (or whatever) in the Stamford Canal for the flood on June 16. When it flooded again on July 17, it then declared that even the capacity of the canal is found wanting. While the canal is an integral part of Orchard Road’s drainage system, ensuring that the canal is free from obstruction and improving its capacity may not be the complete solution to the problem. After all, the entire problem may not actually lie with the Stamford Canal itself. Is the PUB ignoring the entire system of drains feeding into it, and also the effect of surrounding developments to the flow of water into the canal? (I’ll get to that in awhile.)

Of course, it is not surprising that some have fingered ION Orchard as the cause of the recent Orchard Floods. I agree with them somewhat, since I believe that the small knoll originally in its place (on top of Orchard MRT Station) has a part to play in restricting the flow of water towards the Orchard Road / Scotts Road / Patterson Road junction. However, ION Orchard is only part of the problem.

Moving along Orchard Road, one would notice that there are several other notable changes as well, and the majority of them happened along a rare unconcealed stretch of the mostly concealed Stamford Canal. First of all, the redevelopment of the 30-year-old UOL Building. Next, Specialists’ Center and Hotel Phoenix is also redeveloped and two plots beside it which were previously car parks are now Orchard Central and 313 Somerset. Orchard Central in specific has concealed even more of the Stamford Canal. (See the combined screen shots taken from Google Earth below).

Click for full sized

Just as I am sure the sale of that 2 small plots for building 313 Somerset and Orchard Central would have put at least another billion into the government’s gahmen’s coffers, I dare wager that if there had been no changes to the surrounding area in the past 10 years, a well maintained and unobstructed Stamford Canal would probably have drained water at its designated capacity and kept the entire Orchard Road area dry.

In fact, forummer y2koh in this thread somewhat echoed the same opinion (though our conclusions are very different). He wrote that the reason for all these ‘flash floods’ (or ‘freak floods’) in any area may perhaps be the result of all the new property development in the vicinity. A few areas like Telok Kurau, Katong, Upper Thomson, Bt Timah, Balestier Road etc were mentioned to emphasise the point. I would like to add another: Commonwealth Avenue.

Now, anyone who regularly take a westbound MRT train towards Joo Koon will notice that the open field before Faith Methodist Church is now a multi-storey car park, and the old Tanglin Tech school compound is now several blocks of 40-storey HDB apartments. There used to be a large uncovered monsoon drain behind that car park, but it is now concealed to expand Tanglin Halt Road. (See the combined screen shots of the area taken from Google Earth.)

Click for full sized

Guess what? Not long after these HDB ‘skyscrapers’ were completed (around 2007), Commonwealth Avenue was flooded in 2008 according to these videos I found on Youtube [1] [2]. So the assertion that the cause of all these floods have very little to do with climate change or global warming maybe right.

Bearing that in mind, I’ll like to respond to a comment Lao Lee recently made regarding the floods before I end this post. I quote:

At the same time, whatever we do when we get extraordinary rains like we had recently, no amount of engineering can prevent flooding.

There’s a limited amount of space that’s been dug underground, limited amount of space you can run off for canals and if you have an extraordinary rainfall, well you got to prepare for it.

Somethings are beyond (that); it’s an act of God unless you want to lose half the roads and have canals.” – Lao Lee, 21-07-2010

I agree absolutely with Lao Lee that no amount of engineering can prevent all these floods, because no engineering may actually be required at all. Lao Lee is also right that we may have to lose half the roads for drains to alleviate the problem… in my opinion those roads which the pea-brains in the PWD or whatever had built on top of exposed monsoon / storm drains and canals! Well, perhaps we never needed those roads in the first place if the goons in the LTA can stop getting high from all the *ka-chings* coming from the COEs and ERP gantries.

Old Photo

313 Somerset construction site

Anyway, I have a rather simplistic view of this entire matter. In my opinion, if the Stamford Canal is blocked the immediate area upstream of the blockage will be inundated first. Otherwise, Malaysia’s claim that the floods in the upper reaches of Sungai Johor was the result of Singapore’s land reclamation around Pulau Tekong would actually be credible!

Next, if Stamford Canal is over-capacity, wouldn’t flooding occur along the banks where it is not concealed – i.e. parts of Somerset Road near UOL Building or parts of Orchard Road after Plaza Singapura? Is the area between Liat ‘JiaLat’ Towers and Lucky Plaza anywhere near the blocked culvert or any unconcealed portions of Stamford Canal?

My limited knowledge of water dynamics tells me that water always flow along the easiest path towards the lowest point. In my opinion, when 313 Orchard and Orchard Central were still nothing more but car parks, water flows unimpeded from Orchard Road (through them) into Stamford Canal. If not, they would have at least served the function of sinks (like the car park outside the KTM Station at Tanjong Pagar) for some of the run offs coming from Orchard Road itself. Now that 313 Orchard and Orchard Central has taken up the usual path that the water will take, it will simply flow along the widest open stretch in that area – Orchard Road itself – towards the lowest point in that area, the junction of Orchard Road / Scotts Road / Patterson Road. Even though I am not a civil engineer and I could be wrong about this, my opinion is that Orchard Road itself now serves as a shallow ‘instant storm drain’ for some of that water because it can’t find a better place to go!

Old Photo

Tanglin Halt monsoon drain: concealment underway

To emphasise my point, I’ll talk about Commonwealth Avenue again. With the open field now a multi-storey car park and part of the monsoon train concealed, most of the run off now end up in and overwhelm the 2-decade-old drains along Commonwealth Avenue. When overwhelmed, water that previously drains off from Commonwealth Avenue can go nowhere else except the road itself.

Simply put, the recent rains are not extraordinary. The meteorological services has not shown us that rainfall has hit a historical new high. The only engineering we need to look into, is all that mindless ‘civil engineering’ as a result of the endless property development in Singapore. All of these craps that the Tali-PAP gahmen and the so-called top talent multi-million mini$ter$ have given to Singaporeans are simply lame. When no serious study has been committed to look into the problem, it is difficult to believe any of their statements hold any water at all!

For too long has the Tali-PAP gahmen been short on accountability and grossly overpaid. Now it even dared to redefine its own ‘job description’ and tried to worm itself out of part of the job that is expected of them with nothing more than mere words that is not backed up with any concrete evidence. It is way past due time for a ‘regime change’ at the ballot box. After all, as an employee I would be fired by my boss if I can choose to do only the part of the job I liked (or do best) and disregard the rest. That, is obviously what this gahmen is now doing with regard to the floods.


  1. “Now that 313 Orchard and Orchard Central has taken up the usual path that the water will take, it will simply flow along the widest open stretch in that area – Orchard Road itself – towards the lowest point in that area, the junction of Orchard Road / Scotts Road / Patterson Road.”

    The ponding of trapped rain runoff at the junction. You may be interested to read this blog: http://thetwophilo.wordpress.com/.

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