PUB, Singapore’s national water agency, formerly known as the Public Utilities Board (PUB), is a statutory board under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR). Its mission is to ensure an efficient, adequate and sustainable supply of water in Singapore. Besides being responsible for the collection, production, distribution and reclamation of water, it seeks to ensure that Singapore’s water consumption is sustainable in the long run.1
The Public Utilities Board was established on 1 May 1963 as a statutory board responsible for the supply of water, electricity and piped gas in Singapore.2 It took over these functions from the City Council as part of a wider reorganisation that also saw the other functions of the City Council and those of the Rural Board integrated into central government ministries.3
The creation of a new board to take over the City Council’s responsibility for electricity and gas had been proposed in as early as 1951 by L.C. Hill, a British expert invited by the colonial government to examine and provide recommendations on the local government structure.4 However, it was not until 1959, after Singapore became a fully self-governing state that concrete steps were taken to create this new entity as the government sought to become more efficient.5
Centralised utilities provider (1963–95)
The mission of the newly created PUB was to provide an efficient and reliable supply of water, electricity and piped gas at the lowest possible prices. To support the government’s national development programme to industrialise the country and improve the standard of living, the PUB undertook numerous projects from the 1960s to the 1990s to expand and upgrade the utilities infrastructure to cater for the country’s increasing demand.6
In the first three decades since its formation, the PUB also built four new power stations. It extended and upgraded the electricity transmission and distribution network by, for instance, introducing a new higher-voltage transmission system. Additionally, the PUB supplied villages with electricity under its Rural Electrification Programme (1963–74) and continued to extend street lighting across
After it took over from the City Council, the PUB completed eight new gas-making plants at Kallang Gasworks between 1963 and 1995. In 1966, it began using a new raw material called naphtha for gas production, as it was less pollutive than the heavy fuel oil used by older plants.7
To boost the supply of imported water, the PUB undertook projects such as the Scudai and Johor river schemes. Its focus, however, was on increasing the domestic supply, which was in line with the government’s vision for Singapore to achieve water self-sufficiency. Besides expanding the capacity of existing reservoirs, the PUB built 10 new reservoirs and the associated treatment works in the 1970s and 1980s, and extended the water distribution network.8 The late 1960s saw the start of efforts to beautify the areas around reservoirs and turn them into recreation venues.9 In the following decade, it studied the feasibility of water reclamation and desalination, but these ideas were shelved.10
The PUB also sought to reduce water consumption. The first “Water is Precious” campaign was launched in 1972, after which similar campaigns and programmes were organised to remind people of the need to save water. To deter wastage, the PUB introduced a block water tariff system in 1973 and a water conservation tax in 1991, both of which are still part of the water pricing mechanism today.11
Water authority and regulator of electricity and gas industries (1995–2001)
Under the government’s plan to introduce competition in the electricity and piped gas industries, the PUB’s electricity and gas undertakings were corporatised on 1 October 1995 and the PUB became the industry regulator. In April 1998, the electricity industry was further liberalised when the PUB established the Singapore Electricity Pool, a wholesale market where the generation companies would compete to sell electricity to the retail electricity suppliers.12
During the 1990s, the PUB again explored the idea of creating new sources of water through water reclamation and desalination.13 At the same time, the government recognised that the water supply, drainage and sewerage systems were part of a comprehensive “water loop” and that an integrated approach in managing water was needed.14 This led to the decision in 2000 to reconstitute the PUB as the sole agency in charge of the entire water loop. The PUB was transferred out of the Ministry of Trade and Industry and merged with the Sewerage and Drainage Departments under the Ministry of the Environment (now MEWR), while its regulatory role in the electricity and gas industries was transferred to a new statutory board known as the Energy Market Authority. The changes came into effect on 1 April 2001.15
Singapore’s national water agency (from 2001)
Since its reconstitution as Singapore’s national water agency, the PUB has brought Singapore closer to achieving water self-sufficiency. It successfully introduced high-grade reclaimed water, known as NEWater, and desalinated water in 2003 and 2005, respectively. With five NEWater plants and three desalination plants in operation as of January 2019, Singapore has the capacity to meet up to 70 percent of its water demand using NEWater and desalinated water.16
Another milestone was the completion of the Marina Barrage in 2008, which created Singapore’s first city reservoir, Marina Reservoir.17 The Punggol and Serangoon reservoirs were completed shortly after. With these three reservoirs, the PUB has increased the size of Singapore’s water catchment from half to two-thirds of the country’s land area.18
The PUB has also continued to encourage water conservation through pricing and education. Key initiatives include the Watermark Award introduced in 2007 to recognise individuals and organisations for their water conservation efforts; the Mandatory Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme started in 2009 to indicate the water efficiency of consumer products such as washing machines, flushing cisterns, taps and mixers; as well as various school programmes to raise awareness.19 A key component of the PUB’s water management strategy is the Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters (ABC Waters) Programme launched in 2006. Through this programme, canals, rivers and reservoirs have been transformed into beautiful recreational spaces. The public have also been encouraged to keep the waters clean.20
Another important function of the reconstituted PUB is flood management. To reduce flood risk, it has undertaken numerous projects to slow down surface runoff (such as detention tanks and green roofs), improve the drainage network (including the widening and deepening of waterways) and protect flood-prone locations (via flood barriers and minimum platform and crest levels).21
Having taken over the role of sewerage management, the PUB oversees the development of the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System, a multibillion-dollar project conceptualised in the 1990s to meet Singapore’s used water collection, treatment, reclamation and disposal needs in the long run. The used water collected is treated, then purified into NEWater or discharged to the sea. Phase 1 was completed in 2008 while Phase 2 is due for completion by 2025.22
Centre for Liveable Cities
1. ‘About Us,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020; “Save Water,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020.
2. PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency (Singapore: PUB, 2017); Public Utilities Board, Public Utilities Board, National Archives of Singapore website.
3. “Allocation of City and Rural Depts. Finalised,” Straits Times, 20 November 1959, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “To Advise S’pore on Local Govt,” Straits Times, 21 July 1951, 7; “Dr. Hill to Meet City Councillors,” Singapore Free Press, 5 December 1951, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Five-Year PAP Plan for S’pore,” Straits Times, 26 April 1959, 1; “Lee’s Cabinet: This Is It,” Straits Times, 6 June 1959, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Public Utilities Board, Singapore, 25 Anniversary: At Your Service 1963–1988 Singapore: Public Utilities Board, 1988), 6–17 (Call no. RSING 363.6095957 SIN); Poteik Chia, “Year of Achievement, Progress,” Straits Times, 3 June 1961, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Singapore’s Piped Gas supply (Singapore: Public Utilities Board, 1988), 3 (Call no. RSING 665.77095957 SIN); Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Annual Report 1994 (Singapore: Public Utilities Board, 1995), 31 (Call no. RCLOS 354.59570087 SPUB); Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Yesterday & Today: The Story of Public Electricity, Water and Gas Supplies in Singapore (Singapore: Times Books International, 1985), 43. (Call no.: RSING 363.6095957 YES)
8. Tan Yong Soon, Lee Tung Jean and Karen Tan, Clean, Green and Blue: Singapore’s Journey towards Environmental and Water Sustainability (Singapore: ISEAS Publishing, 2009), 139–40 (Call no. RSING 363.70095957 TAN); Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Singapore’s Water Supply (Singapore: Public Utilities Board, 1985), 6–10. (Call no. RCLOS 628.1095957 SIN)
9. Water Department, Singapore, Annual Report 1967 (Singapore: Govt. Print. Off., 1968), 2. (Call no. RCLOS 628.1 SIN); Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Annual Report 1991 (Singapore: Public Utilities Board, 1992), 15. (Call no. RCLOS 354.59570087 SPUB)
10. Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Singapore’s Water Supply, 132, 142–43 (Call no.: RCLOS 628.1095957 SIN); Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue; Bill Campbell, “Coping with the Ever Increasing Demand for Water,” Straits Times, 5 December 1972, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
11. Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 163–66; P. M. Raman, “Water Rates Will Hit the Wasters,” Straits Times, 23 January 1973, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Ronnie Lim, “Electricity Demand Firm Despite Regional Crisis: PUB,” Business Times, 2 April 1998, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Annual Report 1995 (Singapore: Public Utilities Board, 1995), 3 (Call no. RCLOS 354.59570087 SPUB); Energy Market Authority, Introduction to the National Electricity Market of Singapore (Singapore: Energy Market Authority, 2010), 2–1.
13. Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 16–20, 25.
14. Tan Gee Paw, Water (Singapore: Institute of Policy Studies; Straits Times Press Pte Ltd, 2016), 63. (Call no. RSING 363.61095957 TAN)
15. Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Annual Report 2000 (Singapore: Public Utilities Board, 1995), 3 (Call no. RCLOS 354.59570087 SPUB); Tan, Lee and Tan, Clean, Green and Blue, 8–9; “The PUB Brand,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020.
16. “NEWater,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020; “Desalinated Water,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020.
17. “Marine Barrage,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020.
18. “Marine Reservoir,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020; PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency.
19. PUB, Annual Report 2011–2012 (Singapore: PUB, 2012)
20. “Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters Programme,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020.
21. Amy Khor, “The Seminar on “Active, Beautiful, Clean Waters – Towards Resilience, Liveability and Sustainability in Design” speech, 11 July 2018, transcript, Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources. (From National Archives of Singapore document no. MSE_20180711002); PUB, Annual Report 2012–2013 (Singapore: PUB, 2013)
22. “About Deep Tunnel Sewerage System,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020; “Phase 1,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020; “Phase 2,” PUB, accessed 4 March 2020.
Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore, Energising Singapore: Balancing Liveability and Growth (Singapore: Centre for Liveable Cities, 2018)
Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore and Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Water: From Scarce Resource to National Asset (Singapore: Cengage Learning Asia, 2012). (Call no. RSING 333.91095957 WAT)
Koh Buck Song and Lee Geok Boi, Brighter: Electricity in Singapore, from Beginning to Beyond (Singapore: Energy Market Authority, 2011). (Call no. RSING 333. 7932095957 KOH)
The information in this article is valid as at March 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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