The Architect of the Singapore Water Story


In Singapore, we enjoy clean drinking water at the turn of the tap. We have a clean and green living environment, with blue skies and beautiful clear waters.

All that we enjoy today is a testament to one man’s vision and foresight – Mr Lee Kuan Yew, our Founding Prime Minister, who in the early days of Singapore’s independence, made water a top priority in government policies.

“This [water] dominated every other policy. Every other policy had to bend at the knees for water survival.”

As a small country with no natural resources to speak on, water was always an existential issue for Singapore.

Post separation, we relied heavily on imported water from Johor, but Mr Lee recognised that that alone would not be sufficient to cope with our growing water needs in the future.

“Suppose we would capture every drop of rain in Singapore, could we become self-sufficient?”

Together with a team of engineers, Mr Lee Kuan Yew set out to systematically collect and turn every drop of water in Singapore into drinkable water. This was a difficult task, but the architect of Singapore’s water story was undeterred.

In 1971, Mr Lee set up the Water Planning Unit in the Prime Minister’s Office with the aim of studying the scope and feasibility of new conventional sources such as unprotected catchments, as well as unconventional sources like water reclamation and desalination.

The first Water Master Plan was produced in 1972, outlining plans to develop local water resources in Singapore, including water from local catchments, recycled water, and desalinated water, to ensure a diversified and sustainable water supply for generations to come.

Mr Lee was also instrumental in the clean-up of the Singapore River, which eventually made it possible to build a freshwater lake in downtown Singapore with the damming of the Marina Reservoir.

“Saving water must become a way of life.”

Today, Singapore has a resilient and robust water supply in the form of the Four National Taps. Every time you turn on a tap, do remember – it is the legacy that Mr Lee Kuan Yew has left us. Use it wisely and conserve every drop.

Photo Credit: PUB Website

By Lenia


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