Water Rationing for Singapore


Photo courtesy of The Straits Times, Singapore Press Holdings


The newspaper headline of The Straits Times on 30 August, 1961.

Water Rationing for Singapore

Two-month drought hits South Johore – river at all-time low

Water will be rationed in Singapore within the next few days to combat the most acute water shortage in the history of the State.

This emergency measure was announced today by the Acting Prime Minister, Dr Toh Chin Chye, after thousands of people had wakened this morning to find themselves
without a single drop of water to drink.

Details of the rationing are still being worked out but Dr Toh has given an assurance that at least 24 hours notice would be given before rationing came into effect.

The whole island would be divided into seven districts, with each district going “dry” once a week, he said.

Radio Singapore, Rediffusion and the Press will announce the latest news on the water situation.

Pressure down

Water pressure in many parts of the island began falling last night. By 8 a.m. today, many factories had closed down temporarily or reduced production.

Big hotels were seriously affected.

Appeals to conserved water were broadcast throughout the day.

Hundreds of householders phoned the City Council, each wanting to know why no water came out of their taps this morning.

Dr Toh gave an assurance that essential services and industries would not be affected by the rationing.

Rationing was now necessary, he said, because the drought which has affected Singapore for the past two months had now spread to Southern Johore.
Singapore’s main source of water – The Tebrau waterworks in Johore – can now only supply an average of 20 million gallons a day. The normal supply was 50 million

Acute shortage

Singapore’s stocks tonight stood at 70 million gallons with another 35 million from the Tebrau, Gunong Pulai and Pontian waterworks.

The daily consumption in Singapore is about 71 million gallons.

Dr Toh said: “Never in the history of Singapore have we experienced such an acute water shortage as we do today.

“There has been a continual increase in water consumption due to the increase in population, but the margin of supply and demand is very small.”
The Government had envisage an improvement in the situation by the end of last month when the expansion programme at Tebrau was completed.

But when extra tanks were finally brought into use four weeks ago, the Tebrau river level fell from six feet to three feet 10 inches.

Today, when newsmen toured the Tebrau waterworks with Dr Toh, the river level was at an all-time low of two feet.

This will be the time since 1941 that water rationing is being introduced here during the peace time.

In 1941, when Singapore was also hit by a drought, only individual houses were singled out for rationing.

Less and less rain has fallen in each succeeding August, since 1958, to give Singapore its gravest water problem in about 150 years.

These figures for the month of Auguest tell the story in a nutshell:

SINGAPORE: 1958 – 10.18 ins; 1959 – 5.81 ins; 1960 – 3.02 ins.; and up to Aug 27 this month 0.94 ins.

At the Tebrau river, water was two feet barely flows over the sluice gates for trapping water, leaving the river-bed beyond it virtually dry.

Throughout Singapore today, hundreds of people went to work without baths or proper breakfasts.

Offices, especially skyscrapers, found themselves without any supply at all.

Hundreds of people lined up at the 2,200 standpip0es to carry water home. From big barrels down to small pans were used to conserve the water trickling from the

Cathay Hotel depended solely on their emergency tank which held only a day’s supply.

‘Ferry service’

Raffles Hotel had water only trickling from their kitchen pipes. The staff of Cockpit Hotel spent the whole morning running a “ferry service” between the hotel and
standpipes in Penang Road and Orchard Road.

The Singapore Steam Laundry closed down temporarily at 10.30 a.m. and will not open for busines again till the water crisis eases.

Most ice-factories were completely laid off, and fishing combines clamoured for ice throughout the day.

The Singapore Cold Storage reported that production was affected in the morning, especially at their dry-ice factory in Bukit Timah.

The supply returned to normal in the afternoon and production is likely to be maintained unless the situation worsens.

Many young Singaporeans born after 1961 have not experienced droughts and water rationing in Singapore.

My pioneer generation friends and I have the nostalgic memories during our young days as triggered by the archived photos as “memory-aids” with the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore on this blog.

23526348 - 21_03_2012 03_0 (1)




We remember when Singapore’s taps ran dry for 10 months as posted here .


The Straits Times Forum Page

A selection of letters written by newspaper readers to express their views and opinions on this topic.

“Slogan posters, Television/Radio appeals and threats of water rationing receive no response from the general public.

Why doesn’t the Government pass a Bill to prosecute people for wasting water unnecessarily by cutting off their water supply for a period of time or imposte a fine.

In the meantime, start a campaign to educate the general public to use water only when it is necessary.  The campaign should be given top priority.

A CITIZEN, Singapore 23.  20 May 1971.

WATER: Who is getting the lion’s share?

I am fed up with all this nonsense about water.  Since the beginning of the rationing I and my servants have been very parsimonious.  I pray for rain for my plants and the car.  I do not flush the toilets and spend a fortune on air-fresheners.

I take half-dry showers and have really drastically cut our consumption.  But I look around me: my friends at the consulate enjoy water 24 hours a day; and the hotels.  And no one seems to suffer but myself and my household.

Why build so many flats if the water is not available?  Why not think of the water problem first?

I am a taxpayer and I don’t want to be made a water-martyr and be rationed amongst people who don’t even seem to know there is rationing on.

THIRSTY, Singapore.  7 September 1963.

Curb private pools

We are threatened with water rationing annually due to uncertain and insufficient water supply for our growing needs.

The government is seeking ways and means of controlling the use of water; seeking new sources of supplies; enlarging storage capacities and educating the public to use water sparingly, wisely and to treat it as a precious commodity.

But has it occurred to our authorities that the number of private swimming pools being designed, approved and built has increased in spite of the fact that there are a good number of public pools all over Singapore?

The provision of industrial water for sanitary and other purposes is a good ideas but this means additonal cost for providing separate mains and pipings to be borned by the public.

Why allow the rich to enjoy a private swimming pool at the expense of the general public?

The authorities could at least temporarily discourage the construction of private swimming pools (except those using sea water) until such time when the public will not have to face the threat of water rationing.

This is one practical and simple way to control the use of water to everybody’s benefit.

WATER FOR THOUGHT, Singapore 9.  New Nation, 11 December 1972.

On-off water supply puzzle

I am a tenant of a flat in St. Michael’s Estate and lately my family and I have been subjected to frequent breakdowns in our water supply.

Other tenants however, especially my neighbour whose taps draws water from the same main as mine, have never experienced this difficulty, and their regular water supply is interrupted only by the normal rationing hours enforced by the Public Utilities Board.

I do not understand why I should be the only exception.

I have notified the Water Department of this and all its “roundsmen” do is to unscrew the connection from the main pipe and then fix it back.

After this, water flows through my tap but only to stop again the next day.  Sometimes this continues for two days in succession.

Although I am told that the breakdown could possibly due to a number of reasons – an airlock, low water pressure, choking, etc – I am still at a loss to understand why up to date nothing further in the form of a permanent solution has yet been found by the department concerned.

It now seems certain that for some time to come I will have to continue getting water by means of a rubber hose connected to the main pipe, by-passing the water meter.

Though illegal, I do not care as it would considerably reduce the amount I have to pay on my water bill.

D.M. JANI, Singapore.  The Straits Times, 2 November 1963.

Stampede to buy drums and containers to store water

I note with some concern the arrangements made by the PUB to ration water by cutting off supplies to certain areas for a period of 24 hours at a stretch.

By this very action there has been a stampede by the general public to purchase drums and containers to store water.

The very fact the water rationing has automatically caused an increased rate of consumption.

As an engineer myself, I feel that a solution would be not to cut off water to different areas but to reduce pressure in all areas throughout the dry spell.

This can be done manually by half closing the mains cock to the different zonejs.

By experimenting, it will be possible to ensure that there is adequate pressure to high-rise flats.

It is not necessary for me to elaborate further and I leave it to the PUB Water Engineers to work out the details themselves.

I may add that I own a bungalow and I have reduced the water pressure to the bungalow by half closing the water mains cock in the garden.

BUNGALOW OWNER,  Singapore 20.  Singapore Herald, 15 May 1971.



At every “Water is Precious” exhibition one cannot fail to see – and by mystified by – a king size magic water tap happily and incessantly gushing out precious sparkling water.

In another section of the same exhibition, one sees a profusion of “Do and Don’t” pictures and slogans exhorting people to save water and not to let the tap run freely to waste.

I wonder how one could reconcile the two opposing ideas in one and the same exhibition.

The water tap demonstration actually gives one a false impression of an unlimited water supply rather than water-scarce city which the exhibition purports to bring home to the public.

Anyway it is good fun watching the tap.

P.S. NG, Singapore 3.  The Straits Times, 13 June 1973.

Water Today – Source: TODAY, 28 October 2005


“With the opening up of our reservoirs, I have more options for wakeboarding.  It is exciting to wakeboard in fresh water, which is what I experience at international competitions, and comforting to know that the waters are clean as well.”

2004/2005 Singapore National Wakeboarding Champion Sasha Christian, 12.

Many of us may not know or remember the inconvenience of water rationing.   After all, it happened back in the ’60s when Singapore was hit by droughts.

It’s not that Singapore does not sufer dry spells anymore.  It’s just that we have in place our 4 National Taps Strategy, which ensures enough water to meet our current and futre needs.

Tap 1, or local catchment, refers to water from our reservoirs and drainage system.

Tap 2, refers to the water we import from Malaysia.

Tap 3, or NEWater, is treated used water produced by a complex process of micro-filtration and reverse osmosis.

Tap 4 is the desalinated water derived from converting sea water to fresh water.

Despite this strategy, we cannot be lax about water usage.  That’s why the Singapore Green Plan aims to reduce Singapore’s per capita domestic consumption from 162 to 155 litres per day by 2012.  It hopes to achieve this through initiatives such as the Water Efficient Homes (WEH) Programme, which encourages good water conservation habits, like taking shorter showers, and the use of water-efficient products, like thimbles and cistern water-saving bags.

While encouraging us to conserve and value water, the SGP 2012 also wants us to enjoy it.

Leading this initiative is the Public Utilities Board (PUB).  By opening up some of our reservoirs for leisure activities like wakeboarding and canoeing, PUB hopes Singaporeans will foster a close relationship wih water.  And learn to appreciate it.

This you can do by not littering in our reservoirs and waterways. Or by just making the efforts to use water wisely.

Singapore World Water Day



The young Singaporeans are learning in the schools to get involved in the Singapore World Waterday here .



Lets play our parts to save water.  Water is precious for life.  Please do not waste.

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