HDB bags award for green innovations

Natural and man-made elements are combined to create 'peaceful oasis'

The greening of Punggol Waterway has helped the Housing Board (HDB) bag an engineering award from the Institution of Engineers Singapore (IES).

The team of HDB engineers responsible for enhancing the 4.2km-long waterway - the longest man-made waterway here - was recognised for their green innovations. The engineers, from HDB's Building and Research Institute (BRI), had cultivated freshwater-tolerant mangroves and designed a scalable, modular platform for floating wetlands.

Their efforts have enhanced the waterway's water quality, biodiversity and recreational value.

The team received the Prestigious Engineering Achievement Award on July 23 from Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng.

Twelve other teams, from government agencies, research institutions and private firms, were also presented with the annual award.

The Punggol Waterway, which links the Serangoon and Punggol reservoirs, runs beside existing and upcoming HDB blocks. It is occasionally used for organised water activities such as kayaking.

HDB said it has planted 6,000 sq m of 35 plant species on the banks of the waterway, including endangered saltwater mangroves that were found to thrive in freshwater conditions. The mangrove roots help to bind the soil and stabilise the slopes at the riverbanks.

BRI senior engineer Vincent Lim Han said the waterway is a "living laboratory where we test-bed new urban solutions".

The team has also patented hexagonal floats that can interlock into stable platforms for water plants.

Together, the mangroves and floating wetland improve water quality by up to 30 per cent by reducing dissolved nutrients and turbidity, said Mr Lim.

HDB chief executive Cheong Koon Hean said: "I am very proud of our engineers, who are always pursuing new solutions to better the lives of Singaporeans. Moving ahead, we are studying how we can further tap the potential of the floating system, such as using it to harvest solar energy in Singapore."

Last year, the waterway was recognised by the IES as one of Singapore's top 50 engineering achievements.

On HDB's latest achievement, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that while engineering is a critical part of HDB's work, it is not all about hardware and buildings.

"Through innovation, HDB also enhances the flora and fauna around our neighbourhoods and the overall quality of living in HDB estates," Mr Wong wrote on the blog Housing Matters. "The mangroves and floating wetland have made Punggol Waterway a green and peaceful oasis for residents."

A variety of wildlife has since made the mangroves and floating wetland their home, including 92 species of birds, 11 species of butterflies and 17 species of dragonflies, Mr Wong noted.

He added that HDB will extend its green innovations to other new estates, such as Bidadari and Tampines North.

On HDB's efforts in cultivating freshwater-tolerant mangroves, Assistant Professor Daniel Friess, a mangrove specialist at the National University of Singapore, said: "It is a real challenge to replicate all of the environmental requirements of different mangrove species. Any experiment such as this will certainly improve our knowledge of how mangroves survive."

For residents such as project manager Wilfred Tan, 40, the waterway and its surroundings are both aesthetically appealing and functional.

"It looks much better than a concrete canal, and people can do a lot of sports such as jogging and cycling," said Mr Tan, who often takes his children to the waterway.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'HDB bags award for green innovations'. Print Edition | Subscribe