Lower and Upper Peirce reservoirs
Lower Peirce Reservoir, officially opened on 26 March 1912, is the second-oldest impounding reservoir in Singapore. Built at the lower portion of Kallang River in 1910, the reservoir was originally known as Kalang (Kallang) River Reservoir. It was renamed Peirce Reservoir in 1922 to commemorate the service of Robert Peirce, municipal engineer of Singapore from 1901 to 1916.1 The Upper Peirce Reservoir was created upstream of the existing one in 1975, following which the older reservoir was renamed Lower Peirce Reservoir.2
By the 1850s, Singapore was facing an increasing demand for freshwater due to population growth and greater sanitary concerns. Singapore’s first reservoir, Impounding Reservoir (known today as MacRitchie Reservoir), was built in 1868 to address the issue; however, it soon proved inadequate by the turn of the century with the rapid development of the town and port, coupled with a burgeoning population.3
As early as 1889, then Municipal Engineer James MacRitchie had planned to increase the water supply in Singapore by constructing a tunnel to divert water from Kallang River to Impounding Reservoir. However, this idea was aborted when MacRitchie diverted his attention to works at Impounding Reservoir.4 By 1897, some 1,400 ac (566 ha) of land at Kallang River had been set aside and approved by the municipality for the implementation of MacRitchie’s plan, which was then carried out by his successor, Samuel Tomlinson.5 By December 1902, the Kallang tunnel project had begun, following Peirce’s appointment as the new municipal engineer.6 After resolving a series of issues plaguing the project,7 which came to be referred to as the Kallang Tunnel Works, it was eventually completed in 1907. Following its completion, Singapore’s daily water supply was increased to 5.5 million gallons (25,000 cu m) from around 4 million gallons (18,184 cu m) in 1899.8
In February 1902, while construction of the Kallang Tunnel Works was still underway, Peirce proposed a scheme to construct a second reservoir at Kallang by building an embankment across the valley of Kallang River. The plan was motivated by the forecast of continued water shortage even after the tunnel was completed.9 It was estimated then that Singapore would need at least 6.5 million gallons (29,549 cu m) of water daily by 1910.10
Construction and opening
In 1904, the municipality granted approval for the project; two years later, construction commenced. The reservoir, with a total catchment area of 3,007 ac (1,216 ha; including the upper-stream portion of the Kallang Tunnel Works),11 was completed in 1910. The tender for the projected was awarded to London’s Westminster Construction Company for 967,641 Straits dollars.12
The new reservoir had a storage capacity of at least 750 million gallons (3.4 million cu m) and supplied 3.5 million gallons (15,911 cu m) per day, increasing the total daily water supply to some 9 million gallons (40,914 cu m).13
The Kalang (old spelling of “Kallang”) River Reservoir was officially opened on 26 March 1912 by then Governor John Anderson. For the event, a commemorative stone was specially imported from Aswan, Egypt, and laid at the reservoir. The stone can still be found at the reservoir today.14
A decade later, in 1922, the reservoir was renamed Peirce Reservoir in honour of the municipal engineer who served in the position from 1901 to 1916.15
Upper Peirce Reservoir
In 1970, the Public Utilities Board engaged Binnie & Partners (Singapore) to conduct feasibility studies for the construction of a new reservoir in the vicinity of Peirce Reservoir as well as to implement the project.16 The site was found to be suitable and construction started in May 1972. The works included the building of a 30-metre-high, 350-metre-long earth dam upstream of the existing dam, hence creating a new reservoir upstream of the existing one. This new reservoir was named Upper Peirce Reservoir, while the older reservoir was accordingly renamed Lower Peirce Reservoir.17
The Upper Peirce Reservoir project consisted of the main dam, four secondary dams around it to prevent water spillage into the surrounding grounds, a water-treatment plant and two conveyance towers.18 The entire project was completed in 1975 at a cost of at least S$55 million, of which S$17 million was financed by a loan from the Commonwealth Development Corporation.19 At the time of its completion, Upper Peirce Reservoir was the largest reservoir in Singapore: It had a water storage capacity of around 6.1 billion gallons (27.8 million cu m), more than seven times that of Lower Peirce Reservoir.20 It was officially opened by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 27 February 1977.21
Water currently circulates between the Marina Reservoir and Upper Peirce Reservoir via tunnels to ensure the water’s freshness.22
Fear of water pollution
Together, MacRitchie, Upper Seletar (the third impounding reservoir constructed in Singapore), Upper Peirce and Lower Peirce reservoirs form the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. All of these reservoirs are designated as protected catchments, which means that development is prohibited there so as to preserve the ecological balance in these areas and minimise the risk of pollution. Hence, water from protected catchments is generally of a higher quality compared with other sources.23
In 1950, the Municipal Council announced that power stations, reservoirs and sewage works were classified as protected places and no longer accessible to the public unless passes were obtained from the council.24 This decision was reversed in 1979 with the opening of the five-hectare Upper Peirce Reservoir Park next to the reservoir.25
Flora and fauna
The forest surrounding the Lower and Upper Peirce reservoirs is a mature secondary rainforest, with some trees estimated to be over a hundred years old. Rubber trees and oil palms, remnants of former plantations, are found near the reservoir.26 The nature reserve surrounding the reservoirs has been recommended for bird watching and nature strolls.27 Fishing, swimming and poaching at the reservoirs are, however, prohibited due to their protected status.28 There are some 900 flowering plants, 100 ferns and 250 animal species found in the Lower Peirce Reservoir area. These include the jambu laut (Malay for “sea apple”) tree, nibong palm and pitcher plants. Wildlife such as the water monitor lizard, oriental whip snake and the long-tailed macaque also inhabit the area.29 In 1999, a 900-metre boardwalk, the Lower Peirce Trail, was opened for public use.30
In 1992, the Nature Society (Singapore) carried out a conservation study on the impact of building a golf course at the forested area next to the Lower Peirce Reservoir. In the report, the society accorded the nature reserve at Lower Peirce the highest rating of five stars.31 The proposed 120-hectare (296 ac) golf course did not materialise.32
In 2008, the Urban Redevelopment Authority announced the extension of its conservation efforts to include towers, bridges and structures other than buildings. Following the policy change, the water intake tower and bridge at Lower Peirce Reservoir were gazetted for conservation on 3 December 2009.33
1. Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Yesterday & Today: The Story of Public Electricity, Water and Gas Supplies in Singapore (Singapore: Times Books International, 1985), 12–13 (Call no. RSING 363.6095957 YES); “Municipal Commission,” Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 18 May 1907, 3; “Untitled,” Straits Times, 21 November 1922, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “$132M Water Supply Projects to Be Ready This Year,” Straits Times, 9 February 1975, 6; Bill Campbell, “Coping with the Ever Increasing Demand for Water,” Straits Times, 5 December 1972, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Our Water Supply,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 27 March 1912, 12; “Municipal Commission,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 24 October 1901, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Municipal Meeting,” Straits Times, 17 January 1903, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Our Water Supply,” Straits Times, 3 April 1900, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Official Scheme,” Straits Times, 8 December 1902, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Untitled,” Straits Times, 29 February 1904, 4; “Page 5 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 20 May 1904, 5; “Kallang Tunnel: More Trouble,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 25 November 1905, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Singapore Water Supply,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 20 March 1912, 12 (From NewspaperSG); Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Contesting Space: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment in Colonial Singapore (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 179. (Call no. RSING 307.76095957 YEO)
9. “Official Scheme.”
10. Yeoh, Contesting Space, 179.
11. “Singapore Water Supply”; Municipality, Singapore, Administration Report of the Singapore Municipality for the Year (Singapore: Fraser & Neave, 1911), 23. (Call no. RCLOS 352.05951 SIN)
12. Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Yesterday & Today, 13; “Our Water Supply in 1906,” Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 20 July 1907, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Our Water Supply”; Campbell, “Increasing Demand for Water”; Yeoh, Contesting Space, 179.
14. Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Yesterday & Today, 13; “Our Water Supply.”
15. Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Yesterday & Today, 13.
16. “Introduction,” in Public Utilities Board, Singapore, Souvenir Brochure to Commemorate the Official Opening of the Upper Peirce Reservoir (Singapore: Public Utilities Board, 1977). (Call no. RCLOS 628.13095957 PUB)
17. Campbell, “Increasing Demand for Water”; “Mr Lee to Open S’pore’s Largest Impounding Reservoir,” Straits Times, 27 February 1977, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
18. “S’pore’s Largest Impounding Reservoir.”
19. Public Utilities Board, Singapore, “Introduction.”
20. “S’pore’s Largest Impounding Reservoir.”
21. “S’pore’s Largest Impounding Reservoir.”
22. Lin YanQing, “Keeping It Fresh,” Today, 27 June 2008, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
23. 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), 128. (Call no. RSING 363.70095957 TAN)
24. “Reservoirs Now Out of Bounds,” Straits Times, 29 October 1950, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Peirce Reservoir Park Opens,” Straits Times, 2 May 1979, 10 (From NewspaperSG); “Upper Pierce Reservoir Park,” National Parks Board, accessed 17 August 2015.
26. “Lower Pierce Reservoir Park,” National Parks Board, accessed 19 June 2015; “Interesting Sights at Lower Peirce Reservoir Park,” National Parks Board, accessed 23 November 2014.
27. Grace Chng, “Where You Can Still Find Our Nature Reserves,” Straits Times, 24 January 1983, 40. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Robert Conceicao, “Poaching Rampant in Reserves,” Singapore Monitor, 9 April 1985, 2; “Fish Here, Swim Here, All Allowed,” Straits Times, 3 May 1987, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
29. National Parks Board, A Guide to Lower Pierce Trail (Singapore: National Parks Board, n.d.), 3–4.
30. National Parks Board, Guide to Lower Pierce Trail, 3–4; “New Nature Trail,” Straits Times, 13 November 1999, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Dominic Nathan, “Environment Studies on ‘Catchment’ Golf Course,” Straits Times, 21 March 1992, 26. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Dominic Nathan, “Nature Society Hopes to Run Some Nature Areas,” Straits Times, 2 October 1993, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Tay Suan Chiang, “Twelve Iconic Structures,” Straits Times, 4 October 2008, 12 (From NewspaperSG); “Conservation: Lower Pierce Reservoir,” Urban Redevelopment Authority, accessed 18 August 2015.
Cherian George, “Peirce Course: Let Reason Prevail, Says BG Lee,” Straits Times, 3 August 1992, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
Kalang River Reservoir, 1915, photograph, Lee Kip Lin Collection, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 19980005121-0060)
Lim Kim Keang and IIsa Sharp, “Still an Environmental Hazard,” Straits Times, 3 August 1995, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
National Archives of Singapore, Peirce Reservoir, Singapore, 1960s, National Archives of Singapore (media-image no. 20080000053-0008)
Nature Society (Singapore), Proposed Golf Course at Lower Peirce Reservoir: An Environmental Impact Assessment (Singapore: Nature Society, 1992). (Call no. RSING 333.7814095957 NAT)
Sandra Davie, “Animals and Plants May Vanish If Golf Course Is Built,” Straits Times, 26 May 1992, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as of 14 September 2015 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.