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Non-point source water quality in Singapore's catchments

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Investigators: Peter SHANAHAN (MIT), Janelle THOMPSON (MIT), Lloyd CHUA Hock Chye (NTU)
Students: Eveline EKKLESIA (NTU/SMART), Jia WANG (MIT), and over 20 Masters of Engineering students (MIT)

Description: To understand the sources of human fecal contamination and other pollutants reaching Singapore’s reservoirs

​​​​​This project seeks to understand the sources of human fecal contamination and other pollutants reaching Singapore’s reservoirs and to evaluate best management practices for control of non-point source pollution in Singapore.  The study of fecal contamination in Singapore watersheds has focused on understanding the dynamics of contaminant concentrations, identifying appropriate environmental tracers for contamination, and understanding the association between land use and contamination sources.  The project has included roughly three years of field data collection.  Storm drains with different land uses were sampled at hourly intervals for a variety of potential fecal contamination tracers including DNA markers, caffeine, several pharmaceuticals, fecal sterols, detergents, and artificial sweeteners in addition to conventional indicator bacteria.  The resulting database is now being examined to identify significant diurnal concentration patterns, correlations between different analytes, and relationships with land use.  The second component of our project—the study of BMPs—aims to develop a model to simulate the hydraulics and chemistry of rain gardens, a best management practice now being used in Singapore under PUB’s ABC Waters Programme.  Field data collection is underway at the Balam Estates Rain Garden to elucidate the chemical processes that consume the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen in the rain garden.  The gathered data will be used as the basis to develop and calibrate a numerical simulation model. 

Unique within the CENSAM program, a key goal of the nonpoint-source water-quality project has been practice-oriented graduate education through the Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) program in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT.  The M.Eng. program is a professional educational program established in 1995 to prepare students for engineering practice.  M.Eng. students complete their theses through participation in team projects—these projects not only provide subject material for theses but also good preparation for engineering practice, which is typically completed by project teams.  The nonpoint-source water-quality project, owing in part to its practical nature, were conceived from the start as projects to be completed by M.Eng. students.



Sampling of stormwater drains for indicator bacteria over 24-hour periods has revealed a typical contamination pattern of low concentrations during the night with higher concentrations during the mornings and evenings.  These time patterns suggest leakage from the sanitary sewer system as a possible source of bacterial contamination to Singapore’s surface waters.  Additional studies will focus on using chemical and DNA tracers as alternatives to indicator bacteria.

Learn more about this project by reading 2013 staff brochure (Eveline EKKLESIA).