In 1962, Singapore and Southern Johore suffered a severe drought. Rain did not fall for months. At that time, Singapore had only three open reservoirs. MacRitchie was the biggest and Seletar (now upper Seletar) was the smallest. Peirce Reservoir (now Lower Peirce) was the third reservoir.
I grew up in a house near to the Peirce Reservoir. I often went to the reservoir with my father and siblings during weekends to walk or fish and we could see the dwindling water stock. The shoreline was receding. With each passing day, the shoreline was further and further away. All around, the dry bed was baked solid dry and cracking.
Peirce Reservoir was created from the damming of the Kallang River. It was completed in 1909. My maternal grandfather had a hand in its construction. He was a bullock cart driver who was engaged to transport granite blocks to the construction site. I suppose he would be today’s equivalent of a lorry driver. Before it was built, there were villages on the banks of the river. The 1962 drought revealed some house sites. They were easily identifiable from the house foundations and relics of human habitation. In one of our walks we picked up a clay water pitcher that was in fairly good condition. Unfortunately, my little brother who was then about 6 years old, dropped it while carrying it home and it broke into many pieces.
When the situation became critical, water rationing was introduced. There was water from the tap only for a few hours a day. If I remember correctly, water supply was turned off from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm. Before the tap ran dry, we collected as much water as we could. Every pail, basin, pot and earthen jar was used as a receptacle to store water for the day. We would use the water in these containers for cooking or washing utensils only. For our daily showers, we have to wait until the water supply was restored in the evening. For some of us boys who did not want to wait until evening, we proceeded to a natural spring outside the Peirce Reservoir for our bath. I remember that there was water flowing even at the height of the drought. As the drought continued, I remember that there was talk of cloud seeding. I don’t know if this was eventually carried out. To store even more water, my father went to buy an enormous oil drum. At the end of the day, my family used more water in spite of the rationing. If my family was typical, then water rationing did not really work.
Perhaps it didn’t rain that year from about March or April and lasted to September or October. Water rationing only ceased when the year end monsoon came and filled up our reservoirs and the Tebrau River in Southern Johore.