Hong Kong reservoirs, endowed with captivating scenery, have become popular outing destinations among Hong Kong people in recent years. Earlier, I invited the Director of Water Supplies (DWS) to visit the Tai Tam Waterworks Heritage Trail on Hong Kong Island to explore the hundred years of waterworks history of the territory. Strolling along the Tai Tam Waterworks Heritage Trail, you are not only surrounded by trees and mesmerised by the reflection of the landscapes in tranquil water, you may also appreciate the 21 historic waterworks structures which have been declared monuments. These include a number of magnificent reservoir dams, some old masonry bridges and aqueducts, and a red brick water pumping station which has previously been used for location filming and is in fact still in use today.
Between 1883 and 1917, to cater to the public demand for drinking water, a number of reservoirs and water supply systems were constructed as part of the Tai Tam Scheme and Tai Tam Tuk Scheme. In 2009, a total of 41 historic waterworks facilities within the Tai Tam Group of Reservoirs and other five pre-war historic reservoirs (namely the Pok Fu Lam Reservoir, Wong Nai Chung Reservoir, Kowloon Reservoir, Shing Mun Reservoir and Aberdeen Reservoir) were declared monuments. The Water Supplies Department (WSD) also built the Tai Tam Waterworks Heritage Trail to make it more convenient for the public to visit these waterworks monuments and to promote them to the public. The trail is five kilometres long and it takes around two hours to complete.
Important milestones in the history of water supply
Owing to the massive scale of the Tai Tam waterworks project, the engineering team then had to overcome topographical and geological challenges, as well as issues of construction techniques. According to the DWS, Mr WONG Chung-leung, the Tai Tam Water Supply System comprises four reservoirs, i.e. the Tai Tam Upper Reservoir (the second reservoir built in Hong Kong after the Pok Fu Lam Reservoir), Tai Tam Byewash Reservoir, Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir and Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir, which have an aggregate capacity of 8.3 million cubic metres. The whole system took 35 years to complete. It was not only the main source of additional water supply for Hong Kong Island between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, but also an important milestone in the development of Hong Kong’s public water supply system.
Our first stop was the Tai Tam Upper Reservoir and the Tai Tam Byewash Reservoir. Looking far into the distance, we saw the Tai Tam Upper Reservoir Dam constructed of granite and concrete. The dam was built in 1888 and was previously Hong Kong’s largest dam by scale. Mr WONG Chung-leung told us that the dam was originally 90 feet high. In order to expand the capacity of the reservoir, the Government increased its height by 10 feet in 1897. If you look at the dam carefully at a distance, you can see the difference between the added part and the part previously built. Later, owing to increased water consumption by the public, the Government built the remaining reservoirs of the Tai Tam Group of Reservoirs to meet the demand.
The origin of “Kwan leads the way”
An engineer of the WSD, Mr WONG Hei-nok, who has been studying the history of Tai Tam waterworks, shared with us a historical anecdote. Currently on the country trail near the Tai Tam Byewash Reservoir, there is a granite tablet inscribed with the three characters “群帶路” (“Kwan leads the way”). It is said that the road gets its name from a villager called “Ah Kwan”, who led the British arriving on the shore of Stanley to negotiate the hills and pass through this road to reach Victoria, now the Central district, to do business. You may not know that the old ten dollar notes also depict the scene of “Kwan leads the way”. In the picture are a Chinese sailing ship and a British merchant ship against a backdrop of Victoria Harbour and the Kowloon Peninsula. Also shown are Chinese and British traders talking business. All these are indeed very interesting.
We also visited the Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir and admired the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir Dam at a distance. Mr WONG Chung-leung said that the Tai Tam Water Supply System is still making great contribution to the water supply of Hong Kong. Raw water from the Tai Tam Group of Reservoirs is transferred to the Red Hill Water Treatment Works for treatment before it is supplied to the Redhill Peninsula and the Stanley district.
Location filming for “Cold War II”
For the final stop, we came to the Tai Tam Tuk Raw Water Pumping Station. If you have watched the local movie “Cold War II”, you may have found it a bit familiar. In fact, the director has used this monument building for location filming with Movie King Aaron KWOK actually setting his foot there. The pumping station was first built in 1904. Originally, it used steam-driven pumps to pump raw water from the Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir to the hillside tunnel. The water then went through a water channel under Bowen Road to a sand filtration tank located at the time on Albany Road in the Mid-Levels for treatment. The treated water was then supplied to the urban areas on Hong Kong Island North. With the completion of the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir, the last reservoir in the Tai Tam Water Supply System, the pumping station was expanded to today’s scale in 1917.
The pumping station is a brick structure with a pitched roof of tiles supported on timber purlins which in turn rest on metal trusses made of cast iron frames and steel tie rods. Over the course of a hundred years, there have not been any major alterations to the roof structure. The pumping station is still in use today and has become the oldest pumping station of the WSD. On the hillside behind the pumping station, you can still see the chimney for discharging smoke from the coal-fired steam-driven pumps used at the time. In addition, on the ground outside the pumping station, there are still traces of the small rail tracks used for transporting supplies. However, here’s a gentle reminder for those interested in “clocking in”, as the pumping station is still in operation, visitors can only take photographs outside the gate, and we apologise for that.
“Asia’s Number One Dam” in those days
I learned that an exhibition had been held earlier by the University of Hong Kong during the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir to recreate the architectural appearance of the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir Dam, which was hailed as “Asia’s Number One Dam” in the past. Dr POON Sun-wah, Professor of the Department of Real Estate and Construction of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Hong Kong, has spent many years looking through historical files and photographs to recreate the construction history of the reservoir, and has unearthed some daily necessities of the construction workers and supervisors at the work sites back then. Dr POON remarked that the building of the main dam of the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir could be said to be the largest dam project in the Far East at the time. The chief engineer, Mr Daniel JAFFE, was responsible for the construction design and supervision. It took five years for the project to complete in 1917. Sadly, he died three years after the reservoir had been completed. Today, the Jaffe Road in Wan Chai was named by the then Government in his memory.
The waterworks history of Hong Kong is indeed very interesting. You are cordially invited to take a stroll on the Tai Tam Waterworks Heritage Trail during the weekend to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the great architectural legacy left by our predecessors.
15 April, 2018Back