Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 September, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong is home to many engineering marvels. Skyscrapers, cross-harbour tunnels and, of course, Chek Lap Kok airport, figure high in the popular imagination. But the most significant - and under-recognised - is the city's network of freshwater reservoirs.

The early 1960s saw desperate water shortages in Hong Kong. Crippling droughts in China, partly caused by widespread environmental devastation brought about by the Great Leap Forward in the late 50s, greatly exacerbated the city's water problems. Something had to be done to help diminish reliance on mainland water supplies. It was widely believed that, for political reasons, the taps across the border could be turned off at any time, thus sealing the colony's fate within days.

Almost all available locations that could be used for reservoir construction had been built on, and - as with reclamation for building projects elsewhere - the surrounding seas were looked to as a possible answer.

Now one of Hong Kong's most scenic country park areas, popular with hikers throughout the year, Plover Cove Reservoir was once exactly that - an inlet open to the sea.

Construction started at Plover Cove in 1960 and finished in 1968. The mouth of the cove was dammed off with a seawall some 28 metres high and two small islands at the entrance were linked together. The dam itself is more than two kilometres long and forms part of a popular route for recreational cyclists. Along with that obtained from local catchments, Plover Cove acts as a storage reservoir for water brought in by pipeline from Guangdong's East River.

As with much of the northeast New Territories, Plover Cove's villagers were mostly Hakka, and a number of waterside hamlets needed to be relocated. A resettlement project to house them close to Tai Po was undertaken and shops and flats were built for those who lost their homes. Sam Mun Tsai had to be completely relocated away from the foreshore of the new reservoir. Sam Mun Tsai New Village was built near Tai Mei Tuk, not far from the dam wall.

Along with Island House, further down Tolo Harbour, Sam Mun Tsai provided a sheltered anchorage for the Hoklo floating community. This distinct ethnic group speaks a dialect closely related to the Min languages of Fujian province. More than three dozen families were relocated in 1968; many came to live permanently on land for the first time in their lives and, with this change, another traditional local lifestyle vanished.