A 300-year-old village on Lantau Island where residents still drink water from a stream has had its plea for a piped-in supply turned down, partly due to the cost, which works out at an estimated HK$1 million per head.
Tai Long, a village in southwest Lantau that is inaccessible by public transport, is among 19 villages which still have no access to treated water, affecting about 600 residents in all. Instead, people draw water from streams or wells or collect rainwater which they then boil before drinking.
Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced last month that the city's water network would be extended to four of those villages on Hong Kong Island: Tung Ah, Tung Ah Pui, Ngan Hang and Lan Nai Wan.
The remaining 15 villages are all in the New Territories and have populations ranging from three to 150. Another five uninhabited villages were also denied a water supply.
Lantau's Tai Long has 28 residents. Kenny Cheung Shu-kan, who represents the indigenous population in the village, said he received a letter from the Water Supplies Department rejecting pleas for a treated water supply. It stated that between the village and the existing water supply network lay two kilometres of mountainous terrain.
"Preliminary financial assessments showed that it would need a very high cost of nearly HK$1 million per head to construct the facilities," the department wrote. The total estimated cost was about HK$28 million.
The letter added: "Moreover, a low level of water consumption would make stagnant water stay in the pipes, resulting in deterioration of water quality."
Watch: Tai Long Tsuen Village's plight for treated water
A two-decade-old tank in the village stores rainwater and water diverted from a stream, said Ho Shu-loy, another village representative. The tank runs dry a few dozen times a year in autumn and winter and during holidays, when visitors push up the population. Residents then fetch water by bucket from a well.
Horace Lee Chi-ho, a Water Supplies Department engineer, said that the government's Islands District Office was looking into the possibility of enlarging the existing water tank. Meanwhile, the government would help villages when natural supplies ran dry, he added.
As for the other remote villages without water, he said cases could be reassessed if, for example, a new development rendered the provision of a treated water supply more economical.
"Given that the remaining villages are far away from urban areas and the existing treated water supply system, and the lack of major developments planned nearby, the per capita capital cost for the provision of water supply to these villages is estimated to range from nearly HK$200,000 to over HK$10 million," Lee said.
Lawmaker Tang Ka-piu said the government should not disregard residents' needs just because a small number of people were affected. "What does it mean by cost-effective or costineffective? Will the government draw a line between the two?"
He was also unconvinced by the government using stagnant water in the pipes as a reason for its refusal to install a treated water supply. "The water they depend on now has problems with quality," he said.
Villagers will meet officials from the Development Bureau on March 19 to discuss the issue.