“Huge new reservoir planned for HK,” ran the headline in the South China Morning Post on July 25, 1969. “The reservoir, estimated to cost $750 million, would be three times deeper than the Plover Cove reservoir in Tolo Harbour. It would be formed by building dams at the east and west ends of the narrow sea passage separating High Island from the south coast of the Sai Kung Peninsula.”

Water rationing was a recent reality and water consumption was rising, “less because of the growth of population […] than because of the proliferation of taps in residential build­ings”, the Post reported on May 3, 1971. High Island Reservoir promised to almost double Hong Kong’s water storage with its 60-million-gallon capacity.

“Government yesterday handed over two contracts worth $298 million to an inter­national consortium for the construction of the Eastern and Western tunnels [linking the reservoir to the supply network],” reported the Post on December 11, 1971.

Construction was not without its set­backs. Among them were the displacement of about 400 villagers and fishermen and the discovery of remains of an ancient junk and pottery dating back to the Song dynasty (960-1279).

How Hong Kong built Plover Cove Reservoir, a world first

Despite these interruptions, High Island Reservoir was opened by then governor Murray MacLehose on November 27, 1978. The following day, the Post report­ed that the occasion “marks the conclusion of yet another challenging and innovative engineering feat […] But it is not, regrettably, the reservoir to end all reservoirs.”

Princess Alexandra, dressed in “a blue overcoat and fur hat”, as reported in the Post on February 10, 1980, switched on the pumps that brought the reservoir to life. Apparently showing great interest in the dam and its deeply bored holes, she joked that she hoped nobody would fall down. “Seconds later an overeager photographer stepped back and did just that – pulling out his leg and limping off with a string of expletives.”