THE COLONY’S WATERWORKS.
This is a transcript of a speech given by Governor Clementi to Legco on 5 September 1929, talking about the work to provide a reliable supply of water to Hong Kong's residents. He looks back at Hong Kong's earlier efforts, and forward to plans for the near future, giving us a good summary of Hong Kong's water supply in its first 100 years as a British colony. I've added the headings in bold.
The 1929 drought
H.E. The GOVERNOR.—Honourable Members of the Legislative Council: For many months past our principal anxiety has been the very serious water shortage in the Colony, and especially on Hong Kong island, due to an abnormally low rainfall. This water emergency arose in spite of the fact that all the storage reservoirs of the Colony overflowed in 1928. The last dates in that year when the reservoirs on Hong Kong island stood at overflow-level were as follows:—Wong-nai-ch’ung 4th June, Pok-fu-lam 5th June, Tytam Byewash 13th June, Tytam 16th June, Tytam-tuk 28th July and Tytam Intermediate 17th November. On the mainland, in 1928, Shek-lai-pui reservoir last stood at overflow-level on the 8th September and Kowloon reservoir on the 28th November. But the rainfall for the second half of 1928 was only 22.89 inches—the lowest ever recorded; and the rainfall from the beginning of this year to the 12th July last, when the drought may be said to have ended, was only 15.76 inches, making a total of 38.65 inches during a period of a little over twelve months. The lowest rainfall ever previously recorded in this Colony for twelve consecutive months was 45.83 inches in 1895. The recent drought was, therefore, much the most severe in the Colony’s history and its effect was such that on the 11th July, 1929, when our island reservoirs were at their lowest, the total water storage in Hong Kong was only 150 million gallons, while on the 8th June, 1929, when our mainland reservoirs were at their lowest, the total water storage in Kowloon was only 79 million gallons'. This means that the island and mainland reservoirs were so depleted that no more than 7% and 15% respectively of their aggregate capacities remained in storage. Since the 12th July last we have fortunately had heavy rains and our anxieties have been somewhat relieved. But it has been brought home to every resident in this Colony in an unmistakable manner that our water problem is the most pressing and the most important of our domestic problems; and it is quite clear to all of us that an adequate solution of this problem is imperative. Therefore, as a preliminary to our deliberations over next year’s budget, I wish to place before you the history in brief outline of the Colony’s waterworks, a description of our present position with respect to water supply, and a statement of the waterworks’ policy which we intend to pursue in the near future and of the goal we aim at.
1841: 'the fine mountain-stream'
The construction of residential and business premises on Hong Kong island began in March, 1841, when Messrs. Jardine, Matheson & Company erected the first substantial house and godowns at East Point. The mercantile centre of the Colony was at the outset in Wong-nai-ch’ung valley and Chinese settlement began to the west of that valley. The water supply for these early settlers came from the fine mountain-stream which gives the valley its name, and which makes its way into the harbour through what is now known as the Bowrington Canal. The so-called Blue Pool in this stream provided a small storage; and it is interesting to note that during the recent water emergency this pool, which was reconstructed by the city waterworks in 1874, was again brought into use and dug out, after being completely silted up in the course of the intervening years. Moreover, even when the drought was at its worst, the Wong-nai-ch’ung stream never failed to flow. Doubtless it was this natural water supply which attracted the first settlers, to the Happy Valley.
In 1841 there were estimated to be 5,650 Chinese in Hong Kong. The number of Europeans, then resident on the island, is not known; but it must have been very small. Ten years later, in 1851, the population had increased to a total of 32,983 souls, of whom 1,520 were non-Chinese; and in that year the Colony’s first waterworks were constructed, namely, five wells for the city supply. Again, it is interesting to remark that during the recent emergency we have had to fall back upon the opening of wells in Happy Valley and elsewhere to eke out our failing supply from the reservoirs.
1860s: Water tanks and the first reservoir at Pok-fu-lam
The next step was taken in 1860, when two tanks were constructed in Bonham Road for the city supply; and once again I note that tanks have during the recent emergency proved to be one of the most useful means of combatting the drought. The two tanks built in 1860 were, three years later, connected by an aqueduct with Pok-fu-lam, where in 1863 the Colony’s first storage reservoir was completed. In that year the population of Hong Kong had increased to 124,850 souls, of whom 3,149 were non-Chinese.
1870s: Expanding the Pok-fu-lam reservoir
The Pok-fu-lam scheme, like so many of the Colony’s waterworks, was developed by successive stages. In 1863 the capacity of this reservoir was only two million gallons. In 1871 by reconstruction its storage was increased to 66 million gallons: and in 1895 an additional 4,400,000 gallons were impounded by the use of boards, making the total capacity of Pok-fu-lam reservoir 70,400,000 gallons. Meanwhile, in 1877, the conduit between Pok-fu-lam and the city was reconstructed; and, in 1890, four filter beds for this reservoir were built with an area of 1,360 square yards.
1880s & 1890s: Damming the Tytam valley
The second, and by far the largest, of the storage schemes on the island is that in the Tytam valley. The original section of this scheme was completed in 1889. It provided for a storage reservoir of 312,330,000 gallons, a tunnel 1.38 miles long, a conduit three miles long, and a service reservoir with a capacity of 5,700,000 gallons. In 1897 the dam was raised to impound an additional 72,470,000 gallons. The capacity of Tytam reservoir thus became
384,800,000 gallons, and by using boards this was further increased to a total of 407 million gallons. Meanwhile, in 1891, the Peak, which had previously been dependent on well water, was supplied from the city waterworks by pumping; and, in 1892, the city waterworks distribution scheme was completed.
1899: 'the small Wong-nai-ch’ung reservoir'
In 1899 was completed the small Wong-nai-ch’ung reservoir with a capacity of 30,340,000 gallons, increased to 33,994,000 gallons by the use of boards; and in that year the total capacity of all storage reservoirs on the island, with boards in use, was 511,394,000 gallons. It is not now considered safe to increase the depth of water in the Pok-fu-lam and Wong-nai-ch’ung reservoirs by the use of boards. Both these old reservoirs leak and the leakage increases, when boards are fixed. Moreover, as Tytam reservoir now overflows into Tytam-tuk reservoir, the use of boards in connection with it has been discontinued. The total capacity of these reservoirs has thus been reduced from 511,394,000 gallons in 1899 to 481,140,000 gallons at the present day. The Colony’s population in 1899 was 259,312 souls, of whom 15,822 were non-Chinese.
Earliest waterworks for Kowloon and the New Territories
On the 16th April, 1899, the New Territories were taken over and the British flag was hoisted at Taipo. Prior to that day the land population of British Kowloon, which, according to the 1891 census, was 19,997 souls, had drawn its water supply entirely from wells, and the only waterworks undertaken by the Hong Kong Government on Kowloon peninsula had been the construction, in 1895, of three wells, north of Yaumati, to supply 250,000 gallons a day. But from 1899 onwards increasing attention was given to schemes for storing water on the mainland.
1900s: The Kowloon Reservoir
The construction of the Kowloon reservoir and of the Kowloon waterworks gravitation scheme began in 1902 and was completed in 1910. Its storage capacity at overflow-level is 352 1/2 million gallons, but with the sluices down an additional 32 1/2 million gallons can be stored, making a total of 385 million gallons.
1920s: the Shek-lai-pui reservoir and the Sheng-mun valley scheme
Next followed, in 1925, the completion of the Shek-lai-pui reservoir, with a capacity of 116 million gallons; and meanwhile, in 1923, work began on the Sheng-mun valley scheme, which is still under construction, and about which I shall have more to say later on.
1920s: Improvements to the water supply in the New Territories
Two small schemes on the mainland should, however, be mentioned at this point. In 1920 the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club requested Government to supply water to the links and club-houses at Fan-ling; and, as private residential development also had begun in the vicinity, a gravitation system was constructed to supply the district, water being obtained from a perennial stream to the west of the golf course. The distribution system now extends from Fan-ling village to Kam-tsin village and the average daily consumption this year has been about 17,000 gallons. It was further decided, in 1922, to place the Taipo water supply on a more satisfactory basis. Prior to that year houses in the neighbourhood of Taipo were supplied from sources of doubtful purity and Taipo Market itself was dependent on wells. An intake has now been formed in a large stream near Taipo; all cultivated ground above the intake has been resumed and the catchment area has been made into a forestry reserve. A 4" main has been laid and supplies Taipo Market and other villages as well as the residential buildings in the vicinity. The daily consumption at present amounts to 40,000 gallons.
1900s & 1910s: More reservoirs in the Tytam valley
Meanwhile further storage reservoirs were also being built on Hong Kong island in the Tytam valley. The Tytam Byewash reservoir, with a capacity of 22,370,000 gallons, was completed in 1904; and the so-called Intermediate Reservoir in Tytam valley, with a capacity of 195,914,000 gallons, was completed in 1907. Work on the Tytam-tuk scheme began in 1913 and was completed on the 22nd October, 1917. These works comprise a storage reservoir, practically at sea-level, with a capacity of 1,419 million gallons, a pumping-station capable of raising 9 million gallons a day to Tytam Tunnel, two suction mains of 18" diameter and half a mile in length, and three rising mains of 18" diameter and 1.93 miles in length. Three more small schemes must be mentioned for the sake of completeness. In 1914 a service reservoir and two filter-beds were constructed to supply the Shau-ki-wan district with water collected from intakes in streams on the eastern slopes of Mount Parker. A supply of about 200,000 gallons a day is obtained from this source. In 1922 a balance tank was built and a 3" pipe-line, capable of yielding 75,000 gallons a day, was laid from Wong-nai-ch’ung reservoir to serve the new development in Repulse Bay. Finally, this year, a similar pipe-line and balance tank have been built connecting the Stanley peninsula with the Tytam supply and capable of yielding nearly 100,000 gallons a day.
No further storage reservoirs have as yet been constructed in Hong Kong, and the total capacity of the six storage reservoirs built by Government on the island—namely, Pok-fu-lam, Wong-nai-ch’ung, Tytam, Tytam Byewash, Tytam Intermediate and Tytam-tuk—is 2,118,414,000 gallons. The population of Hong Kong island cannot now be less than 600,000 souls. Thus the storage, which in 1863 was no more than 16 gallons a head, and in 1899 was only 1,972 gallons a head, is now 3,530 gallons a head.
Privately built reservoirs on Hong Kong island at Aberdeen and Quarry Bay
Apart from these six storage reservoirs constructed by the Government, four reservoirs have been built on Hong Kong island by private enterprise. Three of them were constructed by Messrs. Butterfield & Swire in connection with their establishments at Quarry Bay. The first was built in 1884 and has a capacity of 11 million gallons. The second, built in 1893, has a capacity of 30 million gallons; and the third, built in 1895 and situated at the 500-foot level above North Point, has a capacity of 137.7 million gallons. There is also in the Aberdeen valley a storage reservoir constructed in 1890 by the Tai Shing Paper Manufacturing Company. Its capacity, when first built, was 44.2 million gallons. In the years 1899 and 1900 its dam was raised 18 feet to its present level, thus increasing the storage by 47.8 million gallons to a total capacity of 92 million gallons. From this reservoir the Company is required by the terms, of its Crown lease to supply the Aberdeen and Ap-li-chau villages with 60,000 gallons a day; and, in order to improve this supply, the Government in 1897 constructed a small covered service reservoir and three filter-beds. The Company’s own reservoir was, however, resumed by the Hong Kong Government in March last, as an initial step towards the extension of the waterworks in Aberdeen valley, a matter to which I shall revert later on. The Ap-li-chau supply was obtained by waterboats until 1928, when a 2" pipe-line was laid across the bed of Aberdeen harbour to give this small island a direct service.
I now pass from the subject of water storage to that of water distribution. On the mainland, where storage of water has fortunately hitherto kept pace with the growth of the population, it is now the policy of Government to give all premises a metered supply through the mains. But on the island, where in times of drought the water storage has often been insufficient to supply the needs of the resident population, a more complicated system of distribution grew up. Under the legislation of the years 1895 to 1898 the system of supply was as follows:—
- (a) Within the City of Victoria water for domestic purposes was supplied without check or restraint of any kind through services laid on to the houses. Any house could have its service. Meters were fixed only in the case of supplies for trade or non-domestic purposes.
- (b) Outside the City of Victoria the supply of water to Chinese houses was entirely by means of public fountains. Services for the supply of water for domestic purposes were permitted to European houses only, and in the case of all services meters had to be fixed.
- (c) A uniform rate, both inside and outside the city, of 2% per annum, on the rating valuation was charged on account of water. In the case of all metered supplies, the water consumed was charged for at the rate of 25 cents per thousand gallons, a rebate of 1 1/3% per annum on the rating valuation being made from the accounts.
You will see that under the old ordinances there were some strange anomalies. A European house inside the city boundaries obtained an unlimited supply of water through the mains without payment, except in the form of rates; but a similar house outside the city boundaries was metered and had to pay for all it consumed, only a portion of the amount paid as water rate being refunded. A Chinese house inside the city boundaries also obtained an unlimited supply of water from the mains without payment, except in the form of rates; but a similar house outside the city boundaries had to obtain its supply from street-fountains, whilst paying the same water rate as a house inside the city.
Drought and insufficient storage made it frequently necessary to resort to a system of intermittent supply upon the island. Indeed, from 1889, the date of the completion of the original Tytam scheme, down to 1902 it had only been found possible to maintain the full supply in four years. The trouble came to a head during the exceptional drought of 1901-2, which extended over the whole of South China and resulted in a water famine on Hong Kong island during the early part of 1902 similar to that which we have experienced this year. It became evident that action must be taken, not merely to increase, but to conserve the Colony’s water storage; and it was first sought to attain the latter object by introducing universal meterage, the so-called “free supply” of water being placed very low. It was hoped that, rather than incur the expense of paying for “excess consumption,” the poorer classes of the population would fetch their water from the street-fountains, where they could obtain as much as they required free of charge, except in so far as the payment of rates was concerned. A bill was drafted, which provided for universal meterage, and “excess consumption” was defined in it as any quantity of water ascertained by a meter as having been used in a tenement in excess of a quarterly allowance which, at 50 cents per thousand gallons, would be equal to 1/3 % of the annual rating valuation of the said tenements. Under such a system of computation, the “free” supply of water in a Chinese house inhabited by the poorer classes would, it was estimated, have been about two gallons per caput per diem. Experience gained in Kowloon at that time had shown that seven gallons a day was for domestic purposes enough for the poorer Chinese, when there was no waste; and it was anticipated that, rather than pay for the extra five gallons a head, occupants would give up their house services.
A bill, drafted on these lines, was read a first time in this Council, but its object was misunderstood by the Chinese. They imagined that the aim was to raise revenue, whereas the real object was to check waste. The then Chinese members of the Legislative Council represented to Government that the bill would fail in its object, as landlords, in order to make their houses attractive, would keep the water-services in them and would arrange to charge the tenants for their excess consumption by additions to the rent. The Chinese, it was urged, would be better pleased if Government took steps to attain its object by direct legislation, at the same time increasing the “free” supply to such premises as were allowed services. The Government thereupon abandoned the idea of universal meterage and determined to provide for the supply of water to the poorer sections of the population by means of street-fountains, a step which would have brought the distribution of water within the city into line with that then existing outside its boundaries. For the wealthier classes a supply by house services would be provided, all such services to be metered and any excess consumption above a certain allowance to be charged for. Public fountains would be opened throughout the city and all houses would be disconnected from the mains unless the owners agreed to the introduction of meters and signed an undertaking to pay for “excess consumption.”
A new bill was accordingly introduced into Legislative Council and passed as Ordinance No. 29 on the 13th August, 1902, The chief changes which it made in the law were:—
- (1) The enforced use of a meter in every house connected with the water service.
- (2) The reduction of the daily allowance of water per caput from about twelve gallons a day to about five gallons a day.
- (3) The increase in the price of water to be supplied by meter from 25 cents to a sum not exceeding $1 per thousand gallons.
- (4) The enforced disconnection of the existing water-service supply from every “tenement-house,” i.e., every domestic building let to and inhabited by more than one occupier or family as tenants of a common landlord or sub-tenants of a tenant of any portion of such domestic building.
The two Chinese members of Legislative Council dissented from this bill also, and a petition was presented in August, 1902, by the Chinese inhabitants and firms of Hong Kong to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, praying that the legislation just passed should be disallowed, and proposing that instead the method of distribution, now known as the “rider-main system,” should be introduced. The grounds upon which the Chinese objected to the new legislation were that the first three changes in the law, as set out above, would entail upon the poorer classes much expense, trouble and inconvenience as regards their water supply; that there would be endless disputes between landlords and tenants as well as between the tenants themselves who occupied different floors or parts of the same building, and also between incoming and outgoing tenants; and further that by causing the poorer classes of Chinese to use as little water as possible, cleanliness and sanitation would be greatly prejudiced. With respect to the fourth change in the law the petitioners predicted that under its operation the water-service of each and every tenement-house occupied by Chinese in the City of Victoria would be summarily cut off with a very small chance of any reconnection. Therefore, instead of the drastic measure of cutting off all water-service from tenement-houses throughout the year, the petitioners urged the adoption of a scheme suggested by Mr. Osbert Chadwick in a report on the water supply of Hong Kong, dated the 18th April, 1902, in which he proposed that subsidiary mains of small diameter, now known as “rider-mains,” should be laid parallel to the principal mains on one or both sides of the city streets and that the house-services should be disconnected from the principal mains and connected to the rider-mains. In this way, the town would be divided up into blocks of convenient size, the water supply to which could be turned on and off independently and in rotation. Thus the occupants of tenement-houses would get a full supply, when the reservoir storage warranted it, and the evils of the intermittent supply in time of drought would be mitigated.
The Secretary of State agreed with the petitioners. Approval of Ordinance No. 29 of 1902 was withheld and a new bill was introduced in this Council in July, 1903, providing for the laying of rider-mains in areas which were defined as “rider-main districts.’’ This bill was passed into law on the 17th September, 1903. Under its provisions practically the whole of Victoria City below Kennedy Road, Caine Road and High Street, including East Point and Kennedy Town Districts, has been brought within the definition of a rider-main district. Rider-mains have been laid, and water-services to the houses in rider-main districts have been disconnected from the principal mains and connected to the rider-mains. Connections with the principal mains are granted only in cases in which special sanction is given by the Governor-in-Council, and with regard to which the owners enter into an undertaking to pay for “excess consumption.”
The present method of payment for water is as follows. A rate of 2% on the assessed value of all premises, both on the island and on the mainland, is "charged for water-services. In consideration for the payment of this rate a so-called “free allowance” of water is granted. This “free allowance” is calculated from the number of thousand-gallon units which the 2% rate will pay for at 40 cents a unit. Thus, if the 2% rate on a given house were ten dollars a year, the “free allowance” would be ten dollars divided by 40 cents, i.e. 25 units, i.e. 25,000 gallons a year. If, however, as in the rider-main districts, a house is not metered, the question of “free allowance” does not arise; no charge for excess consumption is made, and the supply is unlimited so long as the amount of water stored in our reservoirs permits, that is to say usually for about six months in a year. During the remaining six months, in time of water shortage, houses in the rider-main districts are often restricted to a supply of-two hours a day; while, in time of severe drought such as we have recently experienced, the supply even from the rider-mains is shut off and the inhabitants have to draw their water from the street-fountains. In Kowloon there are no rider-mains and all unmetered houses obtain their supplies from the street-fountains. “Excess consumption” in metered premises is charged for at the following prices per thousand gallons:—
(a) filtered water—
Hong Kong and Kowloon ........................ 75 cents
Peak District ................................ $1.00
Waterboats, Wharves and Contractors in respect of their building supplies receive no free allowance and pay a flat rate of........ $1.00
(b) unfiltered water—35 cents (Fanling $1.00) with no free allowance. No water rates are imposed in districts supplied with unfiltered water. A higher price is charged in the Peak District, because in that district the use of filtered water from the mains for flushing closets has been permitted. Accounts are rendered quarterly and money does not reach the Treasury until some 4 1/2 months after the first day of the quarter brought to account.
Such being the present position as regards water storage and water distribution, it has been brought home to us very clearly during the last twelve months that our storage is inadequate and that in time of drought our system of conserving water is clumsy and inefficient. For we have found the rider-main system to be sadly lacking in flexibility. If our rider-mains are in use, then the city supply from the trunk-mains cannot be cut off for periods of less than twelve hours, because any less period results in the upper floors of tenement houses getting no water at all. There are six rider-main districts and, in order that the pressure may suffice to give top floors a supply, the water must be turned on to each district in rotation. Thus a twelve hours’ supply in the trunk mains will only give each rider-main district a two hours’ supply; and even a two hours’ supply often fails to convey water to upper floors in tenement houses, owing to the draw-off by inhabitants on lower floors. Consequently, as a method of economizing water, the rider-mains cause the maximum of inconvenience with a minimum of result. Supply from the trunk-mains under a system of universal meterage would be far more satisfactory, as it should enable the Water Authority to reduce the period of supply to six hours or less without thereby inflicting disproportionate hardship on anyone. This year even the rider-mains had to be closed down and the city was obliged to rely for several months on street-fountains supplied from the reservoirs and on specially constructed tanks filled with water transported from the mainland in lighters and other - craft. It is manifest, therefore, that our first step should be to build more reservoirs; but unfortunately the configuration of Hong Kong is such that storage possibilities on the island are very limited. There is, however, one additional storage scheme, of which this Council has approved, and which is now being carried out, namely that at Aberdeen.
The Aberdeen scheme
The Aberdeen scheme was approved by resolution of this Council on the 2nd May last. It provides for the resumption by Government of the existing storage reservoir with a capacity of 92 million gallons constructed by the Tai Shing Paper Manufacturing Company in the Aberdeen valley. This resumption has already been effected at a cost of $525,000, of which a sum of $52,500 has been paid on account, the balance being payable early next year. The Company has been granted 183 days, commencing from the 20th July last, to use up its existing stocks. On the expiry of that period Government obtains possession. The Aberdeen scheme further provides for the construction of an additional storage reservoir in this valley, estimated to contain 175 million gallons of water and to cost $9.00,000. The ancillary works, including Catchwaters, mains, filters, an access road and a pumping station, are estimated to cost $1,277,000. The whole of this scheme will be financed by loan. It will much facilitate the supply of water to the western end of Victoria City, where improved distribution is most needed, for water from the Aberdeen valley will be piped to the Elliot filter-beds, which are to be augmented by a rapid gravity filtration plant. At present, when Pok-fu-lam reservoir is depleted, it is often difficult to maintain an adequate supply to the Elliot filter-beds from the Bowen Road Conduit.
No further sites for reservoirs on Hong Kong island
An exhaustive examination of Hong Kong island with a view to discovering yet more sites for storage reservoirs has shown that six such sites exist. But to each of them there are serious objections. Three more storage reservoirs might be built in the Tytam valley, two at a height of 750 feet above sea-level and one actually within the flow of the sea in Tytam harbour. The two former would have capacities of 70 million and 40 million gallons, but they would be inside the existing catchment area of the original Tytam reservoir. They would, therefore, impound no new supplies of water and in time of drought the water stored in them would merely diminish the storage in Tytam reservoir. The reservoir site within the flow of the sea would have a capacity of 700 million gallons; but, when investigated in 1904, a rock foundation for the dam was not found until a depth of 65 feet below ordnance datum had been reached. As the site is below sea-level, most difficult and costly coffer-dams would have to be built as temporary erections on both sides of the permanent dam under construction and the 'expense of the scheme would be out of proportion to the supply gained, the more so as all the water from such a reservoir would have to be pumped to a height of nearly 400 feet, in order to pass through the Tytam Tunnel. An additional reservoir might be built directly below the existing Pok-fu-lam reservoir. It would have a capacity of 78 million gallons; but its construction would necessitate the resumption of the Hong Kong Dairy Farm and is for this reason undesirable. Another natural site for a reservoir is the basin on the south side of the island containing the village of Little Hongkong and bounded on the north by Bennets Hill and Mount Cameron and on the south by Brick Hill. Two dams would here be necessary, one across Stanton Creek near Aberdeen and the other at the brickworks close to Deep Water Bay. This reservoir would have a capacity of 2,500 million gallons; but its catchment would be small for its size, although the overflows from the Aberdeen and Wong-nai-ch’ung reservoirs could be diverted into it. All water from it would have to be pumped; and, in view of the great length of the dams, the considerable resumptions necessary and the heavy contingent works, the reservoir would be costly. Moreover, in the public interest it is not advisable to submerge this valuable area of flat land, the last such area remaining in Hong Kong island. Finally it would be possible to build two additional reservoirs with an aggregate capacity of 114 million gallons in the Taikoo catchment on the slopes of Mount Butler. But the water rights in this locality are held by Messrs. Butterfield and Swire, whose existing reservoirs Government would have to acquire as a preliminary to further development; and, even if resumption were effected, it seems likely that most of the water procurable would be needed for the Taikoo Sugar Refinery and Dockyard and that comparatively little could be made available for public use. The examination of these six schemes has, therefore, led my Government to conclude that all six should be postponed until the scheme for providing Hong Kong island with water from the mainland has been put to the test.
The Shen-mun scheme to supply Hong Kong island with water from the mainland
Construction work upon this scheme, known as the Sheng-mun scheme, began (as I have already said) in 1923. An access road 16 feet in width and 1.92 miles in length from Ts’un-wan to Pineapple Pass was completed in 1925. In the same year were also completed the intake dam across the Sheng-mun River above Pineapple Pass, the temporary conduit 6,000 feet in length from this intake to the point where the dam in the Sheng-mun gorge will be built, the North Conduit 2,900 feet in length from this point to the opening of the North Tunnel, and the South Conduit 2,000 feet in length between the North and South Tunnels. In 1926 the North Tunnel 2,160 feet in length through Smugglers Ridge and the South Tunnel 4,689 feet in length through Golden Hill were completed, and so also was the reservoir with a capacity of 33 million gallons in the lower Shek-lai-pui valley, built to receive raw water delivered through these tunnels. In the following year 150 feet of the North Tunnel were straightened and 3,200 feet of 24" steel main were laid. This trunk main will bring the Sheng-mun water to Kowloon Point and will have a total length of 24,030 feet with a feed to the Kowloon distribution system at Pipers Hill, where a covered reinforced concrete service reservoir with a capacity of 1 1/2 million gallons was completed in 1925. Immediately below the reception reservoir in the lower Shek-lai-pui valley is the site of a rapid gravity filtration plant to deal ultimately with 20 million gallons a day. The first section of this plant, capable of filtering five million gallons a day has already been completed and is now in operation. Adjoining these filters, there is under construction a covered reinforced concrete service reservoir with a capacity of eleven million gallons. The expenditure incurred on the development of this Sheng-mun scheme up to the 30th June last was $2,326,490, the whole of which has been charged to the Colony’s loan account.
Piping water across the harbour
In order that water from the Sheng-mun scheme may be available on Hong Kong island, works estimated to cost $361,602 must still be completed, including the land pipe-line to Kowloon Point, and the pipe-line across the bed of Hong Kong harbour. Of the pipe-line on the mainland 20,280 feet have already been completed, leaving 3,300 feet to be laid-at Sham-shui-po and 450 feet across the railway terminus. Eventually there will also be 3,000 feet on Hong Kong island; but it is hot proposed to undertake this section of the land pipe-line until late in next year. Instead a temporary connection with the city mains near Statue Pier will be made in the first instance, in order to expedite the delivery of water from the mainland to the island. The drawings and details of the harbour pipe-line have been worked out, submitted to the Consulting Engineers and approved by them. The pipes, which are 12" diameter steel mains, are due for delivery in the Colony at the end of this month, and meanwhile dredging operations along the line across the bed of the harbour have been commenced. We now hope that Sheng-mun water may be brought to Hong Kong early in next year by means of this pipe-line, which is estimated to be capable of delivering 3 1/2 million gallons a day across the harbour.
A note of caution and the need for more reservoirs
Here, however, it is necessary to sound a note of caution. The existing waterworks on the island with a total storage of 2,118,414,000 gallons and a total catchment area of 3,278 acres are calculated to have a capacity of 7.25 million gallons a day; but a modest estimate of the full water supply requirements of the island is ten million gallons a day. Thus the estimated supply falls short of the estimated requirements by 2.75 million gallons a day. At first sight it might, therefore, seem that an additional delivery of more than three million gallons a day through the harbour pipe-line would suffice for our present needs. But two considerations' combine to make the outlook less favourable. In the first place, Old Kowloon and New Kowloon are growing at an abnormal rate. Now, including that part of the Sheng-mun scheme already completed, the existing waterworks on the mainland have a total storage of 501,750,000 gallons and a total catchment area of 4,270 acres. Their estimated capacity is five million gallons a day, while a modest estimate of the full water supply requirements of Old and New Kowloon is 4.18 million gallons a day. There is, therefore, at present only a surplus of 820,000 gallons a day available on the mainland; and in a few years’ time, if the population on the northern shores of the harbour continues to increase, this surplus will have vanished. Then again there is a second consideration. The utmost, which the harbour pipe-line now about to be constructed can deliver, is 3 1/2 million gallons a day. But bitter experience this year has shown us that in time of drought only one million gallons a day flow down the conduit from Sheng-mun valley; and in time of drought it is, therefore, unlikely that much water from Sheng-mun could be made available on Hong Kong island, unless and until more storage reservoirs have been constructed on the mainland.
One such reservoir for increasing water storage on the mainland is already under construction, namely the Kowloon Byewash Reservoir. Its site is in the valley immediately below the existing Kowloon reservoir. It has an estimated capacity of 175 million gallons, and it will impound the overflows both from Kowloon reservoir and from the raw water reception reservoir in the lower Shek-lai-pui valley. It requires no contingent works such as filters or pumping plant; and, although not a part of the Sheng-mun scheme, it can be developed economically in connection with that scheme. Its cost is estimated at $600,000. Its construction was approved by resolution of this Council on the 24th January last.
Future plans: A large new reservoir in the Sheng-mun valley
I have now described all the works already sanctioned and actually in progress. But there are further waterworks, which we are anxious to take in hand as soon as the schemes for them have been worked out in detail and estimates of their cost prepared. We hope with, as little delay as possible to begin the construction of a dam in the Sheng-mun gorge. Its site has already been located, and it is roughly calculated that the reservoir so formed will impound between 1,000 and 1,500 million gallons according to the height of the dam. I shall be prepared to put this scheme before you and invite you to approve it as soon as reliable estimates of its cost are available. Moreover, it is possible that further examination of the Sheng-mun valley may indicate the advisability of constructing a second storage reservoir higher up the stream than the site in the gorge; but the best location of the dam for this second reservoir has not yet been determined. It is also very likely that this Council will be invited before long to approve the construction of Catchwaters running along the whole southern face of Tai-mo-shan and discharging through Pineapple Pass into the Sheng-mun gorge reservoir, for it is estimated that an additional catchment area of 2,575 acres would thus be obtained. But the schemes known as the second, third and fourth sections of the Sheng-mun valley waterworks are still in a very rough and inchoate form, though it is safe to predict that in the near future the Hong Kong Government will have to spend about ten million dollars upon waterworks construction additional to that already sanctioned and now in progress. When this has been done, and if the pipeline across the bed of the harbour proves to be a success, the requirements both of Hong Kong island and of Old and New Kowloon should for a time be adequately supplied.
Can salt water replace some uses of fresh water?
The possibility of using salt water for fire fighting, for road watering and for flushing sewers has been carefully investigated. It is computed that the quantity of water used for fire fighting has never in this Colony exceeded one million gallons a year; and the amount used for road watering and cleansing side-channels is estimated at 6 1/2 million gallons a year. This demand can be adequately met in years of normal rainfall by the use of water from the nullahs and in times of drought salt water can be used, when necessary, in streets adjacent to the sea. For flushing closets and sewers the majority of buildings now obtain their supplies from wells and nullahs; and at the present time only 88 million gallons a year are drawn from the storage reservoirs for this purpose. The total annual demand for these three services is, therefore, less than 100 million gallons and does not warrant the installation of an elaborate and expensive system of piped sea water laid on throughout the city. But the whole question of the development of our nullah supplies to their utmost capacity is now receiving the attention of the Public Works Department.
Giving every house a full supply of filtered water throughout the year
The aim of this Government is to give every house connected with the waterworks, both on Hong Kong island and on the mainland, a full supply of filtered water throughout the year. This should become possible in 1932, when the first section of the Sheng-mun scheme, the Kowloon Byewash reservoir and the new Aberdeen reservoir will, we hope, all have been completed; for the capacity of the existing waterworks on the island, namely 7.25 million gallons a day, will then be increased by 3 1/2 million gallons a day from Sheng-mun and 2.12 million gallons a day from Aberdeen. The maximum rate of supply to the island would, therefore, amount to 12.87 million gallons a day for a demand which, according to the estimate of Mr. R. M. Henderson, our Waterworks Engineer, may in that year be as much as 11.6 million gallons a day (S.P. No. 4/1928, page 5). When we are thus a little ahead of the daily demand, and not lagging behind the requirements of our population in the matter of water supply, we ought to be able to abolish the rider-mains and give a metered service throughout Victoria City, the cost of water being paid for in proportion to the amount consumed and at a price commensurate with the Colony’s outlay on waterworks.
So I come to the question of waterworks finance. The capital outlay of this Government on waterworks from the date when the first storage scheme at Pok-fu-lam was begun down to the present time is as follows:—
(a) Waterworks on Hong Kong island:—
1. Pok-fu-lam reservoir and contingent $
works ................................ 455,360
2. Tytam scheme ........................ 1,624,021
3. Wong-nai-ch’ung reservoir, Bowen
Road filters and contingent works 330,127
4. West Point filter-beds ............. 37,431
5. Tytam intermediate scheme ........... 1,040,058
6. Tytam-tuk scheme .................... 3,016,049
7. Elliot filter-beds and service reservoir 395,565
8. Pok-fu-lam pumping-station ............ 215,851
9. Eastern filter-beds scheme ............ 537,862
10. Workshop and plant...................... 47,969
11. Bowen Road filter-beds conversion ... 144,890
12. Shau-ki-wan supply..................... 37,399
13. Repulse Bay supply..................... 32,690
14. Distribution works .................... 758,821
15. Miscellaneous water works and minor
extensions to mains ................. 324,923
(b) Waterworks on the mainland:—
1. Original pumping scheme ............... 125,612
2. Kowloon reservoir and gravitation
scheme ............................ 1,659,863
3. Shek-lai-pui reservoir .............. 267,598
4. Fan-ling water-supply ............... 44,752
5. Tai-po water-supply..................... 28,175
6. Distribution works .................... 476,087
7. Lai-chi-kok water-boat dock ........... 520,446
8. Miscellaneous waterworks .............. 102,527
9. Sheng-mun waterworks to 30/6/29 ..... 2,326,490
(c) Waterworks authorized and under construction:—
1. Harbour pipe-line scheme................. 361,602
2. Kowloon bye-wash reservoir .............. 600,000
3. Aberdeen scheme........................ 2,702,000
The grand total is, therefore, $18,214,168. Upon this sum a charge of 2% per annum for depreciation and maintenance, plus 6% per annum as interest on capital outlay, would amount to $1 ,457,133 per annum. There must be added to this figure the annually recurrent waterworks expenditure of this Government which, neglecting special storm damage and exclusive of upkeep of office and expenditure met from general votes, was in 1928 as follows:—
Maintenance votes, Hong Kong island $296,434.47
Maintenance votes, mainland .......... 82,957.82
Salaries of staff.................... 131,454.00
On the basis of this calculation a total sum of $1,967,979 per annum would have to be collected as revenue by this Government, in order to pay for the cost of its waterworks. In point of fact, however, the income of this Government from waterworks during 1928 was as follows:—
2% rating tax........................ $567,673.03
Excess water charges and meter rents 768,898.60
Therefore, upon this estimate, our revenue from waterworks is $631,408 less than it should be. Moreover, as I have already said, it is safe to predict that the Hong Kong Government will have to spend a further sum of about ten million dollars upon waterworks construction additional to that already sanctioned and now in progress. It is also quite certain that anually recurrent maintenance expenditure both on the island and the mainland will increase and that in future years the salaries of the waterworks staff will cost us more. Assuming then that our total capital outlay on waterworks will before very long amount to 28 million dollars and that our annually recurrent waterworks expenditure, when that time comes, may be (say) $760,000, then on the basis above indicated we should have to collect an annual revenue of just three million dollars, in order to make our waterworks, not remunerative, but self-supporting.
There is another consideration which must be carefully weighed. I have said that it is the aim of the Hong Kong Government to give every house connected with the waterworks, both on the island and on the mainland, a full supply of filtered water throughout the year. But, if this is to be done, it is clearly necessary to take steps to impress upon all householders and residents in the Colony the civic duty of conserving, and not wasting, water. I can think of no better way of doing this than to make all who consume water pay by meter for what they consume. If that is to be our policy, then the so-called “free allowance” would have to be abolished. We should also have to abolish the 2% water rate: and, of course, the rider-mains. Instead we should require all houses connected with the water-mains to instal meters, and the consumers of water to pay for their metered supplies in accordance with a sliding scale, which would be comparatively low for the first few gallons a day, but steadily increase for each gallon thereafter, in order to check excess consumption. It would also be desirable that water accounts should be rendered monthly, and not quarterly as at present. Such a change would, of course, involve a certain amount of extra work both at the Treasury and in the Waterworks Office. But the advantages quite outweigh this objection. With monthly accounts, high consumption is at once forcibly brought to the notice of consumers; the chances of bad debts or fraud are much diminished; and a large sum of money is brought into the Treasury several months earlier than under the quarterly account system.
It is evident, gentlemen, that we ought soon to reconsider both the methods by which we raise our waterworks revenue and also the rates which we charge. But I am reluctant to move in this matter until the waterworks now under construction have advanced to the stage at which we can give Hong Kong island and the mainland a full supply throughout the year, instead of the intermittent supply which has been only too common during recent years. No motion on this subject will, therefore, be brought before you in connection with next year’s budget. But it is more than likely that, when the budget for 1931 is under consideration, you will be invited to give the question of waterworks finance your special attention. (Applause).
The full document is available online at HKGRO.