Monday, 4 June 2012

Lantan Reservoir (蘭潭水庫)

One of the few reservoirs in Taiwan to be located within the administrative boundaries of a city, Chiayi's "Lantan" reservoir lies in close proximity to the larger "Renyitan" reservoir which is located just outside of the city's administrative boundary to the east in Chiayi County's Fanlu district (番路區). The name "Lantan" (藍潭) may be translated as "Orchid Pond" and the reservoir is presumably so named because a variety of orchids are now cultivated in the small parks that adorn its south-eastern boundary. Although in its present-day form it dates back to World War Two when it was actually constructed by the Japanese from 1942 to 1944, Lantan reservoir is also one of Taiwan's few reservoirs that were preceded by water conservation works dating as far back as the 17th Century. During the four decades (1623-1661) in which the Dutch East India Company occupied the south-west of Taiwan, agricultural production to feed their trading operations between ports in China and Japan was a priority and for that reason the construction of water conservation works was necessary. The story presented to passing readers by an intrepretative panel near the reservoir's north-eastern "right-angle" however - that the Dutch themselves had called the place "red hair lake" - is almost certainly apocryphal and more likely reflects the identification of caucasion westerners according to phenotypic features. Elsewhere, Lantan reservoir is occassionally referred to as "Holland Lake".

Size-wise, Lantan reservoir is one of the smallest of Taiwan's artificial reservoirs with an effective capacity of just 9.26 million cubic meters, which is very similar to that of Tainan's Baihe reservoir (白河水庫) to the south, at approximately 1/60th the capacity of Taiwan's largest reservoir - the 600 million cubic meter capacity Tseng-wen reservoir (曾文水庫). Although there is no single point from which the entire reservoir can be captured by the eye, its relatively small size becomes especially evident when viewed from its visually most revealing point, which is from across the dam at the southern end of the reservoir; from this point, the northern shore of the reservoir appears to be little more than a kilometer away, which is perhaps no more than a half-hour swim. Due to Lantan reservoir's relatively small size, the gradual growth of Chiayi in the latter half of the twentieth century meant that, this reservoir alone was unable to continue to meet the city's water supply needs and it was this that necessitated the construction of nearby Renyitan reservoir (仁義潭水庫) to the east during the 1980s. Today, the two reservoirs work in tandem to supply Chiayi city with water although the city's road signs refer only to the "Lantan Scenic Area", with the two characters for reservoir (水庫, pronounced "shway koo") for some reason denied to Lantan reservoir yet reserved for Renyitan reservoir (仁義潭水庫).

Lantan Reservoir As "Scenic Area"

Although the first character of the reservoir's name (藍 - "Lan") may mean either "blue" or "indigofera" depending on the tone in which it is pronounced, the city government advertise Lantan reservoir with a pink orchid logo. Enclosed at its south-eastern contour by an elongated stretch of park populated by orchid and rosewood trees, the reservoir is a popular exercise destination for the local elderly people. Like other parks throughout Taiwan, the typical exercise frames are also found here and are used by the older folks for their daily stretching exercises. In addition to the various white, pink and indigo orchid flowers that grow on the trees here, there are also well-kept wooden benches and tables with fixed draughts boards reflecting the fact that, unlike in western countries, public parks in Taiwan are dominated by the bicycle-riding elderly rather than teenagers skiving off school in their bedraggled uniforms.

Signs of young people however are not entirely absent, as with the campus buildings for National Chiayi University lying just off the boundary road of the reservoir downhill to the east, there are often students buzzing around the reservoir on their little scooters. There is also a permanent student stool to the reservoir's south-east corner in the form of an aluminum, iron and stainless steel sculpture which takes the form of an elevated walkway. Although the impression intended by its creator (one Wang, Wen-chih - ) was apparently that of a bird's nest with a turkey's tail at one end, it immediately put me in mind of a disturbing cross between an elaborate princess's tiara, and the grossly manipulated skeleton of some unfortunate prehistoric beast. Erected just last year and apparently funded by the Chiayi city government, the sculpture seems perfectly suited to the primarily visual and passive aesthetic which often characterizes much outdoor leisure activity.

Casting one's gaze westwards away from the walkway sculpture toward the dam and the opposing shoreline, a copse of large trees occupies the horizon to the left, with an assortment of apartment buildings to the right and a pavillion facing out onto the reservoir in between. This copse of trees shelters a small car park which overlooks a local cemetery built into the sloping hillside. In this otherwise seemingly undignified spot, there is a statue set upon a plinth of a uniformed officer clutching a flashlight in his right hand. This man is Lin Ching-chuo (林清求), who, as captain of the local fire department, died whilst carrying out fire-fighting duties at Lantan reservoir during the mid-Autumn festival in September of 1981. The fire apparently resulted from the use of fireworks (one of the primary features of the mid-Autumn festival) in the wooded area surrounding the reservoir, with captain Lin and his team attempting to fight the fire from small, wooden boats floating on the reservoir (presumably, the water hoses from the fire engines would have been stretched over the surface of the water to be wielded by the firefighters standing in their boats). The fire was successfully put out, but Lin drowned after his particular boat capsized. In 2001, there was a public ceremony to mark the 30-year anniversary of Lin's death which was attended by various local government officials and Lin's surviving widow.

At this south-western corner of Lantan reservoir, there is also a circular, two-storied pavillion capped with an orange-coloured conical roof designed with outsweeping vertical beams interspersed by horizontal tiles to resemble the traditional straw hats still worn today by field labourers in both Taiwan and China. It is this pavillion which provides one of the few visual focal points when the reservoir is viewed from the overlooking DaYa road to the north, and, at perhaps eight meters in height, it offers its own views out across the reservoir northwards and eastwards. These views however, are nothing to write home about as the countour of the reservoir is besmudged on all sides by unending thickets of dark green shrubs and trees that offer the roving eye no visual outlet. The pavillion is however, well used by the locals at weekends and the circular walls decorated with semi-traditional chinese paintings bear no trace of graffiti or vandalism. Such an unspoiled public building would scarcely be possible in almost any town in Britain. At the base of the pavillion, there are several paintings by local artists on display behind steel and perspex frames; the painting shown to the left here was intended to depict a rural impression of Lantan reservoir shortly after its construction by the Japanese in the 1940s. In view of the limited views offered by the pavillion and other public spaces around Lantan reservoir, it's status as a "scenic area", although seemingly confirmed by the prescence of the aforementioned orchid flowering parks along the reservoir's south-eastern boundary, actually depends to some extent on the weather. In good weather, with bright sunshine and blue skies, it is likely an attractive spot, but in bad weather - with its grey surface reflecting heavily overcast skies - its meagre shoreline quickly tires the eye. Unlike the far larger Tseng-wen and Nanhua reservoirs for instance, which are visually impressive even in (or especially in) bad weather due to their remote locations and their imposing physical characteristics, little Lantan offers no compelling point of visual focus; its total extent is always obscured from view due to its approximately right-angled "L" shape, with the pivot-point covered in impenetrable vegetation from either side.

Lantan Reservoir Dam & Spillway

Lying to the south of Lantan reservoir facing south-westwards, the downstream face of the dam consists of three successive earth embankments dressed in turf. The dam follows a slightly concave curve from the north-west to the south-east and slopes down through a fifteen degree angle to meet the farms some sixty meters or so below. Surmounted by a narrow, two-lane road, the dam is almost five hundred meters in length from one end to the other, with the National Chiayi University campus lying just beyond the south-eastern end. Although no public information is provided on the composition of the dam, there are warning signs at each end declaring that access to the road across the dam is prohibited for vehicles exceeding three and a half tons in weight (presumably, metric tonnes - given that Taiwan uses the metric system). At the north-western end of the dam, a narrow, non-gated spillway rolls out south-eastwards from beneath a small, single-lane bridge. At perhaps six meters in width at its' mouth, this spillway is as tiny as Lantan reservoir itself; for the purpose of energy dissipation in case of flooding during a typhoon, there are two short convex bumps underneath the bridge which straddles the mouth of the spillway. The spillway itself tumbles down into a narrow channel which, at the eastern side of the dam, turns back on itself and heads south and west to escape into the Bazhang river, returning excess flood water to its source. Although designated as a "scenic area", little Lantan reservoir itself offers no compelling point of visual focus - the shoreline is a sparse smudge of trees and bushes from all perspectives except the overlooking view from the high ground of DaYa road to the north. However, the dam itself - when viewed from its western end - draws the eye out along its eastward curve toward the central mountain range in the distance. On a clear day (e.g. after the rains have washed out the humidity-induced haze), this would be a superb vista, with the mountainous focal point complemented by the rolling expanse of light-green turf covering the dam below. Among the public display of paintings set around the red pavillion next to the bridge, there is not a single sketch of this view.

The Geography Of Lantan Reservoir

Shaped in an approximate "L" facing southwards (such that the hypotenuse would run north-east to south), the geography of Lantan reservoir can beguile and confuse the first time visitor. Lying between higher ground to the north-east and a rolled-earth dam to the south-west, its source, the Bazhang river (八掌溪), actually passes by the reservoir at a substantially lower elevation half a kilometer away to the south. The water enters into the reservoir at its' low-lying, north-eastern tail after issuing out from an underground conduit connected to nearby Renyitan reservoir (仁義潭水庫) a kilometer away to the south-east. Today, this conduit passes beneath a major freeway which skirts the administrative border of Chiayi city, though this freeway is absent from the three-dimensional model on display in the administrative building for Renyitan reservoir. Prior to the construction of Renyitan reservoir in the 1980s, the conduit had stretched south-eastwards for a full three kilometers to the Bazhang river where, at a higher elevation than Lantan reservoir, water from the river could be redirected by a small dam to flow gently downhill in a north-westerly direction.

Today, the length of what had been the original conduit is presently occupied by Renyitan reservoir; presumably, the conduit had originally been laid along the surface of the land at an angle of perhaps five degrees or less as it sloped downhill north-westwards toward Lantan reservoir. The original conduit stretching the full three kilometers north-east to Lantan reservoir would almost certainly have been demolished during the excavation work for the construction of Renyitan reservoir. The conduit's original dam and inlet point along the Bazhang river has long since been demolished and blocked up with concrete wave breakers and is now surmounted by a little access road for the small-scale farms which populate the area between the reservoirs and the northern bank of the Bazhang river. Although not marked out by any road signs, the original inlet point is marked (to the bottom left) on the three-dimensional model displayed in Renyitan reservoir's administrative building.

As can also be seen from the model, the original inlet point was replaced during the construction of Renyitan reservoir in the 1980s by a new entrapment dam a few hundred meters upstream to the east. In the image to the immediate right, the two chief spillway gates of this new entrapment dam are visible just to the left of the concrete shelves which span the breadth of the river bed. These shelves, and the assorted concrete breakers lying immediately beneath them, are there so as to prevent further erosion to the slope of the river bed, which over time would retard the effectiveness of the entrapment dam. Since the dam primarily serves to feed Renyitan reservoir, I have reserved further description to the appropriate section of my Renyitan reservoir essay.

At the north-eastern tail-end of Lantan reservoir, where the incoming water from Renyitan reservoir emerges all green and murky in partial reflection of the overhanging foliage, there is a set of hiking trails up into the hills overlooking the reservoir's tail. Although a boardwalk is provided, it is in need of repair at several places along one trail and is entirely absent from another. This other trail roughly follows the creek for some distance without offering much in the way of views, and it is also both steeper and more dilapidated than the other trail (though neither of the two trails have adequate signage to inform the casual hiker). It may be that the aqueduct inlet from Renyitan reservoir becomes visible at some point along this trail, but on the day I attempted the trail, I ran out of time.
   On the opposite side of Lantan reservoir, to the south-west, there is a pumping station from which water is carried into the city's water supply network via direct pipeline connection. Immediately next to the pumping station there is also a small boat house with an iron gate which contains a spare boat draped in tarpaulin in addition to the one seen in this image to the left. These boats are presumably used by the Water Resources Agency for periodic monitoring of the reservoir's water quality and sedimentation levels, as without a sufficient flow of fresh water from the north-east, Lantan reservoir would likely begin to show signs of eutrophication as at Baihe reservoir in the north of Tainan.

Although not the most impressive of Taiwan's reservoirs in either its physical dimensions or aesthetic aspects, Lantan reservoir is not a place lacking something to say for itself, but the in-situ information provided to the public is generally poor and could be much improved.



  1. It's actually 蘭 (orchid) not 藍


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