Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Overlooking Baihe Reservoir (白河水庫)

For some time now I had been meaning to climb the distinctive mountain in Dongshan district which overlooks Baihe reservoir; I was concerned as to whether it would be possible to get to the north side of the mountain and actually see the reservoir, and how much of it I would be able to see. My concern was that this mountain has several communication towers at its summit and so (I correctly guessed) would be protected by a small military base and therefore any possible views would be accessible only from restricted land.

However, when I arrived at the summit at about 9.40am this morning I was able to go around the "back door" to the communication towers (after having fed the guard dogs some of my breakfast), to find a now long-forgotten public viewing platform. The views from that platform were somewhat restricted by a couple of trees, overgrown reeds and other plants, but there was the remains of a hiking trail (now almost completely overgrown with reeds and nettles) which I followed for some distance as it wound down the northern face of the mountainside. Eventually, that trail brought me to a rocky ledge from which I could get a clearer view...

Baihe reservoir, with Chiayi city visible on the horizon.
Absent the use of a helicopter, this is as close as I am going to get to a bird's-eye view of Baihe reservoir. Now the significance of this is that Baihe has a very unusual shape with most of the reservoir being hidden from the view afforded the public from the crest of the dam. Thus most people who visit Baihe reservoir will be disappointed because (a) it will look like nothing more than a large, eutrophic pond, (b) it will be painfully obvious that the reservoir is on life-support from the effects of over-sedimentation, and (c) there are no public paths to see more of the reservoir. Considered as one of the supposed tourist attractions for the Guanzihling area therefore, Baihe reservoir is something of a disaster.

The over-sedimentation of the reservoir is concentrated to the south-west; its only publicly visible part.
The long-lens shot above shows the dam off to the top-left with the main river (also called "Baihe", meaning "white river") entering the reservoir below at its' south-western point. Outward from the river's entrance squats the enormous cluster of homogenous reeds that has turned more than two-thirds of the publicly visible area of the reservoir into a de facto swamp. To the top-center of the image, and the top right, there are narrow apertures of water passing out into the northern and eastern sections of the reservoir respectively. The narrow passage to the top right was bone dry in February of this year November last year and it was entirely possible to walk right across it from east to west and back again.

The area of water immediately in front of the dam is so clogged up with sediments that the maximum depth is likely to be between two to three meters - at some points it is less than one meter deep. However, through that central corridor to the north of the reservoir (largely obscured from view by the hills on which the electricity pylons stand), the water reaches depths greater than four meters and is full of fish. The eastern section of the reservoir is also much healthier, though I am unsure about the depth...

The central peninsula splitting the eastern section into a fractal, fork-like structure.
This long-lens shot above shows the beginning of the eastern section of the reservoir beyond the natural "gate" formed by a cloven escarpment (off camera to the left*). Clearly visible in the approximate center of this image is the long, winding peninsula that forks the eastern section of the reservoir into two "arms". However, the elevation given me by the mountain is not enough to illustrate this more clearly - only a few hundred meters of the southern "arm" are visible before being obscured by hills; the northern arm is also partially obscured to the right (the east) but its fracturing into several cul-de-sacs by other minor peninsulas jutting out from the northern shore appears to belie my description of there being a "fork" of water separated by one long central peninsula. A glance at the google maps image should dispel this illusion...

Plan view of the fractal, fork-like eastern section from google-maps.
So there it is, Baihe reservoir - it is one of only two reservoirs in Taiwan whose shape is so fractured by geography that up to something like 75% of it is obscured from public view (the other reservoir like this is Wushantou reservoir to the south). What I suspect is that the geology underlying both reservoirs is not too dissimilar from that of the "badlands" area in the southern districts of Tainan County (i.e. Longci and Kaohsiung's neighbouring Tianliao district), and this is what has caused the unusual and distinctive fracturing shape to the east of both reservoirs. I will need to look further into this question at some point, but for now I am fairly pleased to have got some overview shots of Baihe which, although not ideal, do allow readers to see something of what they are missing; this reservoir is now five decades old, and perhaps because it is viewed as something of an ugly disaster, the miniature wilderness of its northern and eastern sections has gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated.

* The natural "gate" between the western and eastern sections of the reservoir can be seen in the center of this image below; two banks of trees face each other across a narrow gap of water, with the central peninsula of the eastern section diametrically opposite this gap off to the right; on the other side of the gate to the left, the muddy reed-beds accompanying the entrance of the reservoir's second, smaller feed-river thrust out into a little peninsula of their own topped by two little clumps of trees at the end...

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