Fri, Jun 07, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: Magical waters and mysterious stones

Nanhua Reservoir is one of Taiwan’s prettiest artificial lakes, and an important component of the country’s water-supply system

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

On summer afternoons, Nanhua Reservoir in Tainan often looks stunning.

Photo: Steven Crook

I’ve seen Nanhua Reservoir (南化水庫) in all weather and from many different angles. Because it’s located between my home and the Central Mountain Range, I’ve driven past it countless times, and thoroughly explored its surroundings by motorcycle and on foot.

It’s one of Taiwan’s prettiest artificial lakes, and an important component of the country’s water-supply system. All but the northernmost part of its watershed, which is in Chiayi County, lies within Tainan. Most of the water entering the reservoir arrives via the Houku Creek (後堀溪) or through an artificial underground channel that diverts water from the Cishan River (旗山溪), a few kilometers further inland in Kaohsiung.

In terms of design capacity, the reservoir is Taiwan’s fifth-largest water-storage facility. The dam is 187.5m high, the fifth-tallest in the country.

Covering 537 hectares, it’s ranked number six by surface area — yet during the dry season, it shrinks quite noticeably.

The need for dams and reservoirs in Taiwan was summed up in a paper published last year and authored by a team of academics from Taiwan, France, and the US.

“The highly seasonal precipitation pattern in Taiwan means that water storage is critical to meeting water demands during the long dry season and in dry years,” they wrote.

The same paper, “Sediment Management in Taiwan’s Reservoirs and Barriers to Implementation,” explained why even newer reservoirs in Taiwan (Nanhua Dam was inaugurated in 1994) may not be useful for very much longer.

“With its extremely high sediment yields, Taiwan supplies the oceans with 384 million tonnes of suspended sediment per year, about 1.9 percent of the world’s total, from its 36,000 km2 (only 0.024 percent of the world’s land area).”



A motorcycle is ideal and hardcore cyclists will enjoy themselves. The reservoir lies within Tainan’s Nanhua District (南化區) but Tainan-Nanhua buses don’t stop within walking distance of any of the attractions mentioned in this article. The infrequent Green 26 bus from Yujing (玉井) to Jiasian (甲仙) stops at Maopu.

The problem is that a huge amount of sediment never reaches the ocean, and ends up filling Taiwan’s reservoirs.

Nanhua Reservoir’s waters, which are appealingly blue most of the time, but sometimes become the color of milk tea when heavy rains wash soil down from the encircling mountains. At one point during the summer of 2009, Typhoon Morakot reduced its capacity by more than a tenth.

The best views of the reservoir are to be had from Highway 20, the road also known as the South Cross-Island Highway (南橫公路). Coming from Tainan, you’ll see the body of water on your left as soon as you emerge from a short tunnel beyond the village called Yushan (玉山). The village is nowhere near the national park of that name, nor otherwise connected to Taiwan’s tallest mountain.

Depending on how much time you have, you may want to turn around soon after the 51km marker. If you’ve a full tank of gas, turn off Highway 20 and go north along Local Road 179 (南179). This will take you through the most thinly-populated corner of Tainan.

After about 12km, if you know where to look, a path leaves the road and heads down to what, in the wet season, is part of the reservoir. A month or two into the dry season, however, it’s an expanse of dried mud. Outdoor-types gather bamboo and branches, rig makeshift bridges across the Houku Creek, and blaze a trail to Dadi Gorge (大地谷). If there’s no bridge, wading is usually possible.

Getting from the road to the gorge seldom takes more than half an hour, and once there you can picnic in a cool, shaded environment. It’s an excellent place to bring children — there’s a small waterfall, rocks to clamber over and no shortage of sticks and stones to gather.

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