Hiyare Reservoir… that time forgot | Sunday Observer

Hiyare Reservoir… that time forgot

25 July, 2021

Due to the fact that Galle is a coastal city, it was often difficult to obtain clean drinking water for the residents of the area.

Due to this, the construction of the Hiyare Reservoir was started during the British colonial era as a solution to the drinking water problem in Galle, but it was gradually forgotten due to the failure of responsible institutions to maintain it properly.

This article describes what led to the construction of the reservoir and how it was gradually forgotten by the responsible authorities.

Prior to the construction of this reservoir, according to Portuguese, Dutch and English records, there were several wells near the city of Galle to obtain clean water.

But as time passed on, clean water became scarc e due to the establishment of public- gathering places such as the Galle Railway Station, educational institutions and hospitals. Due to this, there was an urgent need for a water supply scheme to provide water to the Galle city.

At this time the water for the residents of Galle and its suburbs was supplied by large wooden barrels transported on carts, for which some money had to be paid.

It was then proposed to construct a reservoir in the Akmeemana area around 1870 and supply water to the Galle city through a pipeline at an estimated cost of about Rs. 7,800.

However, due to the wars in Europe during 1873-74, the price of goods increased and the cost of the construction, as a result, was estimated at Rs. 110,000, after which the project was abandoned.

Comprehensive project

In 1904, the Galle Municipal Council again requested the Government Public Works Department to submit a report on a comprehensive project to supply water to the city.

Accordingly, in 1905, J. W. Erikson of the said Department presented the proposal project for the Hiyare Reservoir. The maximum height of the dam was 21 feet and it was expected to hold about 100,000,000 gallons of water.

The approximate estimated cost for the construction was Rs. 355, 000 and it was decided to use an area of 269 acres for this purpose. Early reports indicate that the area was covered with mud and sand. The reservoir was also identified as having a catchment area of about 4,000 acres.

The post cost of this reservoir was Rs. 370,322.94 and the raw material cost was Rs. 183,173.35. In addition, Rs. 8,130.62 for transport, Rs. 6,907.76 for customs duty and Rs. 109,091.21 for 1 1/2 years’ salary.

The average annual rainfall in this area was 95 milimetres (mm) so the amount of water that was expected to be available from the rain was larger than the water that the reservoir could get from natural springs.

It was also proposed to supply 300,000 gallons of water per day to the Galle city, which, at that time had a population of about 20,000.

A look at the records at that time shows that the construction of the Hiyare Reservoir was considered an important milestone in the history of the Galle Municipal Council.

Addressing the meeting of the Galle Municipal Council held on September, 9, 1911, the Mayor had said, “Gentlemen, I, as the Chairman of this important House, consider it necessary to first state a description of the work of the Hiyare Reservoir before the commencement of business in the House today.

I certify, as an agent of the Government and I am pleased to inform you that all these activities are ready to be handed over to the Municipal Council on November 11, 1911,”

The Hiyare Reservoir, which was opened to the public, supplied water for 14 years without any problems.

Distribution system

Abandoning of wells with the provision of tap water, stopped the construction of new wells, and the public being addicted to tap water, were among main reason for it. Due to this the Galle Municipal Council obtained a loan from the Government and by 1930 the water distribution system was improved.

Although the water supply was satisfactory for some time, later maintenance problems arose and the water of the Hiyare Reservoir was polluted due to animal droppings and other contaminants that regularly come to the North-Eastern bank of the reservoir, which is located in a 4,000-acre dense forest area.

Apart from that, a layer of mud full of leeches and worms was deposited at the bottom of the reservoir due to improper cleaning of the reservoir.

Also, a large amount of water was wasted due to the overflow of water during rainy season from a low point in the western part of the reservoir bank.

Although the relevant sections continuously informed the Municipal Council to rectify this matter, it was to no avail.

The Galle Municipal Council did not have sufficient financial resources to maintain the reservoir and did not want to transfer the Hiyare Reservoir to another institution as well.

According to a study carried out in 1960, more than 20 percent of Galle residents suffered from stomach ailments, with the main cause being the water from the Hiyare Reservoir. Due to these reasons and the construction of the Wakwella water pumping station along the Gin Ganga, which became operational after the 1970s, the Hiyare Reservoir was abandoned and today this open water body is used only as a source of supply for the animals in the Hiyare Forest Reserve.

This Hiyare Reserve is surrounded by the villages of Hiyare, Kekillahena, Anadayama, and Kadurugahahena and extends to the Kottawa Kombala Forest Reserve.

Rain forest reserve

This rain forest reserve is mainly known for its plants such as Hora, Kekuna, Atamba, Bedidel, Godapara and Diyapara. Rare giant trees like Milla and Halmilla can also be found there.

Among the wild species that can be identified here are the monkey, leopard and squirrel. In addition, many species of snakes found in Sri Lanka can also be found in this reserve. Out of the 21 species of amphibians found in the Hiyare Reserve, 13 are endemic to Sri Lanka and nine out of 35 endemic bird species are living in this area.

After the reservoir was abandoned in the late 1970s, its environs became a haven for various cromes. For this reason, the Government opened forest conservation office on the site of the reservoir’s official bungalow. In 2007, at the request of the Galle Municipal Council, a new two-storey office premises was donated by a German national Burg Hauden.

Today, the office consists of a local plantation, an animal conservation centre, and a research centre with a library.