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Chapter 1. Historical Perspective of Water Use and Development. Chapter Headings. Drinking Water for Early Civilizations Early Irrigation and Flood-Control Projects Early Water Transportation Development Early Hydropower Development. What is Civilization?.

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Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Historical Perspective of Water Use and Development

Chapter headings

Chapter Headings

  • Drinking Water for Early Civilizations

  • Early Irrigation and Flood-Control Projects

  • Early Water Transportation Development

  • Early Hydropower Development

What is civilization

What is Civilization?

  • For civilization to emerge you need

    • Agriculture

    • Cities

    • “Leisure time” to develop skilled workers

  • Among the key features are

    • Ability to manage water

    • Suitable soil and climate for agriculture

Managing water resources

Managing Water Resources

  • Even in the earliest civilizations we can find evidence of water management

    • Delivery of drinking water to cities using qanats and aqueducts

    • Routing of wastewater out of cities

    • Delivery of water for agriculture through irrigation

    • Transportation

    • Hydropower

Drinking water for early civilizations

Drinking Water for Early Civilizations

  • Earliest civilization centers emerged in:

    • Mesopotamia along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (Iraq)

    • Indus River (Pakistan)

    • Yangtze River (China)

    • Nile River (Egypt)

    • Greek and Roman empires (Mediterranean)

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Figure 1.1



  • Qanat system developed in Mesopotamia area

    • From a Semitic word meaning “to dig”

    • Semitic: subfamily of Afro-Asiatic language family that includes Hebrew and Arabic

  • Delivered ground water by gravity from an upland area where it was plentiful to lowland agricultural areas and cities

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  • Qanat shafts served 3 purposes

    • Air supply

    • Remove soil and rock

    • Keep tunnels from being too long


View down a shaft to water below


Aerial photo showing collapsed shafts



  • Roman empire developed an extensive system of aqueducts to deliver surface water by gravity to cities

  • Water was delivered to fountains and baths where citizens collected and used it

  • Allowed cities to grow in size

  • Reduced amount of time that individuals (usually women) spent obtaining daily water

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Women at a stream collecting water to carry to their village in Cameroon


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Aqueduct in Segovia, Spain

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Roman public fountain

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Roman public bath at Pompei, Italy

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Coaca Maxima (main sewer) for ancient Rome

Example of routing wastewater away from cities

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Wind Gap Pumping Plant, Tehachapi Range north of LA

California Aqueduct

Drinking water today

Drinking Water Today

  • Supplying drinking water is still an important function today

  • Many problems

    • Water quality (bacteria, carcinogens, heavy metals, etc.)

    • Water quantity (competition with agricultural for water)

  • We’ll discuss these in later chapters

Chapter headings1

Chapter Headings

  • Drinking Water for Early Civilizations

  • Early Irrigation and Flood-Control Projects

  • Early Water Transportation Development

  • Early Hydropower Development

Early irrigation and flood control

Early Irrigation and Flood Control

  • Civilization centers developed where soils were fertile

  • For soils to be fertile nutrients must be collected and deposited in an area so that they become concentrated

    • Flooding deposits rich mountain (volcanic) soils in river floodplains

    • Glaciers deposit rich topsoils at their terminus and in wind blown loess

Early irrigation and flood control1

Early Irrigation and Flood Control

  • Floodplains are often in dry areas that require irrigation

  • Nile River civilization is a good example

    • Sediments from the mountains of Ethiopia and Sudan are deposited in the floodplains of Egypt

    • Ancient Egyptians developed an elaborate irrigation system for Nile floodplain

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From Chapter 3

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Simple devices for lifting water from the river into irrigation canals:

shadoufs, tambour or Achimedes screw, and saqia water wheel

Early irrigation in the u s

Early Irrigation in the U.S.

  • Anasazi Indians developed irrigation systems in Southwest desert region around 950 AD

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Anasazi dwellings at Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, NM

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R.G. Vivian, Chaco Canyon Handbook

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Chaco Canyon irrigation

R.G. Vivian, Chaco Canyon Handbook

Early irrigation in the u s1

Early Irrigation in the U.S.

  • Brigham Young and Mormon followers began extensive irrigation system in Salt Lake Valley of Utah in 1847

  • Region receives 15 in of annual rainfall

  • Constructed diversion dams across rivers and diverted water into irrigation ditches

    • Small diversion dams were made of logs, rocks and brush

    • Irrigation ditches were made using horse-drawn plows and hand digging

Early irrigation in the u s2

Early Irrigation in the U.S.

  • Construction of an irrigation ditch was not simple

    • A ditch too steep would cause fast flow that would erode the ditch and wash it out

    • A ditch that was too flat would not move water

  • Rule of thumb was a fall of about 2 feet per mile

Early irrigation in the u s3

Early Irrigation in the U.S.

  • Homestead Act passed in 1862

    • Opened the floodgates of development in the West

    • Anyone over the age of 21 could acquire ownership of 160 acres if

      • Lived on it for 5 years

      • Made improvements to the property

    • Cost was $1.25 per acre

  • Water for irrigation became a critical issue

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Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold windmills to pump groundwater

Early irrigation in the u s4

Early Irrigation in the U.S.

  • In 1870’s Horace Greeley, editor of NY Tribune promoted settlement in the West with the phrase “Go West, Young Man”

  • Time was ripe for western migration

    • Civil War ended in 1865

    • Transcontinental railroad completed in 1869

  • Organized a settlement in Colorado (today called Greeley) to replicate the irrigation successes of Mormons in Utah

Early irrigation in the u s5

Early Irrigation in the U.S.

  • Late 1800’s was a period of unusually wet weather in West

  • As normal rainfall returned many settlers without irrigation water were forced to abandon their land and move into town to work in other professions

  • Drought period in 1930’s forced more settlers to abandon land and become migrant workers

    • Described in “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

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Central Arizona Irrigation Project

Irrigation today

Irrigation Today

  • Irrigation today is extensive in western U.S. and other areas of the world

  • A number of associated problems

    • Competition for water with urban sources

    • Salinization of soils

    • Sedimentation of reservoirs

    • Effect on stream flow and water quality

  • Will discuss these in later chapters

Chapter headings2

Chapter Headings

  • Drinking Water for Early Civilizations

  • Early Irrigation and Flood-Control Projects

  • Early Water Transportation Development

  • Early Hydropower Development

Early transportation development

Early Transportation Development

  • One of the reasons civilization centers developed near rivers is these were the “interstates”

  • River and canal systems used for boat traffic

  • Nile and Yangtze River are examples

  • Later extensive canal system developed in Europe

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Lock and lockkeeper’s house, Castlefield, England

Early transportation development1

Early Transportation Development

  • Erie Canal constructed 1817-1825

    • Connected Buffalo on Lake Erie to Albany on Hudson River

    • 363 miles

    • Cut travel time from 20 days to 6 days

    • Cut transportation costs from $100 to $5/ton

  • Ohio & Erie Canal connected Ohio River to Lake Erie

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Check Google map to see full extent of St. Lawrence River

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Canal boat pulled by mule on towpath on the C &O canal

In Washington DC; canal ran 184 miles from Cumberland MD to DC

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Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal (“mules” on tracks)

Early transportation development2

Early Transportation Development

  • Mississippi River has been through history and continues to be a major transportation system for U.S.

  • Before steamboats keelboats and flatboats were used to move produce down river

  • After steamboats developed (1810) traffic ran up and downstream

  • Army Corps of Engineers responsible for clearing snags

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Jolly Flatboat men, George Caleb Bingham

Water transport today

Water Transport Today

  • Water transportation not as critical today due to rail and trucking industries

  • Still a source of conflict

    • Navigational needs vs. urban and agricultural use of water

    • In 2003 Corp of Engineers released water from Lake Lanier and lower lakes on Chattahooche to float barge traffic at Columbus

    • Later that year drought conditions caused record low lake levels

  • We’ll discuss this in later chapters

Chapter headings3

Chapter Headings

  • Drinking Water for Early Civilizations

  • Early Irrigation and Flood-Control Projects

  • Early Water Transportation Development

  • Early Hydropower Development

Early hydropower development

Early Hydropower Development

  • Water wheels were used to grind grain as early as 100 BC in Greece

  • Until the time of steam engines, water mills were a major source of energy

  • By 1800 there were 500,000 water mills in Europe

  • Mills ground corn and wheat, powered bellows and hammers to make iron, ground ingredients for paper, cut wood, and powered textile mills

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Rock Run Grist Mill, Susquehanna State Park, MD

overshot mill for grinding corn

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Grist mill

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Bottom millstone exposed

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Walter and Merrits. 2008. Science. Page 299

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Littleton Mill undershot wheel, Littleton, NH

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Textile mill diagram

Early hydropower development1

Early Hydropower Development

  • With the invention of the light bulb by Thomas Edison in 1879 hydropower began to be used to generate electricity

  • One of the first generating plants was built at Niagara Falls to supply electricity to Buffalo NY

    • Designed by George Westinghouse

  • Hydropower production peaked in the 1940’s when it provided 1/3 of electricity consumed in U.S.

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Niagara Falls

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Niagara Falls (right) and American Falls (left)

Hydroelectric plant was to the left of American Falls?

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Two inlets above the fall diverted water into canals (right photo # 1 & 2); water flowed down canals to power houses (left diagram)

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George Westinghouse, 1846-1914

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Westinghouse turbine, 1925

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Hoover Dam generators

Hydropower today

Hydropower Today

  • Hydropower is still important but ability to transmit electricity is making some dams less critical

  • Movement to remove dams in some cases

  • Focus on environmental impact of dams on fish such as salmon

  • We’ll discuss this in later chapters

Chapter 1 summary

Chapter 1 Summary

  • Management of water resources has been a hallmark of civilizations throughout history

  • Water managed to provide drinking water, irrigation, flood control, navigation, and power

  • Although we’ve been managing water for centuries, many old and new problems now confront us

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