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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

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?

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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)

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

  • 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

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


Aqueduct in Segovia, Spain

Roman public fountain

Roman public bath at Pompei, Italy

Coaca Maxima (main sewer) for ancient Rome

Example of routing wastewater away from cities

Wind Gap Pumping Plant, Tehachapi Range north of LA

California Aqueduct

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 Headings

  • Drinking Water for Early Civilizations

  • Early Irrigation and Flood-Control Projects

  • Early Water Transportation Development

  • Early Hydropower Development

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 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

From Chapter 3

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.

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

Anasazi dwellings at Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, NM

R.G. Vivian, Chaco Canyon Handbook

Chaco Canyon irrigation

R.G. Vivian, Chaco Canyon Handbook

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.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.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

Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold windmills to pump groundwater

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.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

Central Arizona Irrigation Project

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 Headings

  • Drinking Water for Early Civilizations

  • Early Irrigation and Flood-Control Projects

  • Early Water Transportation Development

  • Early Hydropower 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

Lock and lockkeeper’s house, Castlefield, England

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jolly Flatboat men, George Caleb Bingham

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 Headings

  • Drinking Water for Early Civilizations

  • Early Irrigation and Flood-Control Projects

  • Early Water Transportation 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

Rock Run Grist Mill, Susquehanna State Park, MD

overshot mill for grinding corn

Grist mill

Bottom millstone exposed

Walter and Merrits. 2008. Science. Page 299

Littleton Mill undershot wheel, Littleton, NH

Textile mill diagram

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.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls (right) and American Falls (left)

Hydroelectric plant was to the left of American Falls?

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

George Westinghouse, 1846-1914

Westinghouse turbine, 1925

Hoover Dam generators

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

  • 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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