THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF WATER SECURITY
The history of humans is indelibly tied to water. Not only does water make up 70% of our bodies, we are notoriously bad at surviving without it. It should come as no surprise then that the provision of water has been a major enterprise in human history—particularly as our social interactions and economies have driven us to congregate in larger and larger groupings.
The practice of channeling water from surface and ground water sources (through qanats in the middle east, acequias in New Mexico, or aqueducts in the ancient Roman empire) and capturing rain and flood waters for agricultural use has been used continuously since the agricultural revolution over 10,000 years ago—ultimately leading to increased urbanization. In 2014, the World Health Organization estimated that urban populations accounted for 54% of the total global opulation1, with urbanization rates increasing at approximately 1.5% per year. That’s 3.9 billion people, based on a 2014 world population of 7.24 billion.2 And with that urbanization comes an absolute requirement to create, operate and maintain water services.
URBAN WATER IS NOT NEW
Some of the earliest “urban water systems” are to be found on the island of Crete from the Minoan culture more than 4,500 years ago:
The Minoans had wonderful water systems, such as those found in Knossos, Tylissos, Phaistos, and Zakros. These systems included aqueducts, cisterns, filtering systems, rainfall-harvesting systems, terracota pipes for water supply and fountains. Minoan hydraulic technologies were developed further during several stages of Greek civilization. New, more advanced water technologies were also invented there, with a peak in the Hellenistic period, during which they spread over a geographical area from Greece to India to the east and Egypt to the south.3
A few thousand years later, the Romans constructed more than 1,300 aqueducts throughout their empire, providing water to portion of its 61.4 million inhabitants.5
“All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?”7
Hydraulic engineering was not limited to Eurasia. While the use of pressurized water systems in the New World had been thought to coincide with the arrival of the Spanish, excavations have shown that the Maya of Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico—Classic Maya living between 250–600 CE—constructed a pressurized water system to control the flow of water within an urban area. Using the natural hydraulic gradient, upland springs were diverted to provide a pressurized source of water in the dry-season.8
THE RISE AND FALL OF WATER
The work of our ancestors lead to even greater feats of industrial-scale engineering: the Hoover Dam, the Aswan Dam, the Three Gorges Dam and a multitude of other infrastructure projects designed to provide water security for burgeoning populations.
While archaeology records the great engineering feats of the past, it also details the disruption, and in some cases the outright collapse, of societies when those supply-side mechanisms fail. The supply-side mantra of finding and storing enough water for growing populations appears on the face of it, to be a sound endeavor—until it is not.
The decline and ultimate collapse of the ancient Mayan culture has been tied to the failure of the natural water delivery system. The droughts that were prevalent throughout the 200 year decline were characterized by a “40% reduction in annual precipitation, probably due to a reduction in summer season tropical storm frequency and intensity.”9
In the American Southwest, we have the tale of mass migrations of entire cultures as a result of droughts occurring during the Medieval Climate Anomaly in the 12th century CE.
In the Qinling Mountain region of China, historical records combined with notations of drought events written in the Dayu Cave system, indicate that water scarcity caused serious social problems over the centuries. The drought of 1528 CE led to “a big starvation and cannibalism.” Further droughts in the 1890s caused severe starvation and triggered local social instability, which eventually resulted in a fierce conflict between government and civilians in 1900 CE.10
Clearly today we are not as intimately tied to a single source of water and there are management techniques that provide additional layers of water security. While we may not be in danger of a single point-of-failure, we are not immune to the potential catastrophic collapse of our water supply system due to the effects of increasing water volatility. It is this type of calamity that is described in “The Water Knife: A Novel” by Paolo Bacigalupi. Bacigalupi’s particularly dystopian perspective on the importance of water in the southwest as supply-side systems fail is an astute account of the impact and necessity of water in society, one where “somebody’s got to bleed if anybody’s going to drink.”12 It is a cautionary tale of failure to adapt to new water realities.
CREATING THE FUTURE WE WANT
On a much brighter note, there are opportunities for us to adapt to the changing water landscape. Adopting a demand-side management philosophy, reducing consumption, maximizing our existing fitted infrastructure, and ensuring continued investment in water infrastructure through utility financial security will go a long way in allowing us to steer clear of the collapses experienced by the Mayan and Anasazi, and the dystopia envisioned by science fiction writers.
FATHOM provides the tools to enable these opportunities through a combination of better meter data management, revenue assurance, customer presentment and customer engagement. With FATHOM technologies, utilities become more efficient in their operations by: realizing a reduction of leaks and increased longevity of infrastructure through demand reduction; achieving pressure and power efficiencies for their distribution systems using near real-time consumption data; and actively reducing consumption by engaging customers in a conversation about the importance of water.
3E. G. Dialynas, Α. Ν. Angelakis, The Evolution of Water Supply Technologies in Ancient Crete, Greece (http://worldwatermuseum.com/pdf/4.%20The%20Evolution%20of%20Water%20Supply%20Technologies%20in%20Ancient%20Crete,%20Greece.pdf)
4Angelakis, A.N.; De Feo, G.; Laureano, P.; Zourou, A. Minoan and Etruscan Hydro-Technologies. Water 2013, 5, 972-987.
5Estimated population in 164 CE (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_Roman_Empire#Population)
7Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Dir. Terry Jones, 1979
8Kirk D. Frencha, Christopher J. Duffy, Prehispanic water pressure: A New World first, Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 37, Issue 5, May 2010, Pages 1027–1032
9Martín Medina-Elizalde and Eelco J. Rohling, Collapse of Classic Maya Civilization Related to Modest Reduction in Precipitation,
Science 24 February 2012: 335 (6071), 956-959. [DOI:10.1126/science.1216629] 10University of Cambridge. “Chinese cave ‘graffiti’ tells a 500-year story of climate change and impact on society.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 August 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/08/150813092816.htm>
11Tan, L. et al. A Chinese cave links climate change, social impacts, and human adaptation over the last 500 years. Sci. Rep. 5,12284; doi: 10.1038/srep12284 (2015).
12P. Bacigalupi, “The Water Knife: A Novel”, Knopf, First Edition (May 26, 2015), pg 164
13http://drought.unl.edu/nasa_grace/GRACE_GWS.png (accessed 4 August 2015)Download PDF