Five Ingenious Ways Humans Move Water

Pont Du Gard aqueduct spanning across a river

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Sometimes it's not the lack of water that causes problems but the difficulties in reaching the nearest water source that can send societies scrounging. But for centuries, inventive city planners have found ways to work around that challenge, moving mass amounts of water over incredible distances. Read on to see some of the most brilliant ways - both ancient and modern - that humans have found to control their water supply. Water is not always an easy thing to move: it's heavy, it can become unsanitary, and there are limited ways to carry it. The most effective way to transport water is by re-routing it, since large-scale overland systems can result in massive environmental damage (even when it's bottled)--though as you'll see in the technologies below, even ground transport can be made easier, greener, and healthier.

c. 312 B.C.-226 A.D.: Roman Aqueducts

The Roman Empire is still known for its engineering marvels, including its aqueduct system, in which 11 tunnels carried water to the city from as far away as 60 miles. The underground lead or concrete pipes followed an almost level grade—except where U-shaped dips, called siphons, helped the water flow uphill—and tanks scattered along the route purified the water.

c. 1859: Finding the Ismalia Canal

While building the Suez Canal through Egypt to connect India and Western Europe, a parallel canal—the Ismailia Canal—was built between the Nile River and Lake Timsah. This freshwater source also branched out toward the north and south, providing clean drinking water to the villages and workers along the Suez route.

c. 1909: Honor Oak Reservoir

The Honor Oak Reservoir, brick-built underground in London by Thames Water, becomes the largest service reservoir—meaning that the water it collects is safe for drinking—in the world at that time. Still in use, it holds enough water for 800,000 people and provides enough above-ground space for a golf course.

c. 2006: The Hippo Roller

The Hippo Roller gives African villagers a break from transporting 5-gallon buckets of water on their heads by providing a grounded alternative: Each UV-stabilized, 20-gallon barrel can be rolled from river to town, cutting back on the health issues incurred by the old system while moving five times as much water.

C. 2008: Back to Aquaducts...Sort of

The Aquaduct water-filtering bike allows the rider to pedal to a water supply, load up the cycle with 20 gallons of water (enough for a family of four’s daily usage), and ride home; meanwhile, the pedaling action engages a pump that cleans the water while it’s transported.