Water shortages will not be rare under current Climate Change. Steadily rising average temperature will make every living being consume more water. It also elevates the rate of evaporation from the lakes and surface soil. 
Dense urbanization allows no infiltration of rain
La Paz, Bolivia

Accelerated denudation of forest cover in recent decades has reduced the runoff infiltration and thus the rate of groundwater recharging. 

Mining waste contaminate air and water
Llallagua, Bolivia
Mass scale water pollution by industrial, mining, agricultural and urban activities leaves us with less and less consumable water. 

Why do we talk about nurturing water? We can survive a long period without eating, but not without water.  Water comprises of over half the human body mass.  Really, it is mother water -‘yaku mama’ (Cachiguango and Ponton, 2010) that nurtures us.  So, in droughts, why don’t we try to nurture her, as a matter of mutual respect?

Our ancestors, for their water supply, depended on the natural environment, much more than we do today, and thus, revered and respected the nature more.  Without waiting for external help, they integrated water nurturing activities to their community living.  To execute those activities, they employed mainly local materials, and their individual and collective, mental and physical resources. Current climate crisis will affect everybody, leaving nobody to come to our rescue, so we’ll have to deal with it on our own.

Thus we propose ancient water nurturing practices as the best tool to prepare for coming water shortages.  Not that each such practice worked every time or everywhere; we simply have inherited those that suit each region the best.  They include techniques for forecasting the climate, procuring water in droughts, rainwater harvesting, tapping into groundwater, conserving and consuming water, and dealing with excess rainwater.

How did our ancestors predict the weather?
Scientists today have a difficult time in accurately forecasting weather, for the lack of precise historic and continuous climate data. However, some village elders have the ability to fairly correctly predict when the rain would fall in their locality and how much. Such abilities they have developed by observing carefully the environment around them: celestial bodies, meteorological events, animals and plants, on particular dates. They would analyze both conflicting and consistent indicators based on past experiences before making tentative predictions, but would confirm them only after observing similar events on other corresponding dates.
Sun’s halo indicates freezing days
(Courtesy: Marco Martinez, Ecuador)
Such predictions, whether based on changing rock colors in Walawe river (Uragoda 2000) o on St. John’s day meteorological events around Lake Titicaca-Perú (Chuyma Aru 2007), always depend on past weather patterns. 

Changing climate may make them also error-prone.  Thus, we should first learn why and how such indicators and the local climate were related, and create a new knowledge-base connecting current weather patterns to those indicators.

What options do we have if the rains get delayed?
Our ancestors used rituals to communicate with the nature, to show appreciation, request help or make an objection. During a ritual pleading for rain, they would use: loud appeals by children (Cachiguango and Ponton 2010) or by animals (especially frogs); symbolic objects (feathers representing wind, turquoise – water, etc.); and sacrifices o payments.  Rain-seeking frog marriages are held in India even today, while in Indonesia volunteer rattan cane fighters bear the pain for rain.  Such acts would bring results only when conducted in good faith, with the aim of bringing the society in harmony with the nature, not when enacted in isolation begging for a particular benefit.

Ancient Andean Pacific coast dwellers captured water from thick humid fog during the dry season using dense tree barriers on top of coastal ridges.  A few rural communities still maintain those water capture and storage systems, but in their absence, costly modern mesh structures are needed to reestablish vegetation in that arid environment.  Mimicking ancient salt ponds, we can capture pure water from a contaminated pool, albeit in small quantities, condensing its vapor in a closed environment, and that may suffice to survive an emergency.  Ancient societies manipulated clouds to convert hail into rain: Europeans fired cannons into the clouds; in Andean high plains everybody sends up black smoke, even today.  Now, some people try to force rain through cloud-seeding, using rockets or airplanes, but its doubtful cost-effectiveness and grave socio-environmental consequences (Morrison 2009) holds back its widespread use.

Rainwater and runoff harvesting
Efficiently capturing and storing rainwater requires no sophisticated technologies, but only advanced planning.  Ancient cities collected rainwater in individual homes (Evanari et al. 1982) and in public plazas to avoid costly and attack-prone external water supply systems. Modern city dwellers too can use rainwater to reduce municipal water consumption: at least for garden irrigation and washing. Some cities (e.g. Portland-Oregon) offer incentives to citizens for reducing the runoff entering city sewage systems and gain a lot through reduced treatment costs.  

The surface runoff can be intercepted by contour canals and directed towards storage reservoirs.  Yet, storing runoff in the field soil itself, as practiced by Hopi and Zuni agriculturists in southwestern US, using long contour lines of rocks or branches, reduces the erosion as well.  In steeper slopes, the soil-water traps are strengthened by terracing, trenching o check damming.

Bhu wewa sluice intake – Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka
Storing stream runoff in large surface reservoirs requires advanced technical knowledge. To release water under several meters of head pressure, ancient Sri Lankans used a sluice-well of wedged stone blocks that probably had a plug-door controlling the outflow. 
Bhu wewa  sluice well – Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Ancient cascading tanks – Mau Ara, Walawe river, Sri Lanka

Yet, in rural areas, they opted for a simpler mechanism, by building many cascading small reservoirs across pretty much every branch river.

Subterranean water
Filtration gallery cleaning well - Nazca
Past Ecuadoreans in Santa Elena peninsula also captured rainwater in thousands of small tanks at the head of micro catchments.  However, instead of trying to maintain surface storage in this semiarid zone, they located the tanks above a porous rock formation with the intention of recharging the springs downstream to survive the long dry spells.  Where spring flow is not sufficient, our forefathers tunneled deep into the mountains, bringing large volumes of water from aquifers to the surface under gravity, like ancient qanats of Middle East (Goldsmith and Hildyard 1984) and filtration galleries of Nazca-Peru. The famous Nazca lines seem to follow numerous geological faults and hence indicate possible groundwater sources in that extremely arid location (Proulx 2008?).

The Inca engineers of Cuzco-Peru had built bench-terrace walls between impermeable rocky ridges, delineating surface-dry streams, to trap behind them shallow groundwater and thus filtered out steady flows for bathing or irrigation (Fairley 2003). Today, dry NE Brazil uses submerged curtain walls across intermittent streams, economically trapping and storing water underground (UNEP 1997). To extract this water and help maintain the system properly, a filtration gallery can be incorporated just upstream of its curtain wall.

Sunken gardens – Trujillo, Peru
Instead of pumping out groundwater for irrigation, some ancient farmers opted to lower the cultivation floor!  Those sunken-gardens along the arid Peruvian coast have been continuously cultivated (Schjellerup 2009), at least since the Chimu kingdom (1300 AD), when they flourished because of constant irrigation of the land upslope. 

Making the best use of captured water
First, reduce the consumption and eliminate water losses throughout the supplying system.  Low volume WCs, urinals for men and dry-toilets allow reducing water consumption without sacrificing modern-day comforts.  Tubes and surface-linings can cut water losses during the conduction and storage, but preventing distribution losses, especially in irrigation, requires analyzing all the variables involved: types of seeds, cultivation time, soil, climate and irrigation mechanism.  In SE Turkey, cultivating saffron instead of cotton, 90% of the water requirement was cut down while keeping the incomes intact (Drynet 2008?).  Mulching, wind breakers and organic enrichment of soil, etc., will help reduce the loss of soil humidity and thus the need for frequent irrigation.

Second, do not contaminate water and recycle it. In urban homes, reusing grey water reduces the costs to both the consumer and the municipality.  In semi-urban and rural areas, recycling septic tank water can become cheaper in the long run.  In farm houses, stable-wash discharge can produce biogas, which accelerates the composting process of its solids component and facilitates recycling the liquid.

Coping with too much rain
Aerial view: Momposina canals and raised fields
(Courtesy: Banco de la Republica, Colombia)
As we try to capture every drop of water to beat a drought, a flashflood could destroy it all.  Our reliance on land-access makes us vulnerable to floods, especially in low-lying areas, where our forefathers, in contrast, had developed ‘aquatic civilizations’ to live in harmony with water.  Huge floodplains of Colombia (Momposina), Ecuador (Lower Guayas) and Bolivia (Mojos) were heavily populated and more prosperous many centuries ago compared to now (Denevan 2001).  They dug wide canals raising the cultivable and livable land in-between.  

Kalinga Ela – Polonnaruwa:
An ancient Mahaweli river flood control and navigation attempt?

The canals diverted high river flows to low-lying swamps reducing the risk of flooding, and permitted unhindered canoe travel.  This also facilitated capturing nutrient-rich sediments for raised field cultivation and fish growth in the swamps.

Modern ‘flood protection’ schemes, in contrast, uproot entire villages, destroy the aquatic life, bring about health hazards, deprive nutrients to the fields, and when their structures can´t cope with high flows, cause worse floods on ‘protected’ properties. Most such projects fail, because the designers, lacking reliable long-term data on rainfall, river flow and sediment transport, invent numbers to support politicians’ promises.  Lack of proper catchment monitoring and maintenance of control structures worsen the situation. Many such failures have shown that modern ‘nature-conquering’ premise is completely false.

Rain-related soil erosion can be minimized through contour terracing, trenching, check- damming and reforestation.  To stabilize earth slides, prepare flexible groundwater drainage paths through the moving mass, plant deep-rooting and rapid-growing trees, and then, take measures to reduce surface erosion.  If water-logging could threaten the cultivating fields, prioritize raising the plant beds, instead of sinking them to capture more humidity in droughts, as flooding occurs too rapidly and causes more damage.

Adapting to the changing climate
The changing climate challenges us to be self-sufficient, inquisitive and practical field researchers.  Leave aside your academic titles, but previous field training would come real handy in this endeavor.  Dealing with water scarcity (or excess of it) is the most important task in these demanding times.  When you confront a problem, keep your mind open to whatever crazy solution that props up (we hope this paper helps germinate more of those) and don´t discard it till you test it in the field. Such an attitude would be the best homage we can offer to the finest field engineers ever –our forefathers.

Kashyapa A. S. Yapa
Riobamba, Ecuador.
June 2013.

1.       Cachiguango, Luis Enrique “Katsa” and Julián Pontón (2010) “Yaku-Mama: La crianza del agua– la música ritual del Hatun Puncha Inti Raymi en Kotama, Otavalo” Cultural Ministry of Ecuador, june.
2.       CHUYMA ARU (2007) “Señas y secretos de crianza de la vida” Asociación Chuyma de Apoyo Rural, Puno, Perú.
3.     Denevan, William M. (2001) "Cultivated landscapes of the native Amazonia and the Andes", Oxford Univ. Press, NY.
4.       Drynet (2008?) “Using a Flower to Combat Desertification”,
5.       Evanari, Michael, Leslie Shanan and Naphtali Tadmor (1982) “The Negev: the challenge of a desert” 2nd ed., Harvard U Press, Cambridge.
6.       Fairley Jr., Jerry P. (2003) “Geologic water storage in pre-Columbian Peru”, Latin American Antiquity 14(2): 193-206.
7.       Goldsmith, Edward and Nicholas Hildyard (1984) “The qanats of Iran”, in ‘The Social and Environmental Effects of Large Dams: Volume 1. Overview’ Wadebridge Ecological Centre, UK.
8.       Morrison, Anthony E. et al (2009) “On the analysis of a cloud seeding dataset over Tasmania”, Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 48: 1267–1280.
9.       Proulx, Donald A. (2008?) “Nasca Puquios and Aqueducts”
10.       Schjellerup, Inge R. (2009) “Sunken fields in the desert of Peru” The Egyptian journal of environmental change, vol 1:1, pp 25-33, Oct.
11.    Uragoda, C. G. (2000) “Traditions of Sri Lanka”, Vishva Lekha, Ratmalana, Sri Lanka.
12.    UNEP -United Nations Environmental Program (1997) “Source Book of Alternative Technologies for Freshwater Augmentation in Latin America and the Caribbean”, International Environmental Technology Center, Osaka, Japan.

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