Tuesday, May 31, 2016

7 Mysterious and Amazing Water Supply Systems of the Ancient Times

A network of pipes in the Philippines is one of the ways to convey potable water to urban and rural communities. Today, it is quite easy to build complex water supply systems using advanced engineering and construction techniques. This is not the case in the olden times where water is considered almost as precious as gold. Well, we still treat water as an essential resource in order to live today, but back then they had a hard time bringing it to their villages considering they lack modern tools to do it.

How did early humans transport water to their settlements using their primitive tools and methods? Interestingly, ancient civilizations were able to build water supply systems which are considered as some of the greatest feats of engineering and architectural marvel. This was during a time when HDPE or PVC pipes like the ones found in the Philippines or any plastic pipes are not invented yet. Here are some examples:

The Nazca Holes

Image Source: BBC
We haven’t yet solved the mystery behind the Nazca Lines of Peru that consists of over a thousand figures of biomorphs and geoglyphs deliberately “drawn” in the Nazca desert by ancient Peruvian Nazca people (100BC to 800AD). Another puzzle emerged from this place which is not composed of lines but gaping spiral holes as pictured below. These are called puquios, “a sophisticated hydraulic system constructed to retrieve water from underground aquifers,” Rosa Lasaponara of the Institute of Methodologies for Environmental Analysis in Italy explains in BBC. Despite being the most arid places on Earth, the puquios were used for agriculture, irrigation and domestic needs that can last a whole year.

Angkor Wat’s Hydraulic System

The Angkor Wat (“temple city”) in Cambodia was commissioned by King Suryavaram II in 12th century to honor their Hindu god Vishnu. Deep within the temples of Angkor is a sophisticated water supply system created by Khmer engineers. As stated by BBC, around 9th century, they were “storing and distributing vast quantities of precious seasonal monsoon water using a complex network of huge canals and reservoirs.” However, due to worsening climate and mismanagement, the Khmer civilization collapsed along with its hydraulic system.

The Acequias of New Mexico

The past is in the past. But what if this past is the only solution to save the present? The snow in Rocky Mountains in New Mexico is melting fast. The melting snow is not going down the rivers but evaporating up in the air. The rivers are the source of irrigation in the area but without the snow in the mountain, water scarcity is inevitable. This is why the locals revived the ancient irrigation systems called acequias, a network of hand-dug conduits. This is a smart move because Sam Fernald of New Mexico State University tells Frontera Desk that “it’s better to store water underground in northern areas because it’s cooler and, you don’t have evaporation.”

The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome

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Of course, we wouldn’t forget one of the popular water systems of the ancient world, the Roman aqueducts. It is derived from two Latin words, aqua (“water”) and ducere (“to lead”). Ancient Romans were sticklers for cleanliness so it is understandable for them to build a “water bridge” to satisfy their needs. According to Crystalinks, the aqueducts provided a constant supply of water used in public baths, latrines, fountains and private households. It served a million of residents at the time.

The Kahrizes of Nakhchivan

Thanks to the ingenuity of their ancestors the people of Nakhchivan Autonomous Region (NAR) in Azerbaijan are now benefitting from old water supply systems. Thru the collaboration of NAR and Switzerland, they launched a project called “Community-Owned Sustainable Water Use and Agricultural Initiatives (COSWA)” to make this possible, International Organization of Migration of Switzerland reports. Since 2011, the region receives three times as more water from the underground water supply systems.

Nabataeans’ Water Channeling Technology 

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We don’t know much about the Nabataeans (586 BC) aside from the fact that they were ancient Semitic people and built an empire in the canyon of Petra in Jordan. The question is: how did they survive in such dry and arid climate? Based on an article in Ancient Origins, they made a “water channeling technology… including the construction of aqueducts, terraces, darns, cisterns, and reservoirs, as well as methods of harvesting rainwater, flood water, groundwater, and natural springs.” In short, all possible sources of water are harvested and utilized. They even have underground cisterns with waterproof cement to prevent the water from seeping into the earth, the article states.

Ancient India’s Water Management System

Around 2500-1700 BCE, the Indus Valley Civilization emerged at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, near the Indus River in India. During that time, the people of ancient India developed a water management system that was ahead of its time. In an article in 6bridges, it says that the people built drainage systems, wells, water tanks, canals, sewage systems, and bunds. Ancient History Encyclopedia tells that their houses had wells and bathrooms. The people used brass vessels to purify water, which microbiologists believed can help combat many water-borne diseases.

Towns in Harappa have distinct features. In Lothal, they had a water purification system with aeration chambers, lime and charcoal. In Dholavira, they had a water conservation system consisting of channels and reservoirs made of stone. The town of Rajasthan built a rooftop water harvesting system.

These are especially astonishing accomplishments more so because their time is the reflection of what we have today and they didn’t need a pipes to make irrigation history.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Save the Environment Using PVC Pipes

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How can PVC pipes solve the hunger in the Philippines and save the environment? It seems a farfetched and impossible idea, doesn’t it? Given that there are harmful effects of PVC products or plastics in general.

PVC or Polyvinyl Chloride belongs to thermoplastic resins and is a type of polymer made from VCM (vinyl chloride monomers) through polymerization (Vinyl Environmental Council (VEC)). PVC could last up to 35 years without any signs of deterioration and its durability is the same as new pipes (Japan PVC Pipe & Fittings Association). VEC adds that it is resistant to acid, alkali, almost all inorganic chemicals and organic solvents.

The durability and chemical resistance of PVC pipes can be used in environmentally-friendly projects. Here are a few examples:

Coral Tree Nursery

The Philippines is a coastal country surrounded by bodies of water and belongs to the famous Coral Triangle.  Although coral reefs cover only 0.2% of our oceans, it is the home of 25 million marine fish species (Defenders of Wildlife). Annually, it could generate US$ 2.4 billion in the Southeast Asia (World Resources Institute (WRI). Did you know that in our country alone the total economic value of our reefs is estimated US$ 1.6 billion annually (WRI)?  Only if this is true.

In the paper entitled “The Economics of Worldwide Coral Reef Degradation” published by Cesar Environmental Economics Consulting (CEEC), the damage to world’s reefs is estimated 27% and if this continues for the next 30 years 60% of it will be destroyed.

How can we prevent this from happening? Plant a coral nursery out of a “tree”! This is the solution Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) developed which they launched last 2010 and named it the Coral Tree Nursery®. How does it work? “It is a simple framework of PVC pipe that resembles the shape of a tree. The nursery tree is tethered to the ocean floor and buoyed with a subsurface float. Coral fragments were hung from the branches of the tree using monofilament line,” explains CRF.

After six to nine months, they removed it from the nursery, tagged it, and attached it directly to a local reef using an underwater adhesive. Through these efforts, more fishes can be produced for human consumption.


It is a fusion of two practices. Aqua- or Aquaculture “refers to the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of plants and animals (in this case fishes) in all types of water environments” (NOAA Fisheries). While, -ponics, from the word Hydroponics “is the growing of plants in a soil-less medium, or an aquatic-based environment” (Growth Technology).  When these two are combined they form a symbiotic-like relationship as shown in the diagram below:

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The fishes you can harvest in this type of setup are tilapia, catfish, trout, Koi, and goldfish. This is the advantage of home fish farming; you can eat your own fish in an organic way.  It uses 90% less water than traditional gardening and we did mention it requires no soil, right?  Aquaponics can be set up in parking lots, abandoned warehouses, schools, restaurants, homes and garages (Mother Earth News).

This was the project of Bahay Kubo Organics in Payatas which started in 2013. They built it using fish tanks, recycled plastic containers, PVC pipes, gravel or rocks, and metal bars. It is maintained by “Fairplay for All” charity and they grow pechay, cherry tomatoes, arugula, asitava, broccoli, and tilapia (Rappler). It also helps feed poor children in the center.

It may not only solve the hunger problem we are currently suffering. This setup is applicable to urban areas like Manila, which lacks soil. It also uses only 2% water that traditional farming uses (Aquaponics Blueprint).

Back in the time of our ancestors, vegetable patches in the backyard of a house are a common sight. Living is simple and mundane, but sustainable. Now, we could revive that again through aquaponics with the fishes as a bonus. We could put food on our plates and it could be a source of livelihood, too.