Drought Tip of the Day: Do What the Mayans Did

Water conservation tips from ancient cities.

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As the United States is engulfed in the worst drought in half a century it might be worth seeking advice from our ancestors.

New research from the University of Cincinnati outlines the way the Mayans sustained a city for 1,500 years, despite periods of intense water shortage. The key? A dam that held as much as 20 million gallons of water. The structure was about 260 feet long and 33 feet high and was built from cut stone, rubble, and earth. According to Smart Planet, it’s the largest known dam built by the Central American Mayans. The Mayans also built slanted surfaces and canals to feed the reservoirs.

There's wisdom in all this for today. As Vernon Scarborough, a co-author of the paper and a professor at the University of Cincinnati, told Tyler Falk (a former Atlantic Cities staffer):

“The ancient Maya, however, developed a clever rainwater catchment and delivery system based on elevated, seasonally charged reservoirs positioned in immediate proximity to the grand pavements and pyramidal architecture of their urban cores. Allocation and potability were developmental concerns from the outset of colonization. Perhaps the past can fundamentally inform the present, if we, too, can be clever.”

Photo credit: Sunny Forest /Shutterstock

About the Author

  • Amanda Erickson is a former senior associate editor at CityLab.