Shutterstock

Water conservation tips from ancient cities.

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

Most Popular

  1. photo: San Diego's Trolley
    Transportation

    Out of Darkness, Light Rail!

    In an era of austere federal funding for urban public transportation, light rail seemed to make sense. Did the little trains of the 1980s pull their own weight?

  2. Design

    Why Amsterdam’s Canal Houses Have Endured for 300 Years

    A different kind of wealth distribution in 17th-century Amsterdam paved the way for its quintessential home design.

  3. photo: Developer James Rouse visiting Harborplace in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
    Life

    What Happened to Baltimore’s Harborplace?

    The pioneering festival marketplace was among the most trendsetting urban attractions of the last 40 years. Now it’s looking for a new place in a changed city.

  4. Streets

    The Remaking of Martin Luther King Streets

    They’ve been languishing for a long time but are finally becoming sites of urban intervention.

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×