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1st International Conference on Rain Water Cistern Systems
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA - June 1982

Section 1: History Of Cisterns

Page 1

Lessons of History in the Design and Acceptance of Rain Water Cistern Systems

George W. Reid
University of Oklahoma, USA


Technology is the application of science to the resolution of a current problem. There are several sub-classifications, such as intermediate technology, appropriate technology, retrogressive technology. If one were to advocate the use of cisterns today, it would be retrogressive technology because in early times-about 2000 B.C. - in the Middle East (Ancient and Medieval), typical middle class dwellings stored rain water in cisterns; irrigation works were used as a domestic supply, private bathing facilities for the wealthy, and sewage and solid wastes deposited in streets and open spaces. During the 8th century, the Greeks (Olynthus) used aqueducts of terra-cotta pipes; houses with bathrooms, cisterns, lavatories, and a waste pipe running through the outside wall to the street; a central alley in each block for drainage; and covered brick masonry drains.

Hippocrates advocated boiling water for disinfection and prevention of odors, as did the Egyptians (47 B.C. Alexandria) where prominent families were provided with cisterns.

Thus, one can envision technology being applied and perfected, as required by one's environment. This leads to the conclusion that the technology used is also a function of socioeconomic conditions. Historically, most development has been associated with socioeconomic growth. The concepts of technological growth are shown in Table 1 and that of life style in Table 2. A third variable would be time (Table 3).

Now one might reflect on these ideas, first as one's life style shifts from hunting and fishing, to agriculture, industry and to mass production. One progresses (if that's the word) from rural to urban life, increased services, ultimately 70 to 80% urbanization, 70 to 75% service employment and 3 to 5% in agriculture; and develops progressively, resource strains, pollution and scarcities. Water requirements escalate from 1 to 2 litres/person/day to 8000 litres/person/day because of large irrigation and industrial components. Water service increase needs in the home from 7 to 8 litres to 400 to 500 litres/day. Eighty to 90% of the water used is contaminated, and needs treatment before recycling can occur. Thus, in successive order, water requires treatment, then is discharged as sewage, and finally is a reuse product.

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