Humanity’s Most Problematic Attempts to Get All the Water – Facts So Romantic

Survival shows are running amok. The contestants are naked; they’re two out-of-shape guys in the woods; they’re stuck on an island. Despite differences in attire or setting, one thing remains constant: For every survivor, finding potable water is the first order of business. But the challenge doesn’t end there: First they find water; then they need to bring it home.

This pattern is reflected in the history of all civiliations. From the moment humans discovered the benefit of staying in one spot, growing plants and raising animals, they started to devise ways of bringing water to the settlement. They developed wells and rainwater channels, dug irrigation ditches, and created aqueducts to pull water a long way from its sources. Their engineering paid off; villages, towns, cities flourished; eventually, complex, urban civilizations dominated. It smacked of success.

Except that great solutions to water needs also begat great problems. When water is drawn more quickly than it is replenished naturally, a water source can dry out, endangering people who based their lives around it. Some of our engineered structures, like lead pipes, have led to serious health problems. And when more than one nation draws from a single water source—as in the…

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