I have been doing quite a bit of research on water-harvesting and storage tools and techniques and trying to evaluate different technologies for the cold climates of the Great Lakes Region.
These days, especially in Permaculture circles, there is a lot of really great research and experimentation going on with water-haresting techniques, from ponds, to rain barrels and water cisterns.
The opinion I’m coming to is that like many “sustainable” technologies without historic precedent, they are very important experiments, but they remain “experimental” rather than practical.
While technologies for cisterns and water storage devices have been around since ancient times, it appears that they have never been widely adpoted. Instead, their use has been adopted for specific goals and circumstances, especially where safe, accessible water has been difficult due to geographical or environmental factors.
There appear to be two main reasons for this:
1. Cost beneifit analysis – Poor return on investment. If other more “appropriate technologies” were available it usually wasn’t worth it to employ expensive or time-consuming technologies. As Permaculture founder Bill Mollison pointed out, the best place to store water has always been in the ground.
2. Filtering/water quality. The best, most effective, efficient and affordable water filter available to modern man is still the same now as it has been for 10,000 years: a healthy ecosystem. Healthy ecosystems, such as healthy, balanced wetlands and forests can produce safe, healthy drinking water naturally with no added expense or energy. This water is then naturally stored in aquifers where it can be safely stored almost indefinitely, with responsible human land use. Without affordable, appropriate filtering technology, artificially stored water has historially been of limited utility, used primarily for washing or irrigation.
Which is why sustainably-utilized wells seem to be the best, most appropriate technology for most humans to use to get their water.
Of course, it’s this last factor of “responsible land use” that’s the difficult in modern human society, where big businesses feel entitled to pollute community-owned water resources for profit. The second difficulty is that these same business interests feel entitled to destory the ecosystems that are our shared inheritance. And a third is the “sustainably-used” factor, where we are currently rapidly depleting deep aquifers that take many millenia to recharge.
With these challenges, many Permaculturists and sustainability experts are turning to more costly experimental technologies for safe, reliable water. But it is difficult, if not impossible, for me to imagine a sustainable society or world where we must replace the free services, like water filtration and storage, with expensive, energy and material intensive technologies.
In the end, there is no “permanent culture” without healthy ecosystems, accountability and responsible resource use. So we must continue to work to defend our rights to rely upon the public commons and preserve our ecosystems and other shared resources for future generations.