Cover photo : Roman engineers of Antiquity built highly developed water supply systems. The Pont du Gard (c.

19 BC) in southern France, below, is only a small section of a 40-kilometre-long conduit, mostly underground, which carried water to the city of Nimes. Its 3 tiers of arches rise to over 47 metres. The highest tier, carrying the conduit, consists of 35 4.6-metre arches."

Introduction I. History: understanding the water cycle II. Paradise: water as friend - a gift of the gods III. Paradise lost: water as a danger and source of conflict A) Water as foe: waterborne diseases and natural disasters B) Water as power: "water" civilizations C)Water as an ecological and legal challenge: the public and private domains D) Water as victim: forms of pollution Conclusion References


water is presented in its various aspects: as friend and foe of humankind. To measure the evapotranspiration of plants the French mathematician de la Hire built three lysimeters in 1688. rivers. of the connections between people and water. condensation. a source of power. a young engineer from Montpellier specializing in weeds After a historical evocation of the concept of the water cycle. an apple of discord. written by Pierre Perrault and published in 1674 in Paris by Pierre Le Petit. and hence wealth. however.: (591-42) 47033.Alain GIODA Hydrologist. Fax: (591-42) 56321. and Pierre Fontanel. In terms of public services. the Koreans started . Kautilya. The first book on scientific hydrology in the Western world was De l'origine des fontaines (On the origin of springs). (b) the clouds (transfer. a minister of the Maurya dynasty (321-185 BC). had rain measured in pails placed in front of rural stores. Bolivia Tel. director for many years of Monaco's Jardin Exotique. This cycle has three components: (a) the sea. Perrault created a water balance in a basin located in the upper section of the Seine River. precipitation). a common heritage and a victim. Outside Europe. e-mail: gioda@bo. and (c) continental surface water (springs. The purpose is to illustrate in a historical and global context the This article is dedicated to the memory of two European botanists who took a keen interest in the history of science and the flora of Latin America: Dr Marcel Kroenlein. vegetation (evaporation and evapotranspiration driven by solar energy). ORSTOM (Institut français de recherche scientifique pour le développement en coopération) and SENAMHI (Servicio Nacional de Meteorolgía e Hidrología)br> Casilla 2352. with the exception of fossil water. In 1687 the Englishman Edmond Halley calculated the evaporation rate of the Mediterranean and then compared that figure with the contributions of the rivers flowing into the sea. and in India. run into the sea after a certain period of time. used horseback riders who travelled faster than the water. Cochabamba. the Chinese had understood the water cycle 500 years before the birth of Christ. the first flood-warning system. Owing nothing to the West. lakes) and groundwater which. and to a very small extent. set up by the Chinese in 1574 on the Yellow River. I) HISTORY: understanding the water cycle Only in the late seventeenth century did European scientists reach a clear understanding of the origin of water and its natural cycle.

The historian Pierre Grimal calls Rome the `city of water' .a gift of the Gods For thousands of years water was considered to be a fixed element of the globe. There was a general aversion to interfering with nature's cycle. the ancient Romans and urban-dwellers in particular being no exception. however. faded out in the West. rivers and river branches. known as naumachiae.taking regular. Aristotle (384-322 BC) developed the fanciful notion that river flow resulted in part from the condensation of vapour of groundwater. The educated classes. Mills turned day and night to provide water for fountains and gigantic hot baths. were constructed for water sports. the famous nilometers. In ancient Egypt the lower castes thought that the Nile was just a branch of the Mediterranean and believed that the sea water rose in the river. II) Paradise: water as friend . wells and cisterns was available at little or no cost depending on whether or not it was supplied by slave labour. Egypt presented another paradox for the ancient world. by around 144 BC the inverted siphon technique had been mastered with the use of pipes made from lead. To solve this. it would have been necessary to estimate the large quantity of sea water evaporated by the heat of the sun. itself produced by the flux and desalinization of sea water in the ground. especially under the influence of Copernicus (1473-1543) and Galileo (1564-1642). That discovery was only made in the late nineteenth century by Europeans. The Nile flooded at the height of the dry season and those living along its banks did not know where the source of the river was. Water was a gift from the gods. What was feeding the rivers? In contrast to more plausible hypotheses. Special amphitheatres. a metal in abundant . However. Further questions arose from the observation that the rivers continued to flow even after the rain had stopped. in much the same way as in a bay in Brittany. Nevertheless. inherited from Ptolemy (90-168 AD). systematic rainfall measurements in 1441 and have continued doing so ever since. that was not possible since it was assumed that the seas covered only a limited surface area in a flat and disc-shaped world. measured the floods with the first scales to be set in the bed of the the end of the imperial epoch 11 major aqueducts were transporting water to the city. The principal mystery of the water cycle was why the sea level did not rise despite the continuous inflow from the rivers. like air. This notion. In a basically rural world water had virtually no connection with commerce since water from springs.

Guy de Maupassant provided a realistic description of the opening of a rural spa. 90 per cent of which are in Africa. III) Paradise lost: water as a danger and source of conflict A) Water as foe: waterborne diseases and natural disasters Nevertheless. 100 to 150 million new cases each year.000 litres. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. like cholera. is spread by dirty hands and contaminated water. But it was not until the eighteenth and. At the end of the nineteenth century. In Mont-Oriol. the Arabs and the Persians pursued and refined the tradition of fountains. bacterial or viral origin are widespread. To this group should be added severe parasitic. allow for leaks and enormous water losses from the ancient system. water was the essential factor in the stability and organization of the preColumbian peoples of Mexico. and filariasis. the largest city in the Americas of the seventeenth century. Waterborne diseases of parasitic. humankind very soon lost the key to paradise. the nineteenth century. According to bibliographical sources. In Aztec Mexico. Among the bacterial disorders. still considered rain a divine phenomenon. cholera continues to be the most notorious in Europe as a result of the 1854 epidemic which left nearly 150. The Incas believed that Lake Titicaca was the centre of the original world. Louis Pasteur and his students demonstrated the role played by germs in infectious diseases and the consequent importance of good hygiene. the god of rain. with the rediscovery of the body and the health cult.000 dead in France. Spa. Vichy. Bartolomeo Arzáns. Around 1730 in the new world. Among virus-caused diseases. the peasants worshipped Tláloc. This estimate does not. bilharziasis (300 million people at risk). Water was a gift from the gods like the fountain tree or holy tree of the Canary Islands which. transformed mist into water for the early inhabitants of the island of Hierro. chronicler of the life of Potosí. In fact. 300 million parasite carriers). propagated by human beings as a result of poor hygiene or mismanagement of water. until the year 1610. bacterial and viral dysenteries in new-born babies. Bath and Montecatini flourished. under the reign of Trajan (98-117 AD) the daily amount of water supplied to each Roman was approximately 1. These include malaria (1 million deaths annually. After the fall of Rome and then Constantinople. even more so. Waterborne parasites are predominantly responsible for diseases in the developing world. symbolized by a frog or a toad. Marienbad. hepatitis A. seven world pandemics have killed hundreds of in the area that later became Spain. . water sports and hot baths. written in 1887. In France the Empress Eugénie set the style by going to spas. Baden-Baden. that the popularity of spas reached its height. however. The fashion then reappeared in Europe during the baroque period.

Other well-known contemporary cases involve rivers that cross international boundaries: countries located upstream can control the amount of water available to the countries lying further downstream. C) Water as en ecological and legal challenge: the public and private domains . and the Canary Islands. whose future reservoirs and intake structures could make the Aswan dam and its irrigated farming obsolete. it was owing to the impiety of its subjects that the kingdom disappeared because of water. where the equivalent term is `galerías'. led to the Guil tragedy in June 1957 in the upper Durance. The historian Wittfogel referred to `water' civilizations. Greece. and more recently those of Nîmes. where water is in particularly short supply. interconnected network to meet its needs. civilizations based on the ownership and control of water. D. oxen became unshoed and ells propagated outside ponds. In France. The price of grain was three times the average for the period 1270-1350. The Palestinian entity will soon be faced with water shortages and consequent dependency on the state of Israel. eight years of massive rainfall and record flooding in the period 1313-1320 affected the whole of Europe and.Among the major rains and floods of history. harvests were pitifully small. anarchic land use and the permanent occupation of large river beds. In addition to these natural disasters. described by the hydrologist Maurice Pardé. Assyria and the kingdom of Saba'. that is. in the eighth century BC. Vaison-la-Romaine and the Maritime Alps. a veritable water tower of the Nile. This type of system.artificial underground tunnels transporting water over great distances . To this day Israel carefully monitors its water supply. However. which supplied water from the spring of Gihon. where such conduits were called `foggaras'. Clear examples are the civilizations of Egypt. According to the Ant sura in the Koran. Gill developed the theory that King David had been able to take Jerusalem by using the city's underground conduits. Working from Old Testament evidence. Jordan and Israel have recently concluded an agreement concerning their utilization of the waters of the Jordan. In the Winchester area of England the hay would not dry. the Magreb. Egypt is dependent on the political situation in Ethiopia. was to be applied in Persia. Egypt. B) Water as power: "water" civilizations Since ancient times the control of water has symbolized power in the Middle East. in 1315-1316. just as it had prospered from it. produced one of the worst famines of the Middle Ages. improper land use aggravated flooding and triggered erosion. a frequent feature in the Mediterranean region. it requires a powerful. the clearest example involving the power of water was the fall of the kingdom of Saba'. which flourished in environments that then became just about as arid as they are at present. in what is now Turkey. India. Qanaats . especially in arid and semi-arid mountain regions.were invented by the inhabitants of Urartu. symbolized by the destruction of the only dam in Ma'rib around 300 AD. More people died than in the great plague of 1349. generally using water from aquifer drainage.

The political and military power of the feudal system was limited by rural communities for which water. Nonpublic watercourses constitute a complex legal domain. Furthermore. in practice the law grants landowners unlimited use of the water flowing from a spring on their property. The abundance of nitrates in our waters is also a recent phenomenon due to intensified livestock farming and excessive soil fertilization in the rich countries and a lack of proper latrines in Third World cities.Under Roman law flowing water was considered to be public property. with over-fertilization of the soil and the general practice of direct drainage of household waste. It may also surrender its fishing right. Throughout history water rights have been largely subsumed under property rights. including nonnavigable branches. Thermal pollution usually occurs downstream of nuclear power stations. by virtue of being continually renewed. no damming or work to establish a water intake system. are the main chemical contaminants. However. navigation canals. public waters consist of navigable lakes. their buildings and fixtures. Article 2 of the act of 8 April 1898. widely used since antiquity. making the amount or volume of water a relatively insignificant issue. which appeared in 1885.used on grapevines. however. Today organic and thermal pollution have become significant factors. Moreover as a counterweight to the conflicts between public and private rights. The state may grant private parties personal water use rights or the right temporarily to occupy the public domain. Under Article 106 of the Rural Code. According to modern French law. By the 1566 Edit of Moulins the royal authority in France decreed that all rivers and their tributaries carrying boats belonged to the crown. were still honoured. previously acquired individual rights. The first pesticide. paradoxically. which meant that rivers and their branches could not be commercialized. water mill or factory may be undertaken on any such watercourse without official authority. which was incorporated into the act of 3 January 1992. Article 642 of the Civil Code provides that persons possessing a spring on their land may use the springwater at will within the limits and the needs of their property. Advances in personal hygiene and the use of phosphate-based detergents have. and watercourses from the point of navigability to the mouth. was a public property and could not be appropriated by feudal right. Heavy metals. which included fishing and the use of mills and barges. was the Bordeaux mixtur (1) . produced . dams constructed on territory within the public domain. D) Water as victim: forms of pollution In the past most pollution caused by human activity was chemical. provides that riparians may use waters bordering or crossing their property solely within the limits determined by law. recent French legislation (the acts of 3 January 1992 and 2 February 1995) has reinforced the concept of a common heritage. Phosphorus has likewise recently impaired the quality of standing water through over-enrichment or deoxygenation. pesticides were not widely used until Muller discovered the properties of DDT in 1940. This property right also implies the right to conduct excavation work regardless of any repercussions downstream.

such as the Adriatic. the more dangerous are the illnesses they cause. under current European norms. thermal and nuclear power stations. we would also be indirectly saving water since it is indispensable in hydroelectric. Peruvian and Brazilian Amazonia. (1) A copper-sulphate based liquid used to protect grapevines. about the same as Paris at the time. Yet. since the Second World War.05 milligrams per litre.the higher their concentration in the food chain is. Gérard Grosclaude (INRA.which requires about 200 litres of water. Our farming sector. when we lower the dazzling light of our lamps and. Potosí had a population of more than 150. in France. causing spectacular and foul-smelling green tides. Nantes).a contaminant which also affects the seas. can cause Minamata disease. and also . it offers virtually no models or lessons for our contemporaries or for us. Conclusion Knowing what we do about the history and crucial value of water. Montpellier). the lead content in water may not exceed 0. In the early seventeenth century. and mercury contamination has increased downstream of the gold deposits in rivers flowing towards Bolivian. if we started saving energy. The use of heavy metals is carefully monitored . Yann L'Hôte.000 in the period between 1610 and 1650. generally a day . And in conclusion. for example. in particular. I wish to thank. Today streams from the higher altitudes down to the Pilcomayo still lap against old and new silver ore slag heaps. The world will be cleaner and water clearer when we dispense with the cult of whiteness and stop advertising detergents.000 metres up in the Andes. Aristophanes. inspired by the Japanese writer Tanizaki Junichiro. The introduction of mercury in the silver making process in 1572 brought great economic wealth to Potosí. reaches the logical conclusion that writing about the water cycle is the height of futility. while a quick shower uses only 20 litres. is no. Although an examination of European history may reveal the source of mistakes made. runs through our fingers and then hides itself. with a maximum acceptable threshold of 0. Since the sixteenth century there has been continuous mercury contamination of the rivers and waters of upper Peru especially around the city of Potosí. disappears and evaporates. needs to turn its attention to managing water resources and improving their quality. We take too many baths . dozens of mills and factories along the banks of the Vera Cruz river ground silver ore and alloyed it with mercury. Eugenio Rabbia (ORSTOM. An isolated town 4. we learn to `praise the darkness'. Mercury. named after the Japanese town where. can we say that we are thrifty enough with it? Are we helping to preserve its quality? The answer.001 milligrams per litre. Lead poisoning was very common in ancient Rome when water pipes were made of lead. this affliction has ravaged people and cats eating contaminated fish. in his play `The Clouds'. which has had record crops and is moving into the export market. a clin d'oeil from ancient Greece: realizing that water flows.

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