Tuesday December 1st, 2020 Water Blog

Two thousand Years Ago People Valued Water


One of the “most advanced waste water treatment” plants in the world, which was to dramatically improve water quality in Dublin Bay, was officially opened by the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, in 2003. [1]

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr Dermot Lacey, went swimming at Dublin Bay’s south wall on the morning to mark the official switching on of the new €300 million system. The swim was to demonstrate the improvement in water quality in the bay since parts of the project were commissioned a few years earlier. The proposed technology was to put an end to dumping of > 40 million gallons of raw sewage in the bay each day and dumping of sludge by barge in the Irish Sea.


In 2020 there are “suggestions” and “rumblings” that these big visions were not completely met.  We are still in need of some innovative solutions to deal with the Dublin Bay water quality.  This of course is not just a Dublin problem. There is raw sewage entering many coastal waters around Ireland. Some might suggest that the challenge is clear and the solutions are obvious – yet significant, in terms of resources, but certainly manageable.  In the history of water management, ancient Romans built giant aqueducts and the Greeks developed pressurized plumbing.

When it comes to water, the Mayans were many centuries ahead of their time. This maps shows [2] a map of the Maya Region.  The ancient Maya name of Palenque, a city in the north state of Chiapas, is Lakam-há which means “great water”. [3] Palenque is called “the land where the waters flow out of the mountains”.

A lot of effort was invested by leaders at that time in recognising the sacred value of this natural resource. Aqueducts and reservoirs were part of the Maya civilization’s water control strategies. The Mayans were among the ancient civilizations to develop a sophisticated use of water. More than 2,000 years ago, the Maya built a complex water filtration system out of materials collected a long distance away from the site.

Researchers conducting excavations3 discovered traces of this millennia-old engineering marvel. Deposits of quartz and zeolite that were found as part of a sophisticated filtration system, indicate the Mayans used these minerals to purify their drinking water supply. With these archaeological finds we can learn from the simplicity and sophistication as well as the practical application of water treatment systems. The clear message is that these people valued water and used engineering to protect and treat it.

Perhaps we should stop promising and just deliver.

[1] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/making-a-splash-in-clean-dublin-bay-1.364357

[2] Weaver, M.P, 1981 The Aztecs, Maya, and Their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica. Academic Press, Inc., San Diego, CA.

[3] French, Kirk D., and Christopher J. Duffy. “Prehispanic Water Pressure: A New World First.” Journal of Archaeological Science 37.5 (2010): 1027–32.

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