What Modern Water Engineers Can Learn from Ancient Infrastructure

From TED: The ancient ingenuity of water harvesting: With wisdom and wit, Anupam Mishra talks about the amazing feats of engineering built centuries ago by the people of India’s Golden Desert to harvest water. These structures are still used today — and are often superior to modern water megaprojects. You’re likely familiar with TED (the organization has logged 50 million views since they began posting video two years ago) and TED Talks have become a powerful cultural force. TED presents short lectures from some of the best thinkers in the world from a broad range of disciplines with the mission of “spreading ideas” via “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.” TED began in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from the increasingly melding worlds of Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Since then its scope has widened to embrace prominent thought leaders from around the globe. See Anupam Mishra’s bio here or access an interactive transcript of this video.

Dam That Nuisance Hudson River!

The Bronx is up and the Battery’s… um, where? From the March 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix, a billion-dollar proposal (in 1934 dollars!) that should have even modern-day developers and speculators indulging in insane profiteering daydreams.

If this plan seems a bit over the top, the article notes, “Engineers uniformly agree that there are very few problems which can successfully defy the determination of civilization to conquer.” Dam right! (At the, you can read the original 5-page article here.)

PLUG up the Hudson river at both ends of Manhattan . . . divert that body of water into the Harlem river so that it might flow out into the East river and down to the Atlantic ocean . . . pump out the water from the area of the Hudson which has been dammed off … fill in that space . . . ultimately connecting the Island of Manhattan with the mainland of New Jersey . . . and you have the world’s eighth wonder ”the reconstruction of Manhattan!

That is the essence of the plan proposed by Norman Sper, noted publicist and engineering scholar. It is calculated to solve New York City’s traffic and housing problems, which are threatening to devour the city’s civilization like a Frankenstein monster.

The Eafieft Ways to Raife Water

Today we shew a glimpse into the brainstorms of 18th century water engineers as they struggle with the same-old age-old dilemma of raifing water, courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Gallery. This 1701 book is “A Work both Ufeful, Profitable and Delightful for all forts of People.” (Put aside any pressing work you really should do, and instead peruse all the new and rare inventions from this text; Neptune, horses and birds, yea!)

Solar Powered!

Plate IX. To raise a standing water, by means of the sun.

A fuftainable folution!

Plate V. To make a dyal with the course of a natural fountain, the which shall move very true, without being subjec to …

Made the chisel obsolete.

Plate XII. An engine of great service to bore elms or other trees to make pipes to conveigh water, and for other uses.

Note: We are opposed to solving problems by violence.

Plate XXVI. Force-pump, which is one of the best inventions. They can force the water with great violence to 50 or 60 feet…

California’s Big Squirt: Fertile Farmlands and Tourist Meccas!

An out-of-the-box engineering idea from the October, 1951 issue of Modern Mechanix, via,


THE parched deserts of Southern California need water to transform their barren soil into fertile farmlands and tourist Meccas such as those existing elsewhere in the state. So far the problem has remained unsolved. But Sidney Cornell, a Los Angeles construction engineer, thinks he has a solution. He wants to construct a series of geyser-like power plants one mile apart to shoot water from the mouth of one into the funnel of the next, as depicted here by MI artist Frank Tinsley. The water would arc over hilly sections, have a flat trajectory over plains. Its velocity would approach 400 mph. These stations— 400 in all—would cost about $300,000 each.

I can’t imagine what I can add to that, except to say that Sidney Cornell has certainly never used a garden hose in the wind!