Transporting Water—An Ancient Problem With Modern Solutions

Since the beginning of time humans have spent a tremendous amount of time and energy transporting water.

From fetching a pail of water to moving tons of water by blimp, we are still looking for ways to transport small—and largequantities of drinking watercheaper, faster and in a more practical manner.

While all of us living in developed nations enjoy drinking water at the turn of the spigot, there are still two billion people who have to collect water every day.

An Age Old Problem—Fresh Solutions

Over 200 million hours a year are spent hauling water to the home, almost exclusively by women and children. In addition to the time factor, there is a serious problem with the weight involved. According to the World Health Organization, the average person uses over 25 kilograms of water a day for drinking, washing and cooking. In Africa and Asia, the women have to carry this weight an average of six kilometers. The strain of carrying such weight causes back, shoulder and neck problems in many of these women. In addition, due to the fact that the paths from the souce of the water to the home are usually not paved or even, there are a large number of broken bones due to falling on the water trek. [1]

Wello, a non-profit social venture whose goal is to make clean water accessible where needed, has developed a low tech device with a huge impact on easing the chore of carrying water. The “Waterwheel”, an award-winning tool for carrying water, is simply a plastic barrel with a long handle for pushing the barrel. This simple device provides 50% more water per trek, relieves the strain on the back, neck and shoulders, has cut the time in half for gathering water and has freed up women to enter the work force. [2]

One more pioneering device worth mentioning is the “Aquaduct.” The winner of Google’s “Innovate or Die” contest, the Aquaduct is a bicycle that carries 20 gallons of water — the average daily use for a family of four. As an added benefit, pedaling the bicycle activates a pump that filters the water for drinking. [3]

The Long Haul

Humanity has always been looking for ways to transport fresh water to urban centers. In 312 BC the Romans built their first aqueduct, Aqua Appia. This water carrier was 16 kilometers long and worked and flowed by gravitational pull. The last four kilometers ran on bridges. Modernizing the oldest method of transporting watercanals from a spring to another locationthe Aqua Appia brought much needed water to the center of the city.

This method of transporting water was so efficient that the Romans built ten more aqueducts over the next 550 years, the longest being an impressive 90 kilometers long. The physicians of Rome were aware of the effects of lead piping and the entire aqueduct system was constructed with ceramic piping.

It is interesting to point out that, even after the ancient era, Rome added another seven aqueducts to meet the city’s water needs. The first modern aqueduct was built in 1453 and in 1965 they completed construction of the last one. [4]

The aqueduct method is used all over the world and is still the cheapest and most efficient way of transporting water when the topography supports an inland water carrying system.]

Crossing Seas, Mountains and Valleys

So what are your options when the terrain won’t support an aqueduct or you need to transport water hundreds, or even thousands, of kilometers?

Although trucking is the most common method of hauling water, water is often also transported by train and ship.

In Africa, where the Horn area has been affected by drought for over ten years, trucking water has saved millions of lives. Transporting water across the continent to populations that have no permanent water sources has literally saved entire villages. [5]

However, due to the rising costs of pumping water and of transportation, alternative methods are being sought for moving large quantities of water. There are two very interesting methods under development: airborne blimps filled with water, and the “big bag theory.”

Wetzone, a California based company, is developing a 1,000 foot long blimp designed to carry 264,000 gallons of water. The initial purpose would be to fight wildfires, but if the project succeeds, the potential for fighting droughts throughout the world is enormous. [6]

Ziplast is developing a waterbag to be filled with fresh water and then towed by ocean-going ships. Fully modular, the waterbags are flexible and compartmentalized by the use of zippers. After emptying, the waterbag can be folded for easy, compact storage. Presently a prototype is being tested on a 2,000 ton model. When perfected, the company plans to manufacture 20,000 and 40,000 ton models. [7]

Final Note

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” This has been proven over and over throughout human history. From aqueducts to blimps, transporting water to those parts of the world that are in desperate need of clean sustainable water is a major focus for environmental technology.


[1] Bethany Caruso, Women still carry most of the world’s water, July 17, 2017
[2] Wello Website, Wello Website, 2018
[3 Andrew Posner, A bicycle that creates clean air and water, January 28, 2008
[4] Dr. Katherine Wentworth Rinne, The waters of the city of Rome April 23, 2007
[5] Thomas Wildman, Rethinking Emergency Water Provision, May 2014
[6] Paul Eng, Giant blimps could rain over wildfire, July 5, 2018
[7] Euronews, The bag theory, a cheap and innovative way to transport fresh water, January 25, 2016


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