A history of water management is also a history of humanity. From the beginning of mankind, coping with the obtainability – or unattainability – of water resources has been a crucial element of human beings’ strategies for survival and well-being. Throughout history, human imagination was clear in how water was acquired, transported and allocated to various uses.
The quality, distribution, seasonality and amount of water have been key factors of survival, health and settlement potentials. For millions of years, hunters and gatherers depended on the wild plants and animals sustained by rainfall, which varied significantly from one place to another, but was overall insufficient to provide food for large, dense, settled populations.
Around 10,000 years ago, the structure and dynamics of human societies were radically transformed due to the development of food production in favourable habitats all around the world. Communities that settled along the banks of great rivers and those that had access to abundant groundwater were faced with frequent food shortages to which they responded with novel social mechanisms.
Since then, the mutual relationships between water supply, cultivable land, food production and social organization have led to significant transformations in the configurations and structural dynamics of human societies. In most cultures, water is also a source of inspiration and has been for many centuries. People have adopted deeply rooted spiritual and religious values and beliefs that bind them and support them in living the way they do. These play a significant role in water management.
In general, the management of water on both local and regional levels has undergone a series of historical transformations in association with significant developments in social organization. These transformations included the invention and widespread use of irrigation and drainage methods, water-lifting devices, long-distance water transport technologies and storage facilities.
In short, these transformations were stimulated by the emergence of urban centres and the growing demand for water as cities expanded and the spectrum of water-demanding activities broadened. Successful water management leading to greater food production was accompanied by a sustained increase in the size of the human population.