Rainwater harvesting/History of rainwater harvesting

Many ancient cisterns have been discovered in some parts of Jerusalem and the entire Land of Israel. At the site believed by some to be that of the biblical city of Ai (Khirbet et-Tell), a large cistern dating back to around 2500 BC was discovered that had a capacity of nearly 1,700 m3 (60,000 cu ft). It was carved out of a solid rock, lined with large stones, and sealed with clay to keep from leaking.[1]

Shivaganga Tank in Tamil Nadu

The Greek island of Crete is also known for its use of large cisterns for rainwater collection and storage during the Minoan period from 2,600 BC–1,100 BC. Four large cisterns have been discovered at Myrtos–Pyrgos, Archanes, and Zakroeach. The cistern found at Myrtos-Pyrgos was found to have a capacity of more than 80 m3 (2,800 cu ft) and date back to 1700 BC.[1]


Rainwater harvesting may date back to 6,000 years ago in China. Evidence is available for rainwater collection at least to 4,000 years ago.[2] Water harvesting was used in Chin from the 3rd millennium BC.[3]

Archeological evidence provides proof for rainwater collection dating to 2,000 B.C. in Israel. Ruins of cisterns for such storage in agricultural and domestic settings still stand today.

Native American CivilizationsEdit

Ancient Anasazi and other Native American civilizations in the American southwest crafted trenches that followed natural contours of the mountains to bring water to settlements for drinking, irrigation and livestock watering.

Indus Valley CivilizationsEdit

Around 300 BCE, farming communities in Balochistan (now located in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran), and Kutch, India, used rainwater harvesting for agriculture and many other uses.[4] Rainwater harvesting was done by Chola kings as well.[5] Rainwater from the Brihadeeswarar temple (located in Balaganpathy Nagar, Thanjavur, India) was collected in Shivaganga tank.[6] During the later Chola period, the Vīrānam tank was built (1011 to 1037 CE) in the Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu to store water for drinking and irrigation purposes. Vīrānam is a 16-km-long tank with a storage capacity of 1,465,000,000 cu ft (41,500,000 m3).

The infrastucture and evidence of rainwater harvesting from India is still found in Talibs, medium to large sized reservoirs that provide irrigation for plants as well as drinking; Johads, dams that capture and hold rainwater; baoris, wells dug into the ground and used for drinking water and Jhalaras; specially constructed tank for local community and religious purposes.[7]

Roman CivilizationsEdit

Rainwater harvesting was also common in the Roman Empire.[8] While Roman aqueducts are well-known, Roman cisterns were also commonly used and their construction expanded with the Empire.[1] For example, in Pompeii, rooftop water storage was common before the construction of the aqueduct in the 1st century BC.[9] This history continued with the Byzantine Empire, for example the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul.

City of VeniceEdit

Though little-known, for centuries the town of Venice depended on rainwater harvesting. The lagoon which surrounds Venice is brackish water, which is not suitable for drinking. The ancient inhabitants of Venice established a system of rainwater collection which was based on man-made insulated collection wells.[10] Water percolated down the specially designed stone flooring, and was filtered by a layer of sand, then collected at the bottom of the well. Later, as Venice acquired territories on the mainland, it started to import water by boat from local rivers, but the wells remained in use and were especially important in the time of war when access to the mainland water could be blocked by an enemy.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Mays et al. 2013
  2. Battenberg, G. Edwin. “Flowing Issues A Brief History of Rainwater Harvesting.” WCP Online, 14 Sept. 2009, wcponline.com/2009/09/14/flowing-issues-brief-history-rainwater-harvesting/. Accessed 19 June 2020.
  3. Oweis, T., Hachum, A. & Bruggeman, A. 2004 The role of indigenous knowledge in improving present water-harvesting practices. In: Indigenous Water Harvesting Systems in West Asia and North Africa (T. Oweis, A. Hachum & A. Bruggeman, eds). ICARDA, Aleppo, Syria, pp. 1-20.
  4. "Rain water Harvesting". Tamil Nadu State Government, India. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  5. "Believes in past, lives in future". The Hindu. India. 17 July 2010.
  6. "Rare Chola inscription found near Big Temple". The Hindu. India. 24 August 2003.
  7. The Renewable Energy Hub. “History of Rainwater Harvesting.” The Renewable Energy Hub, www.renewableenergyhub.co.uk/main/rainwater-harvesting-information/history-of-rainwater-harvesting/. Accessed 19 June 2020.
  8. Kamash, Zena (2010). Archaeologies of Water in the Roman Near East. Gorgias Press.
  9. "Water Supply Systems: Cisterns, Reservoirs, Aqueducts | Roman Building Technology and Architecture, University of California Santa Barbara". ArchServe. Retrieved 2018-04-13.
  10. "Venetian wells".