Water has been used by humans for different purposes from the earliest civilizations to the modern world. Let us explore the different usage of water by humans as below:
Water for drinking and the disposal of wastes
Water helps human beings to complete their life cycles as water is one of the essential components of cells. Rivers, lakes, and ponds were the earliest sources of water for human consumption. Water was collected for drinking and cooking from these sources. Waste was then discharged by humans onto the local land to fertilize crops. Waste was also disposed of ponds and rivers to increase the production of fish.
These ponds and rivers were located downstream from settlements. Villages got developed followed gradually by towns and then finally by cities when early humans abandoned nomadic, hunter-cum-gatherer life for a more settled existence. During this time hunting was supplemented by the growth of crops.
Urban planning has existed for thousands of years. However, the consequences of pollution of drinking water supplies and of habitats have been witnessed only recently. Human populations, in different parts of the world, still encounter major problems with their water supply. The provision of clean water to communities has become a prime challenge throughout the World. There is an excess of water in certain parts of the world, while there is a shortage of water in certain other parts of the world.
Water for human transport
Humans have always used water as a means of transport. Early humans constructed rafts and simply-designed boats. These were then used to move on the surface of the water and thus migrate from one place to another.
These were also used to carry cargo from one location to another. There was a need to explore and conquer new territories after the development of societies. Some migrations on water also happened over long distances. The development of towns and cities happened near rivers, coasts, or on lakeshores.
Water transport was needed to conduct trade and also to bring in essential supplies, most of which were not available locally. This in turn led to trading and shipping routes of today. However, this is a slower method of transport. Large and heavy cargoes are still carried by sea transport even today. This will continue till the time we find a cheaper and much efficient alternative to fuel required for turbo planes.
Water as a source of providing human food
Water bodies contain prime and healthy sources of food for many settlements. Aquatic plants and animals (vertebrates/invertebrates) have been harvested for a very long time from water. They remain a staple diet of many human settlements. The growth of larger settlements and the development of transport links have led to the commercialization of food acquisition.
This commercialization has led to over-exploitation of naturally available stocks through the development of marine/freshwater organism farming techniques to meet the demand requirements.
Water for irrigation of crops
Freshwater is required to irrigate terrestrial/emergent crop plants. This freshwater is drawn from lakes, rivers, containers, and impoundments of different kinds. Many rivers also provide fertile alluvium as a consequence of water levels dropping after seasonal flooding. In the case of farming of rice paddy crops, water irrigation schemes use channels and dikes to duct water to crops that are maintained underwater.
Large-scale irrigation schemes make use of rivers to allow a more regular discharge of water. This development happened as a consequence of unpredictable water discharge due to nature’s wrath such as droughts, unpredictable pulses of water, and seasonal floods.
This irrigation scheme provides the advantage of extending growing seasons as well as ensuring the steady production of crops. Water is of extreme significance in the deserts where rainfall is scanty, very low, or non-existent. Oases facilitate human colonization. Oasis also helps in providing watering holes for pack animals which are used in trade as well as migration.
Water for driving machinery or generating power
Moving water provides a prime source of energy that can be harnessed to drive machinery or to generate power.
During earlier times, mill streams were cut to divert some river water over a water wheel. This water wheel was used in power rotating mill wheels or other machinery. An upstream lake created by impoundment to ensure a near-constant head of water. This principle was developed for the purpose of power generation with the use of turbines.
This process involved the damming of large rivers and passage of water through pipes to generators. This arrangement is with a considerable drop in vertical water level to ensure maximum power output. Some countries in the world are dependent on hydroelectric power generation for a significant amount of their power supplies. For most other countries this hydroelectric power source is secondary to power generation from burning fossil fuels or from nuclear reactions.
In some countries, the sea is also used for generating power. In such cases, tidal cycles or the action of waves is used for generating power. Currently, such technologies are very expensive to develop, produce, and maintain in contrast to the amount of power that gets generated through these sources.