Throughout history, water resources have played a pivotal role in the settlement, distribution and activity of populations. Through the tribal era, colonial period and industrial age to modern day, access to fresh water has always been imperative for domestic use, industrial applications, agriculture, economic development and transportation.
Initial settlement locations were based on a reliable source of clean drinking water. Additionally, waterways were the main transport routes for people, goods and services. As resources were harvested from the landscape, water was needed for additional purposes. Flowing water provided the power needed to process iron, timber and grain. Industrial facilities would require water for heating and cooling and a variety of chemical applications. All the while, agricultural regions supporting these growing communities, towns and cities required large volumes of water for irrigation.
Unfortunately, in many regions, early development did not occur in parallel with a sustainable plan for freshwater access and use. For decades, many communities tapped water resources without quantifying use and pollution in many forms spilled unchecked into streams, rivers and lakes around the country.
By examining the history of settlement, resource use, agriculture and economic development, we can begin to understand how trends in water use have impacted the availability and quality of fresh water.
Today, towns and cities employ a more dynamic approach to help ensure that water continues to be available to residents, farmers, business and industry.
Lessons learned from history have been and continue to be useful in making recommendations for future development of technologies and strategies for managing an increasingly strained resource.