Victor’s Cistern

84… Making a cistern, talking fresh water and coming full circle…

Victor oversees construction of a cistern, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photograph by Anders Tomlinson.

Victor takes a deep look into his newest construction project, a cistern.

Cisterns, the collection and holding of rain water using lined waterproof storage devices, began sometime in the Middle and Late Bronze Age, 2200 -1200 B.C. Our first record of lime plaster lined cisterns was in what is now Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestinian territories. In 850 B.C. King Mesha of Moab recorded in the famous ‘Moabite Stone”, “so I said to all the people, make your every man a cistern in his house.” Cistern comes from the latin for “box”. In the 1900’s rain collecting cisterns were common in new house construction across the USA. Victor, seen above overseeing digging, was owner of a flat-bed truck and Black Power, a black pickup truck with a powerful engine.

Digging a hole for a cistern, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

Other than Victor's truck everything on this project is done with human muscle.

Victor was proud of this project. He saw it as the wave of the future and a wonderful opportunity for new work to keep his crew employed. I enjoyed my time with Victor, his deep voice and easy laugh gave a hard working man an easy going disposition. Not too far back in time rain water was considered, rightly so, a resource to be gathered and saved. 2.5% of earth’s water is fresh water and 68.6% is captured in glaciers and ice caps and the balance is stored as ground water. 73.1 % of fresh surface water can be in found ice and snow, 20.1% in lakes, 3.52% in soil moisture, 2.53% in swamps & marshes and 0.46% in rivers. However one looks at fresh water it is a rare commodity that is needed by a growing human population. There is the same amount of fresh water to take care of the soon to be seven billion people as there was for as few as 1,000 human breeding pairs surviving the eruption of Lake Toba’s super-volcano 69,000 to 77,000 years ago. Fresh water volumes are a planetary constant. Cisterns capturing rain water are a natural tool to help sustain human life. Yes, Victor was proud of this project.

Finishing off the cistern's brick walls, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photo by Anders Tomlinson.

The hole is dug, the bricks are set and finishing work begins.

The maestro on this project was well respected and hired by Victor because of his experience with cisterns. This cistern was not designed to capture rainwater. Its purpose was to store city water to draw from when there were problems with municipal water deliveries. During my stays in Alamos it was not unusual to have access to city water for only a couple of hours a day and on isolated occasions no water was available. As Victor’s crew worked hard to finish this project I heard of other folks considering building cisterns. This was music to Victor’s ears.

The roof goes onto the cistern, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico.  Photograph by Anders Tomlinson.

The cistern's roof is nearing completion under the maestro's watchful eye.

The maestro had a lazy eye and I couldn’t figure out where exactly he was looking. When I watched him in town he struck me as on odd bird. The maestro liked to drink, and the more he drank the louder he became. I learned on my next trip back to Alamos that this project did not have a happy ending. I was told that Victor and the property owner had a falling out and they were going to court to settle the dispute.

Today nearly every home in North America has a cistern, be it a small cistern, the toilet tank storing water for the next flush. It may be time to consider each new home having a cistern system to capture roof rainwater. We face a constant reality – 99% of the water on our planet is unusable for man to freely drink or irrigate with, and of the remaining one percent: 99% is groundwater, .86% is from lakes and .02% from rivers. The sustainer of terrestrial life, fresh water, is in limited quantities. A good rule of thumb is grab fresh water when you can, and when you have it, value it and use wisely.

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