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Mar 23, 2005 1:02 pm

Remember Tryweryn

Yesterday was World Water Day. Did you know that there's a field of water history? Or that the first international Water in History conference was held here in Aberystwyth?

Which is a pretty appropriate kind of place for it. We get about twice as much rain a year on the west coast of Wales as they do in south-east England (Met Office statistics).

But hang on, you might be asking, what is Tryweryn? What is we have to remember?

A few miles south of Aberystwyth on the road to Aberaeron, there's an old, crumbling wall painted with the words Cofiwch Dryweryn (Welsh for 'Remember Tryweryn'). It's a home-made memorial to the flooding of a village and a valley in the 1960s in order to create a reservoir that would supply English city-dwellers, and the campaignagainst the project; it was not the only such case during the 1960s, but it is probably now the best known. And the widespread outrage caused in Wales by the reservoirs contributed to the growth of Plaid Cymru and the Welsh nationalist movement.

The building of large-scale reservoirs in Wales (often - but not always - to supply English areas) had begun in the late 19th century. The largest, at the turn of the 20th century, was the Elan Valley, in Radnorshire, built to supply the rapidly growing population of Birmingham. The dams built there represented major feat of engineering. (Losses and gains: the Elan Valley now is an important wildlife reserve.)

And these projects were tiny in their impacts compared to recent and currentprojectsaround the world today. The problems driving many of those current projects are the same, though: pressures of growing populations in need of water (and, these days, electricity). Which is still not much consolation for those on the receiving end.

Watersupplies and sanitation are crucialglobalissues. Millions of people live with water shortages; it's expected that the problem is only going to get worse. Water has been a contributing factor in conflict and warin the past; there are growing fears of severe water wars soon to come. Water is political.

(Slightly longer version x-posted at Early Modern Notes.)
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John H. Lederer - 3/23/2005

It is worth noting that adequate water is a transportation problem. The earth has a superabundance of rainfall for human needs, including agriculture.

However, rainfall is maldistributed, ranging from average rainfall > 11 meters a year in one state of India, to .8 mm a year in the Chilean desert, a variation in excess of 100,000, a much greater variation than for many principal natural global effects.

The water vapor cycle provides a tremendous engine for purifying water (we effectively live at the condensing plate of a still). It also transports huge amounts of water, just not necessarily to what we deem the desirable destinations.

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