Waterways


To many of us, the sight of a creek or river is such a common one that we often forget that they’re there. However, the ties that connect these moving bodies of water to the people who thrive from their proximity are essential. 

Waterways and human civilization are inextricably linked. As a source of water, waterways provide hydration as well as nourishment, irrigating rice paddies and nurturing nut and fruit trees. By virtue of their movement, they provide a means of travel via boat or raft, the currents providing a rare opportunity to travel without the labor of human or animal movement. Often, such travel brings with it the establishment of bustling trade, news, and communication, linking townships and neighborhoods into sprawling cities.

Rivers, streams, and lakes are dynamic bodies of water. As the waves lap at the edge of the shore, rocks wear down in some places while silt and sand are deposited in others. In such a way, gullies become streams, and rivers snake until they pinch off crescents of water called oxbows. Creatures who make such habitats their homes build shelters and dams, altering the course of the water in small but accumulating ways. When the direction of water changes, so too does the fate of communities at the junction of land and water: once-arable soil becomes dry and cracked as the river pulls away, and houses perched over the lake become submerged, the paint peeling from warped, dismal planks and boards.

Of course, just as the waterways can dictate where humans settle and to where they move, humans can also drastically alter the landscape along the water’s edge and beyond. Massive stone arches of ancient aqueducts are the remaining relics of some of the earliest water distribution systems, which diverted the flow of water such that water could flow east when the river went west, or so the water could climb up a hill even when the rest of the stream tumbled down. Whereas complex aqueduct systems often facilitate horizontal distribution of water, locks and dams interrupt the horizontal nature of waterways and introduce a vertical dynamic, such that the depth on one side of a dam might be twenty feet, while on the other, it might be two-hundred.

Structures built on the water are often impressive feats of engineering and design, whether in scale or complexity. From the physics required to maintain the world’s largest dams to the irregularity of the stonework belonging to the most humble bridges, their ability to float over water and stand against the currents is something that has been a part of the everyday life for millennia.

A stone bridge beside a riverbank
Reflections of tree branches and leaves on a river's surface
A bridge spanning a creek
Steps on a stone bridge
Measuring the depth of a river
The view of the river from underneath a bridge
A view from a riverbank

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