Engineering dams Mayan style Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A Canadian engineer says his counterparts in the Mayan Empire achieved feats of water management and dam engineering more than a thousand years ago that could be applied to inland waterways today.

Harry Valentine, a mechanical engineer and now energy researcher and author said Mayan engineers built the world’s first-known suspension bridges and developed a method of kinetic energy that saw water flow uphill through underground channels into hidden reservoirs. These engineers also developed a way of reducing flooding at low elevations so farmers could cultivate a range of crops. And these engineering methods are worth investigating as applications to regular flooding in the US, Europe and Asia.

“The Mayan engineers built a succession of rock dams at high elevation, along the streams and tributaries that fed into major rivers that were prone to seasonal flooding,” Valentine explained. “Even today, evidence of the ancient rock dams still exists along tributaries of several South American rivers.”

Valentine said recent scientific analysis of the history of flooding along the Mississippi River concluded that while seasonal flooding occurred prior to the installation of dams and navigation locks along the waterway, flooding became worse following their installation.

The economic importance of this particular river, according to Valentine, requires that methods other than the dismantling of dams and navigation locks be investigated as a possible method by which to reduce flooding.

Valentine suggested the development of heavy duty, submersible and inflatable plastic bags that can be secured to a lake or river floor and pumped with air as a variation on the Mayan technology to also be pumped with water while secured at strategic locations across a stream or river.

“A series of such water inflatable ‘dams’ placed at regular intervals could duplicate the objective of the rock dams built centuries ago by the engineers of the Mayan Empire,” he said.

Unlike rock dams that would be permanent fixtures, Valentine suggested that water inflated dams could be installed seasonally at some locations along some rivers.


Image: Mayan ruins at Tikal in Guatemala. Source: Wikimedia CC