What Is a Cistern: An Ancient Water Storage Solution

What Is a Cystern?

A cistern is a waterproof container used to hold liquids, usually water.

They can range in size from a few liters to thousands of cubic meters.

Cisterns were commonly used in ancient times for domestic and agricultural purposes and can still be found today in areas with scarce water for irrigation.

Modern cisterns are made of plastic and can hold up to 50,000 liters of water.

They can be used for various purposes such as supplying running water to houses, for irrigation, and for storing water for firefighting.

Cisterns are also used for rainwater harvesting and can help manage stormwater by reducing runoff volumes.

They provide an additional supply of water, lower water bills, and reduce the energy used to supply water from remote locations.

Key Points:

  • Cisterns are waterproof containers used to hold liquids, usually water.
  • They can range in size from a few liters to thousands of cubic meters.
  • Cisterns were commonly used in ancient times for domestic and agricultural purposes.
  • Modern cisterns are made of plastic and can hold up to 50,000 liters of water.
  • They have various purposes such as supplying running water, irrigation, and firefighting.
  • Cisterns are also used for rainwater harvesting and can help manage stormwater.

Did You Know?

1. A cistern is a water storage container usually found underground or in basements, commonly used to collect rainwater for later use.

2. The word “cistern” originates from Latin, specifically from the term “cisterna,” meaning an underground reservoir or tank.

3. Ancient civilizations, such as the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians, relied heavily on cisterns as a primary source of water supply in cities and households.

4. One of the largest and most impressive cisterns in the world is the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey. Constructed in the 6th century, it spans an area of approximately 9,800 square meters and is capable of storing up to 100,000 tons of water.

5. Cisterns are often equipped with filters and purification systems to ensure the stored water remains clean and safe for consumption.

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Ancient Uses And Historical Significance Of Cisterns

Cisterns have a long history dating back to ancient times, where they were used for domestic and agricultural purposes. In Neolithic village sites of the Levant, cisterns were a common feature, providing a vital source of water in arid regions. They were also commonly found in hill castles during the Middle Ages in Europe, serving as a reliable water storage solution during times of siege.

These ancient cisterns were typically constructed using materials such as stone and clay, ensuring their waterproof nature. The purpose of cisterns in these contexts was to collect rainwater, which was essential for sustaining communities and supporting agricultural activities. They played a critical role in water management and allowed civilizations to thrive in areas with limited water sources.

Modern Applications And Benefits Of Cisterns

In the present day, cisterns continue to be a crucial element in areas with limited access to water. They are commonly used for irrigation purposes in regions facing water scarcity. Additionally, cisterns can be equipped with filters or other purification methods to ensure water quality, making them suitable for household use, including drinking and cooking.

Modern cisterns are typically made of plastic, providing durability and easy maintenance. They come in various capacities, ranging from around 10,000 to 50,000 liters, with removable lids for convenient access. Regular cleaning and occasional disinfection with chlorine are necessary to prevent contamination and maintain water quality.

Moreover, cisterns can be connected to existing water supply systems, providing a reliable source of running water for houses. While rainwater collection remains a significant source, cisterns can be manually filled or receive water through truck delivery in areas where rainfall is insufficient.

Important Considerations For Cistern Design And Maintenance

When designing and maintaining cisterns, there are several crucial factors to consider:

  1. Cistern cleaning: Keeping the cistern clean is paramount and requires periodic emptying and chlorination.
  2. Well water inspections: In the case of well water, regular inspections are necessary to detect potential contaminants. This is important to ensure the quality of the water.
  3. Chlorination in municipal water supplies: Municipal water supplies typically have added chlorine to maintain cleanliness. This helps in ensuring the quality of the water.
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Cistern water quality is essential in determining its optimal use. If the water meets acceptable quality standards, it can be utilized for the following purposes:

  • Toilets
  • Housecleaning
  • Showers
  • Handwashing
  • Washing dishes
  • Cooking
  • Even drinking

For non-acceptable quality water, it can still be efficiently used for irrigation purposes.

In some countries, there are laws mandating the inclusion of rainwater harvesting systems, including cisterns, in new construction projects. Additionally, countries like Japan, Germany, and Spain offer incentives and tax credits for installing cisterns, encouraging the widespread adoption of these water storage solutions.

Cisterns And Water Management Programs In Different Countries

Cisterns have played a significant role in water management programs implemented in various countries. In Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, cisterns have been traditionally used for showering, effectively utilizing rainwater.

Brazil’s One Million Cisterns Program in the Northeast region aims to improve water management by implementing cement-layered cisterns for rainwater harvesting. These cisterns, with a capacity of 16,000 liters, collect rainwater through pipelines or gutters. This program has been highly successful, with over 1.2 million cisterns implemented for human consumption. The One Land, Two Water Program further supports water management efforts in Brazil.

Environmental Benefits And Cost Savings Associated With Cistern Use

The environmental benefits of cisterns are numerous. They help manage stormwater by reducing peak runoff volumes, which contributes to lower costs, energy consumption, and resources related to cleaning water in storm sewer systems. By reducing runoff volumes, cisterns also prevent erosion and pollution in streams, benefiting ecological health.

In terms of cost savings, cisterns offer various advantages. They can provide an additional supply of water, reducing reliance on expensive sources or remote water supply systems. This, in turn, lowers water bills for consumers. Furthermore, using rainwater collected in cisterns for domestic purposes reduces the expenses associated with delivering potable water through traditional supply systems.


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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the simple definition of cistern?

A cistern is a man-made container designed to store liquids, particularly water, such as rainwater, in an underground tank. It serves as an artificial reservoir, ensuring a convenient and accessible supply of water. Alternatively, a cistern can also refer to a grand silver vessel that was once utilized on the dining table, often for cooling wine and other beverages. These two distinct interpretations of cistern highlight its practical and historical significance in water storage and culinary traditions.

What was the purpose of a cistern?

The purpose of a cistern is to serve as a storage container for water, particularly for domestic and consumptive use in households or buildings. These tanks are commonly utilized by homeowners and businesses to collect and store rainwater, which can be further used for various purposes such as watering gardens and lawns. However, it is important to note that the water stored in cisterns used for irrigation should not be consumed as it may not meet the standards for drinking water.

What is the cistern on a toilet?

The cistern on a toilet is the reservoir that holds water for flushing. It is typically located in the upper part of the toilet and is responsible for providing the necessary amount of water to flush the toilet bowl. In earlier designs, such as Victorian toilets, the cistern was positioned high above and connected to the toilet bowl through a long pipe.

What is a cistern for rainwater?

A cistern for rainwater is a specialized container designed to collect and store rainwater for various purposes. These containers are typically used for rainwater catchment, providing a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional water sources. The rainwater is collected from rooftops or other surfaces and directed into the cistern for storage and later use. This stored rainwater can then be utilized for a wide range of activities, including drinking, cooking, gardening, and washing clothes, among others. By harnessing the power of nature, individuals can reduce reliance on conventional water supplies and contribute to the conservation of water resources.

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