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Water management by early people in the Yucatan, Mexico


The Yucatan Peninsula is a coastal plain underlain by permeable limestone and receives abundant rainfall. Such hydrogeologic conditions should provide major supplies of water; however, factors of climate and hydrogeology have combined to form a hydrologic system with chemical boundaries that limits the amount of fresh water available. Management of water resources has long had a major influence on the cultural and economic development of the Yucatan. The Mayan culture of the northern Yucatan developed on extensive use of groundwater. The religion was water oriented and the Mayan priests prayed to Chac, the water god, for assistance in water management, primarily to decrease the severity of droughts. The Spaniards arrived in 1517 and augmented the supply by digging wells, which remained the common practice for more than 300 years. Many wells now have been abandoned because of serious problems of pollution. A historical perspective of a paper such as this provides insight into the attitudes concerning water of early people and perhaps provides insight into current attitudes concerning water. Hydrogeologists possess the expertise to generate relevant information required by water managers to arrive at management programs to achieve sustainable development.

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Back, W. Water management by early people in the Yucatan, Mexico. Geo 25, 239–242 (1995).

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Key words

  • Groundwater management
  • Water supplies
  • Karstification
  • Yucatan