The purpose of this chapter is to explore briefly the nature of Man’s occupation of river basins; the adoption of a conscious modern attempt at holistic management will almost certainly involve cultural attitudes to the problems, with their roots in history. Too often scientists ignore the importance of such elements in the translation of research results into policy and practice. For example, religious attitudes to the significance of water and its uses date back to the dawn of recorded history, as recently portrayed for the British Isles by Bord and Bord (1986).
The first hominids of 6-8 million years ago emerged as a savanna species and therefore into a seasonal climate; elements of our species as fundamental as bipedalism and communication are attributed to this environmental context. The savanna forced adaptation to finding, harvesting and storing food and water. Settlement, when it developed, inevitably produced advantages for the levelling out of supplies; in the case of water, however, considerable technological intervention was required. Societal repercussions of the need for efficiency and some equity in the distribution of water included the highly structured ‘hydraulic’ civilisations of the Indus, China, Egypt and the first of all: ‘the Fertile Crescent’.
The closest and probably the most widespread association of past human activity with the hydrological balance, relief, slopes and stream networks of the drainage basin has been achieved through the operation of irrigation systems.
(Smith, 1969, p. 107)
Irrigation began to form a strong bond between humans and river basins in the sixth millennium BC; two important river basin civilisations, Mesopotamia and then Egypt, manipulated water to sustain settled agriculture. Both irrigation and elementary flood control were practised. The food surpluses