Inca and Pre-Inca Water Systems
Peru has a mountainous landscape paired with a rich indigenous history—though many secrets were lost during the Spanish conquest, a long-forgotten practice is reemerging—and just in time to combat Peru’s water crisis. Water scarcity is common in Central and South America—in fact, Microtrends estimates in 2022, only 51% of Peruvians had access to clean drinking water. Peru is among many countries struggling with extremely dry seasons; in the city of Lima, only about 0.5 inches of rain falls annually, which is devastating to the citizens living there. With such little rainfall, one may question what the solutions are to make this water last. Additionally, one may ask what other water is available year-round aside from rainwater. The Inca and pre-Inca water systems are Peru’s future.

Who are the Inca?

The Inca were indigenous people who lived in Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile prior to the Spanish conquest in 1532. The Incan empire stood as the largest pre-Columbian empire in all the Americas before the death of Atahualpa, also known as the final Incan emperor. Though the Inca civilization fell, Inca’s descendants still practice their customs and traditions. This includes a practice called water planting—a brilliant ration-based method to conserve water throughout the dry season. Here is some in-depth information about Inca and pre-Inca water systems in Peru.

Water Planting

Water Planting, a method that the Inca and pre-Inca used primarily, is a timed natural water filtration system that utilizes amunas—also known as water canals. This type of filtration relies on soil and trees and vegetation to filter rainwater and river water; this process of planting water takes weeks and even months for the water to return to clean water, according to BBC. Because of this timed release, water can continue to flow long into the dry season—and current Peruvians can predict exactly where the water will be released because of an intimate knowledge of the amunas. This method also allows for the addition of more minerals to the drinking water. Once the soil absorbs the water, the water irrigates down the river to the citizens below.

People living in Lima, Peru are reinvigorating water planting—acknowledging the method as a sustainable practice for cleaning water. However, it is not just Lima; other Andean towns have also readopted this method to combat water scarcity. Early tests showed that water planting provided double the amount of water Lima needed for the season, according to BBC.


Bofedales, an Inca-utilized resource, is a natural or man-made wetland or spring found in Peru. These miracle hot spots promote microbe growth, organism growth and vegetation growth—all of which help promote clean water. The Inca recognized the importance of these year-round springs and even created their own artificial wetlands to help meet their water needs.

However, in recent years poachers have raided Bofedales for rare flowers—which poachers then sell in cities at great profit. Without these plants and trees, water does not have proper filtration and therefore it is not clean, according to BBC. This means the systems the Inca created for their own freshwater need protection from poachers. It is not too late to save these wetlands. It is not too late to save Peru.

Stopping Deforestation

Nature has a way of working symbiotically, ecosystems are reliant on all their components to function properly. Without all these components, the ecosystem fails—the Inca knew this. Their methods relied on the symbiotic nature of the environment. Part of this includes an abundance of trees with deep, healthy roots. As a result, removing those trees and vegetation negatively impacts water quality.

This was the case in Moyobamba. When farmers tore down trees and turned the land into agricultural property, the quality of water suffered greatly. A coalition of environmental organizations—both local and international—developed agreements between farmers and Peruvians. Law groups introduced tariffs, resulting in Peruvians paying a small amount for farmers to reforest their land. The environmental organizations formed education groups and conservation initiatives, which saved the people of Moyobamba and became a blueprint for other cities in Peru to follow.

When the Inca and pre-Inca created their networks for clean water, they created the future for their future children. Their work may be the hope for the nation as natural infrastructures reemerge and people utilize them. Truly, Inca and pre-Inca water systems are Peru’s future.

– Thomas LaPorte
Photo: Flickr