The Cistern and Water Ecologies Bike Tour invited the public to visit local stewards creatively working with fresh water and cistern remnants. Some are building new systems and others are maintaining old ones. All hold a local knowledge that keep an intimate relationship with fresh water alive and could contribute to others building more self-reliant water systems. After stopping at many locations on the island, the group engaged in a conversation with the City’s Sustainability Coordinator to discuss concerns and strategies for local water issues.
Rainwater historically was collected as drinking water in Key West. Many structures remain – some are still in use, some have been adapted for other purposes, others have been abandoned. This project investigated the issues of self-reliance and interdependence in Key West from the perspective of drinking water. Historically residents were very independent in that they collected all their drinking water from rain showers. Roof collection systems led to cisterns that stored the water. These supplied the island residents and visitors year round. Some families had their own cistern while some neighborhood blocks communally shared them. Ships also filled up at large cisterns at the port. The intimate relationship with fresh water created an awareness about usage, attuned people to the nuances of wet versus dry seasons, and heightened their sense of interdependence with each other and our shared natural resources. Depending on the rain for drinking water was also a resource based limit to development. Since the 1940’s when a pipeline was built to supply water from aquifers below the Everglades to the Navy based in the Keys, this relationship has been changing. Currently the island also has storm water flooding issues with the abundance of rainfall since most catchment systems have been detached. This project helps connect current Keys residents with their history and living community knowledge to question to provide resourses for the present and the future.