1850 - Robert B. M. Binning
On the Irrigation System: Kanâts
The plain about here, is watered by kanâts, or subterraneous channels. This mode of conveying water is common in all parts of Persia; and as I have not (that I can remember) previously described it, I shall now venture on some explanation. It has been truly remarked that water in this country is not silver, but gold! The whole of Persia - with the exception of some places, few and far between - is miserably ill-watered; and the hard burnt soil generally requires nothing but irrigation to render it green and fertile: the most barren ground, when moistened with a plentiful supply of the precious element, becomes productive and fruitful with a rapidity almost miraculous. In Britain, we dig subterraneous canals, for the purpose of carrying off as much water as possible from the land - here they undermine the ground, with the very opposite object in view. In India, the effect of irrigation is the same as here, but water is more easily obtained: rivers and streams are numerous; while in Persia, streams are few, and rivers there are, properly speaking, none.
The description of watercourse here alluded to, denominated kanât or kâreez, is an artificial channel, by which water is conveyed underground from a remote spring, perhaps miles distant, to the plain or fields to be irrigated; where it issues upon the surface, and the water is distributed in streams above ground, leading in all directions required. To form one of these watercourses, the peasants search for a spring; and when they find a likely spot, they sink a well, three or four feet in diameter, and deep enough to reach the water. They then dig a number of these wells, varying from twenty to fifty yards apart, in the direction whither the water is to be conveyed; and connect them all together by a subterraneous passage leading from well to well; through which the body of water flows. In places where the ground is soft, the wells and passage are sometimes bricked. In this way the water is gradually brought to the surface of a plain, from a spring which may be distant only a few hundred yards, or it may be several miles.
When the kanât is completed, the wells are of no particular use, except to let a man descend occasionally to clear out the channel, should it become obstructed. The great advantage in having the water thus conveyed underground is that it is not evaporated and wasted by the heat of the sun. I have heard that when any peasant brings waste ground into cultivation by irrigating it at his own expense, it becomes his property without purchase. It is a singular fact that many kanâts are full of fish; and as these watercourses are brought from springs underground, and are not connected with any other body of water, it is not easy to conjecture how the fish come to be there; I have, however, seen some, like good-sized perch, and weighing nearly a pound, taken out of them. Kanâts, marked by the long line of well-mouths, may be seen in most of the plains and vallies in the country, but great numbers of them are now useless, dry and choaked up; bearing evidence of former prosperity and present neglect and ruin.
Binning, Robert B. M.
A Journal of Two Years’ Travel in Persia, Ceylon etc.