Norah McLean (longlivehumour) wrote in little_details,
Norah McLean

Natural resources (and their consequences) in a small lake country

Hello, first post after much lurking :) Hold on to your helmets because this is LONG, and thank you in advance for your help.

Questions are about a country I'm creating in an existing fantasy world. Mostly I'm interested in natural resources, sanitation and architecture. I'd also like to know if the situation is plausible (climate, geography, politics and so on).

  • Small country (8000 km2 / 3000 sq. miles), consisting of a single lake with a fringe of land. The lake is eutrophic (nutrient-rich), with extremely abundant and rapid plant growth (reeds, rushes, water weeds etc.) and a large fish population.
  • Local climate is temperate, rather damp and given to mists. Half the year is a stormy season, with moderate winds and heavy rain causing floods.
  • Strong economy based on the fertiliser trade, with fishing as the next most important activity. The country tries to be as self-reliant as possible (lots of exports, few imports).
  • Delicate economical and political balance since the country is so small.
  • Technology is mixed: most of it is traditional, but there are outboard engines and electric lights in some places. There's also magic.

Fertiliser industry. Reeds and weeds are grow unchecked until eventually they begin to compete and kill each other. The harvesters then cut the vegetation, scrape rotting matter and sediment off the bottom, load it onto boats and take it to be composted. The final product is extremely powerful and fetches a high price in the surrounding countries. The lake goes through cycles: clean-ish, normal fish population > plants and fish increase > vegetation bloom, oxygen levels begin to drop > rotting vegetation, fish die from oxygen depletion > harvest > plants begins to grow again, fish population recovers.
Does this make any sense at all? How frequent should the harvests be? What kinds of reeds (if any) rot? I live in a very dry country and the ones I've seen just dry out. 

I imagine the lake water would be brackish, so a part of the lake is portioned off for drinking water. How would this be done? I know that reed beds are used for cleaning water, and the Aztecs built a levee in Lake Texcoco to separate brackish water from fresh, but I don't see how that would work here. Are there any traditional/current equivalents?

Sanitation: where do people go to the toilet? Composting toilets sound great, but then how does the compost affect the water?

Building materials: Most houses are on stilts. Cheapness and resistance to wind, rain and flooding are important factors when choosing building materials.
  • What would be a good native material? Since there's very little solid ground, wood has to be imported. Bamboo is fast-growing and almost omnipotent, but would it grow well in this sort of environment? If not, what would be a good substitute? Must be rain, flood and wind-resistant as well as cheap (either long-lasting or quick to be replaced).
  • Instinct tells me clay is a very bad idea – am I right? Or could it be used for insulation?
  • What is a) the ideal type of roofing against heavy rain and moderate wind and b) the best roofing with native materials? So far I have thatch, bamboo and metal.
  • It would suit me if buildings were flammable. Is there a traditional way to waterproof which is cheap but makes fire more likely?
  • Some buildings are heavier and thus not on stilts, for plot reasons. Do stone foundations make sense, or would flooding undermine them? (This is for a palace.) How about pole supports with bricks filling the gaps?
Political situation: delicate. This is a very small country surrounded by several large, belligerent nations. It survives by making itself valuable to all of them, so that if one should decide to annex it the other three would immediately rush to its defence – and war is undesirable. I need as many sources of leverage as possible:
  • fertiliser (country A is big on agriculture)
  • water for drinking and crops (country B is arid)
  • ?? (country C, industrial, it rains a lot)
What other kinds of leverage might the country have to protect itself? Any other strong economic sectors?
If the water is brackish and must be filtered, can they afford to export it?

I live in a glacial valley (dry, lots of rocks) so I have next to no experience of this kind of environment. I can picture reed beds and wetlands, but that's as far as it goes. What ordinary stuff am I missing? What's the ground be like: stones and slates, or dirt, earth, clay and mud?

Inspiration: the Aztecs (Tenochtitlán, Lake Texcoco), the Uro People, Lake Inle, parts of The Malay Archipielago (Alfred Russel Wallace), the lake in The African Queen (-_-)...
Some links I found useful: Climatology for worldbuilders, Wisconsin lakes, Flood-resistant housing in Bangladesh.

Thanks again.
Tags: #resources, ~climate/weather, ~worldbuilding

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