The nilometer was so important, it likely played a role both in ancient priesthood and in politics, since it was both a spiritual and practical device. It is likely that only priests and leaders were actually allowed access to the device. The device was so effective that some nilometers in Egypt were used all the way until the construction of the Aswan Dam, which rendered the use of the nilometer obsolete.
Names of ancient Egyptians with corresponding numbers can still be made out in the limestone. These people likely contributed funds to the construction of the device.
The city of Mendes which used to lie at the excavation site may have already been declining by the fourth century BCE. The rise of another city, Thmuis, located half a kilometer south of ancient Mendes, likely arose to accommodate the changing course of the Nile. (In ancient Egypt the Nile had seven branches. Today it has only three.) The discovery of the ancient nilometer confirms the location of the channel of the Nile along the western side of Thmuis.
The Nile is still shifting even today. The largest city in the region is now El Mansoura. Thmuis still exists, but it is now just a small village. The Nile still provides water to locals. Workmen digging the foundation of a water pump initially discovered the nilometer.
Ancient customs associated with the river still persist as well. Now and again young women can be seen rolling down a hill towards the nilometer. The life-giving powers of the Nile remain strong in folklore. The custom is practiced by women hoping to get pregnant.
In recent years, the construction of a new huge dam by Ethiopia, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, will further impact the water supply to Egypt and Sudan. Politicians in the region were so concerned by the dam construction that former Egyptian President Morsi threatened to blow it up before it was finished. Water is still sacred in the region, and only time will tell how water distribution plays out and continues to write history.
Despite the Nile’s shifting patterns, people in the region of the nilometer likely lived life uninterrupted for two millennia, making the nilometer quite an effective device for helping ancient people plan for difficult years.