Water Ethics as a Cultural System, SfAA Meetings, Denver, March 2013


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The comparative ethics of different categories of stakeholders along New Mexico's Rio Grande reveal cultural distinctions (and vice versa).

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Water Ethics as a Cultural System, SfAA Meetings, Denver, March 2013

  1. 1. Water Ethics as a Cultural System: A View from the Rio Grande of New Mexico David Groenfeldt Water-Culture Institute SfAA Meetings – Denver March 22, 2013
  2. 2. Contents 1. Theoretical Framework (culture, ideology, and science) 2. Western Water Culture (general) 3. Diversity of Water Culture and Ideologies among Rio Grande Stakeholders 4. Steps to a New Water Ethic
  3. 3. 1. Theory  Culture vs. Ideology  Geertz, North, Facchini and Melki  Ideology vs. Science  Latour, others??  Dissonance as driver of change  “a situation in which the costs of justifying the knowledge, crystallised in the norms and beliefs, become prohibitive.” (Facchini and Melki 2011)
  4. 4. 2. Western Water Culture (as seen in the Middle Rio Grande)  Water viewed as a disembodied resource  Rio Grande is a conveyance channel  “…the Rio could die, and it would be a drag, but not necessarily terribly impactful for… water supply... It can always be piped in from somewhere else. “They will figure something out.” [RG Attitudes Survey, 2003]
  5. 5. Rio Grande Attitudes “Few citizens…consider the ecosystem when talking about the Rio. It is almost as if it exists in isolation….There is virtually no acknowledgement of an ecosystem, plants, animals, fish and the like. The image that is burned into everyone ’s mind is a solitary river (more like a canal) cutting through the burning sands of the desert.”
  6. 6. Rio Grande Attitudes (cont.) “The river as a habitat is not a readily available construct in most people’s minds, and...most accept the idea that species ‘come and go’. Only one or two of the many, many people we spoke with ever got close to the larger message of the minnow and what its presence or absence suggests about the ecosystem of the river.”
  7. 7. Rio Grande Attitudes (cont.) “The identity of the river proved to be the single most consistent element of this inquiry... The river was always seen as a very old man – wizened, brown, dry, thirsty, wrinkled, homeless, staggering, and soon to die.... Many feel pity for this old heroic fellow. One of the Acequia folks…described the RG as an old man with a walker, who was on death’s doorstep. Environmental workers, he referred to as hospice workers.”
  8. 8. Rio Grande Attitudes (cont.) “There is also a great deal of pride and spirit in the personality of the river…The river is a cagey, intelligent, crafty, seasoned, wise, silent, austere cold, solitary, and at times a bit grumpy. He is also proud, able, fierce, mysterious, mercurial and freespirited. Unlike more abundant, serene, flowing and female rivers, the RG is a bit of a renegade. A bit of an outsider, living on the edge....it has a mythic character.”
  9. 9. Rio Grande Attitudes (cont.) "Most citizens say if the Rio had one dream, it would be to flow. They acknowledge that it is the presence of dams that have forever altered the flow, the ‘natural’ state of the river. And most equally easily suggest that the river can not and will not flow naturally again. And they are OK with this. In simple terms, it’s the river or us. And we know who they will vote for on that one. Most citizens view themselves as part of a long line of people who have ‘rights’ to water.
  10. 10. Rio Grande Attitudes (Cont.) “Who is watching over the Rio? Who has its best interests at heart?...This question seemed to mobilize and challenge people... It appeared to help them come to grips with their own apathy and detachment from the river…Right now there is no authority, no address, no one to turn to when questions of the river arise in people’s minds....This is a clear vacuum that the citizen and others want to see filled. They know something needs to be done, and they know they aren’t doing it – and fear no one else is.”
  11. 11. IMAG0815.jp Rio Grande just north of Albuquerque
  12. 12. Dominant Water Ethic  Private water rights defined by:     Response to scarcity    increase supply Protect existing users Response to floods   Priority claims Economically Beneficial Use Use it or lose it Dams and levees Ecosystem valued for recreation and “ecosystem services”
  13. 13. 7 Stakeholder Groups 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Pueblo Indian Tribes Acequia Groups Federal Water Agencies State Water Agencies Agricultural interests Cities (Albuquerque) Environmental Groups
  14. 14. 1. Pueblo Indian Water Ethics  “the Rio Grande used to be pure and clean. We would harvest a tremendous bounty off the river. All kinds of fish, from eels to catfish to carp. One day the U.S. Corps of Engineers came and they straightened the river out and the river was destroyed. They destroyed a clean and pure system of water clear from its headwaters down through the village…” (Santa Clara man)
  15. 15. …The river is more than water. She is the link between land and sky…she has ’organs’ made up of plant and animal communities. She is a whole community, living and breathing. Her skin is the soil; it breathes, sweats, and nourishes her. Her lungs are the trees and other plants. They cleanse the air of carbon dioxide and give us oxygen instead! Her blood is the water flowing in her channel, and her kidneys are the wetlands. Together they nourish and cleanse the body of the land. - adapted from conclusions of conference on Water and Culture, Santa Fe, 2003
  16. 16. Cochiti Dam looking north
  17. 17. Construction of Cochiti Dam (according to Regis Pecos, 2007) “One of the most emotional periods in our history was watching our ancestors torn from their resting places, removed during excavation. The places of worship were dynamited, destroyed, and desecrated by the construction. The traditional homelands were destroyed. When the flood gates closed and waters filled Cochiti Lake, to see the devastation to all of the agricultural land upon which we had walked and had learned the lessons of life from our grandfathers destroyed before our eyes was like the world was coming to an end. And all we could do was watch.”
  18. 18. “All of you [water professionals] deal only with water. Those who come to the table on behalf of tribal governments and their people come with extraordinary loads of responsibility with a…historical perspective. These are all issues intricately tied and related to one another. Discussions on water, the sacredness of its spirit, the source of all life is at the heart of our sacred trust.” [Regis Pecos]
  19. 19. 2. Acequia Water Ethics “The tacit, underlying premise is that all living creatures have a right to water” (Rodriguez, p. 115). Another cultural core belief related to water as that its use should be shared: “The principle of water sharing belongs to a larger moral economy that promotes cooperative economic behavior through inculcating the core value of respecto and gendered norms of personal comportment” (p. 116
  20. 20. Embudo Valley, NM
  21. 21. New Mexico Acequia Association: “Our mission is to sustain our way of life by protecting water as a community resource and strengthening the farming and ranching traditions of our families and communities.” "El Agua es la Vida" is our campaign to defend water as a community resource. Demands to move water out of traditional communities to industry, sprawling cities, and commercial uses that are often viewed as "higher economic uses" threaten the survival of acequias and the water security of the historic, agricultural communities of New Mexico.
  22. 22. 3. Federal Agency Water Ethics The Middle Rio Grande Project was authorized by the Congress to improve and stabilize the economy of the Middle Rio Grande Valley by rehabilitation of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District facilities and by controlling sedimentation and flooding in the Rio Grande…. USACE: The Corps of Engineers was assigned the construction of flood control reservoirs and levees for flood protection. Ecosystem restoration is not an authorized objective for USACE flood control operations (Would need special authorization).
  23. 23. USBR: “The authorized maintenance goals for the Middle Rio Grande Project have evolved over time and include: Provide for effective transport of water and sediment to Elephant Butte Reservoir Conserve surface water Protect riverside structures and facilities Reduce and/or eliminate aggradation Reduce the rate of channel degradation from Cochiti Dam south to Socorro Provide habitat improvements for Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed species within the Project area
  24. 24. USBR Collaborative Program – goals are to (1) alleviate jeopardy to listed species, (2) conserve and contribute to the recovery of the listed species, (3) protect existing and future water uses, and (4) report to the community about their work. US Fish and Wildlife Service Middle Rio Grande Bosque Initiative: The objective of the MRGBI is to protect, enhance, and restore biological values and “the bosque’s health” by addressing ecological functions within the Middle Rio Grande through an integrated "ecosystem approach" to restoration.
  25. 25. Jetty Jacks near Albuquerque
  26. 26. 4. State Agency Water Ethics Office of the State Engineer: No mention of the Rio Grande as a river. The operational agreement between New Mexico and USBR concerns water allocation and deliveries only; no purpose statement included.
  27. 27. Middle Rio Grande Habitat Restoration projects DO have ecological purpose, but specific to ESA (Silvery minnow):  “The Middle Rio Grande Riverine Habitat Restoration Project Phase IIa will implement and evaluate specific restoration techniques designed to improve the river ecosystem function and provide greater diversity in aquatic habitat for the endangered Rio Grande silvery Minnow.” – from OSE website 
  28. 28. 5. Farmers’ River Ethics  Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District     32,000 ha irrigated area 14,000 ha valley forest (bosque) Water diverted for agriculture “is reused time and time again to irrigate crops, sustains the cottonwood bosque along the Rio Grande, helps create and maintain habitat for the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow and recharges the aquifer. Motto: “Keep the Valley Green”
  29. 29. Farmer Ethics (cont.) “Farmers do not appear to have any more tenderness for the river than anyone else. For them water and the river are two different things. The river is simply a delivery vehicle for water.” (RG Attitude Survey 2003)
  30. 30. 6. Municipal Water Ethics  Albuquergue-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority  No mission statement  …regional issues that need to be pursued include… an inclusive public process to determine acceptable tradeoffs among urban, agricultural, and riparian water needs; equitable sharing of costs and benefits… (2007 Water Strategy)  “the regional aquifer, Bosque and the Rio Grande are exceptional resources of great value to both residents and wildlife that provide the region with an environment unique in the West. The Authority should adopt policies …to protect these environmental features.”
  31. 31. Levee Task Force The role of the LTF was to evaluate the current state of the Rio Grande levees and to determine significant issues of compliance under recently established levee regulations and to formulate recommendations for needed improvements or reconstruction of the Rio Grande levees. The LTF was also requested to look into the flood risks associated with the levees and the possible environmental and economic impacts of the overall levee system. [Third Report to the New Mexico Water and Natural Resources Committee, Oct. 2011]
  32. 32. 7. Environmental NGOs’ Water Ethics  NM Audubon Society – “Balancing the water needs of a healthy river ecosystem with the water demands of Rio Grande basin residents is the most pressing issue facing the Rio Grande today”…. “Audubon New Mexico is advocating for protection, restoration, and in some cases acquisition, of critical lands along the Rio Grande. We also partner with other organizations to host volunteer restoration work-days, lead field trips, and sponsor community events to highlight significant river birds and wildlife and foster stewardship of the Rio Grande.”
  33. 33. NGO values (cont.) Wild Earth Guardians – is working to give the river a right to its own water; and prioritize the river’s own water as having priority over low-value agriculture such as alfalfa. The group has initiated litigation to challenge water transfers, floodplain development, water pollution and other activities that threaten the Rio Grande.
  34. 34. What are the Operative Water Ethics?  Pueblos, Environmental Groups, and Acequias:    State and Federal Agencies     River has a right to its own water and health Wildlife has intrinsic value Protect senior rights holders and “beneficial use” Environmental values only if recognized in law (e.g., ESA) and not for intrinsice value of ecosystem Law recognizes intrinsic value of endangered species only Farmers and Local Governments   Amenity value of river ecosystem is recognized but low priority Water security to support status quo and (within this) cost effectiveness are paramount
  35. 35. Ethics, Sense, and Sustainability Pueblos vs Enviros vs Acequias?  Intrinsic value of nature (all can agree)  Environment as stakeholder  Right of the river to flow (Rights of Nature)   Qualified support by mainstream enviros and acaquias Absolute support by Pueblos and some enviros
  36. 36. Transition Discourse    Is our goal a sustainable global system or just one pluriverse (Escobar)?  “e pluribus unum” Can water policies become a “model for” living sustainably rather than a “model of” neoliberal greed? Can water discourse contribute to Thomas Berry’s “Great Work” to usher in the Ecozoic era, or will we remain stuck in the Anthropocene?
  37. 37. How Can We Use Water Ethics?  Reveal operational ethics in local contexts and compare with local and international ideals     UNESCO principles of water ethics IUCN principles of international enviornmental law Stimulate sense of ideological dissonance through stakeholder dialogue and debate Incorporate new values into management goals  Setting value-based goals is fundamental to water governance and management
  38. 38. Fundamental Princples of Water Ethics (UNESCO)          Human dignity: for there is no life without water; Participation: everyone should be involved in water planning and management Solidarity: upstream-downstream interdependence Human equality: Common Good: Stewardship: intergenerational equity and sustainable use of ecosystems; Transparency and universal access to information: Inclusiveness: Minority interests must be protected Empowerment: “Best ethical practice will enable stakeholders to influence management.”
  39. 39. Ethical Principles from International Law (not specific to water) (from K. Kintzele, IUCN Committee on Ethics and Law)          Prevention of trans-boundary harm/prior notification Precautionary/cautionary Polluter pays Common heritage of mankind Conserve environment and natural resources Public rights: access to information, to justice; participation in decision-making Public trust Intergenerational rights – respecting past and present Cultural rights of indigenous peoples
  40. 40. Incorporating Ethics into Water Governance  Enlarging and clarifying the frame of “stakeholder”       Applying principles of ecological, social, and cultural justice Critiquing legal and economic frameworks from an ethical perspective Applying “rights” principles to    From only water rights holders to everyone within the basin Including Nature as a stakeholder Including future generations Rights of Rivers and water ecosystems Rights of Cultures (UN-DRIP) Developing a Water Ethics Charter (starting April 2013)
  41. 41. Click here for more… http://waterethics.org The Water Ethics Network connects water professionals and anyone interested in applying ethics to water policies and management decisions.  Subscribe to the monthly newsletter  Join our social media groups: - Linked-in - “Water Ethics Network” - Facebook - “Water Ethics Network” - Twitter @H2Oethics
  42. 42. Thank-you ! www.waterculture.org