Water Ethics: A Values Approach to Solving the Water Crisis - Kyoto, Oct 2013
A values approach to solving the water crisis
David Groenfeldt, Director
Background to water ethics
Ethics of River Management
Ethics of Irrigation
Ethics of Urban Water Use
Ethics of Industrial Water Use
Ethics of Water Governance
Indigenous Water Ethics
Towards a New Water Ethic
1. Values, Ethics, and Policies
• Policies are expressions of values.
• Values “serve as standards…to guide not only action but also
judgement, choice, attitude, evaluation, argument [and]
rationalization” (Rokeach 2000)
• Values are often shared by a society, community, or “culture”
• Ethics are the practical application of values
– You give money to the poor
• Policies are the formal or legal application of values
– The government gives monthly payments to the poor
• Values, ethics, and policies, are dynamic; they change.
Why Bother with Water Ethics?
• Ethics influence how we use water and set
– How can we govern water without knowing the
goals of our governance?
– “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”
– You can’t govern without knowing what you’re
trying to accomplish.
• Recognized topic in Water Management for
the past 20 years
Intellectual History of Water Ethics
1993 – Sandra Postel included a
chapter on water ethics in her
book, Last Oasis.
O V E RV IE W
1997-2004 – UNESCO produced 11
reports on Water and Ethics
2007 – Botin Foundation published
edited volume, Water Ethics
2010 – Water Ethics: Foundational
Readings (by Brown and Schmidt)
Jerome Delli Priscoli, James Dooge and Ramón L lamas
World Commission on the Ethics of
Scientific Knowledge and Technology
Categories of Water Ethics
Human right to
2. Ethics of River Management
• Economic ethics:
– Meet economic demands of people & businesses
– Protect economic value of ecosystem services
• Environmental ethics:
– Right of river to enjoy good ecological health
– Concern for plants and animals (and fish, insects, even microbes… )
• Social ethics:
– Equity and “hydrological justice”
– Recreation and enjoyment
• Cultural ethics
– Spiritual significance of the river
– Rights of Indigenous Peoples to ancestral territory
•Are dams good or
bad? On what
basis should we
form an opinion?
Example: Santa Fe River Watershed (New Mexico, USA)
3. Ethics of Irrigation
• What functions?
– Maximize production as sole function? or…
– Multiple functions:
• Ecosystem services (habitat, CO2, flood mitigation, etc)
• Social benefits (employment, nutrition, community
• Culture heritage (identity, agro-tourism)
• What kind of agriculture and food system?
– Large-scale Industrial? or small-scale Agro-ecology?
– Processed food? Or fresh local produce?
“Agriculture is multifunctional.
It provides food, feed, fiber,
fuel and other goods. It also
has a major influence on other
essential ecosystem services
such as water supply and
carbon sequestration or
release. Agriculture plays an
important social role,
providing employment and a
way of life. Both agriculture
and its products are a medium
of cultural transmission and
cultural practices worldwide.”
4. Ethics of Urban Water Use
• What is the “frame”?
– Domestic water supply only or whole watershed?
– Water for people, nature, and the cityscape? (IUWM)
• What kind of water services?
– Decentralized or centralized wastewater treatment
– Choice of technologies
• Industrial vs. ecosystem-based
• Investments in water saving technologies?
• What kind of governance?
– Public – private – or common?
5. Ethics of Industrial Water Use
• Water stewardship
– Minimize “water footprint” and protect sources of
• Water ethics (level#1)
– Consider social, environmental and cultural
impacts [Ex: Swedish Textile Water Initiative]
• Water ethics (level #2)
– Consider what is being produced and those
impacts (e.g., coal mining => environ/health)
6. Ethics of Water Governance
Q. What is the goal of water governance?
Ensure efficient water management (economic ethic)
Promote community empowerment (social ethic)
Protect water ecosystems (environmental ethic)
Support traditional cultures (cultural ethic)
• Governance can be “multifunctional”
– Irrigation water user Associations
– Rural/urban community water supply groups
– River basin organizations
First European River Prize (2013) awarded to the
Rhine River and the Rhine River Commission.
7. Indigenous Water Ethics
“We were placed in a
sacred manner on
this earth, each in our
own sacred and
traditional lands and
territories to care for
all of creation and to
care for water.
Two Levels of Indigenous Water Ethics
1. Ethics of Indigenous Peoples provides a “counter
narrative” to Western materialism
Leave nature alone until we “need” the natural resources
Find ways to respectfully use Nature
1. Our own (Western) ethics need to accommodate
Indigenous Peoples’ “right to be different”
Respect their right to their ancestral lands and process of
“free, prior and informed consent”
Respect their right to customary use of water ecosystems
(e.g., the Mekong River…)
Coal mine in tribal area of Chhattisgargh, India
8. Towards a New Ethic
• Building blocks for a new ethic are already in
– Dublin Principles for IWRM (1992)
• Participatory governance
• Principle of “responsible use”
– EU Water Framework Directive (2001)
– UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples
– UN Human Right to Water (2010)
– Water Stewardship “Standard” (2013)
Next Step: “Water Ethics Charter”
• Recommendation from 2012 World Water
Forum in Marseille
• “Charter” Concept:
short (2-page) statement of principles
developed by representative stakeholder groups
endorsements by cities, corporations, agencies
will be presented at 2015 Water Forum in Korea
• [See www.waterculture.org for updates]
Implications for Future Earth…
• Ethics are key to success of new sustainability
• Need to address ethics directly
– analyze actual ethics to identify gaps between the
values we are actually expressing and the values
we would like to express.
– develop strategy for changing the ethics