New Book: Contested Water: the struggle against privatization in the US and Canada

From MIT’s website:

Contested Water

The Struggle Against Water Privatization in the United States and Canada


Attempts by local governments to privatize water services have met with furious opposition. Activists argue that to give private companies control of the water supply is to turn water from a common resource into a marketized commodity. Moreover, to cede local power to a global corporation puts communities at the center of controversies over economic globalization. In Contested Water, Joanna Robinson examines local social movement organizing against water privatization, looking closely at battles for control of local water services in Stockton, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia. The movements in these two communities had different trajectories, used different tactics, and experienced different outcomes. Robinson analyzes the factors that shaped these two struggles.

Drawing on extensive interviews with movement actors, political leaders, and policymakers and detailed analysis of textual material, Robinson shows that the successful campaign in Vancouver drew on tactics, opportunities, and narratives from the broader antiglobalization movement, with activists emphasizing the threats to local democracy and accountability; the less successful movement in Stockton centered on a ballot initiative that was made meaningless by a pre-emptive city council vote. Robinson finds that global forces are reshaping local movements, particularly those that oppose neoliberal reforms at the municipal level. She argues that anti–water privatization movements that link local and international concerns and build wide-ranging coalitions at local and global levels offer an effective way to counter economic globalization. Successful challenges to globalization will not necessarily come from transnational movements but rather from movements that are connected globally but rooted in local communities.

About the Author

Joanna L. Robinson is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Glendon College, York University, Toronto.


“All organizing is local, it is often said. But in our neo-liberal world, local activists often confront multinational antagonists with global reach. At first glance, such struggles may seem hopelessly unequal. Contested Water shows us to look again at the possibilities for local democracy in a global world.”
Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center

“Joanna Robinson reminds us that the water wars have escalated in rich countries as well as poor. The activist campaigns against privatization of water in Canada and the United States are important battles in a much larger struggle about the future of public goods. Contested Water provides riveting narrative, insightful analysis, and lessons for future activists. It’s essential reading for making sense of the battles over neoliberal reforms that will define the next decade.”
David S. Meyer, Department of Sociology, University of California, Irvine

Contested Water provides an orientation toward water resources that is badly needed in social science literature. It departs from the general pattern of overly technical water books. Instead of embracing a one-size-fits-all integrated water management framework, it recognizes that context matters and provides sophisticated analyses of important contextual considerations.”
Helen Ingram, Research Fellow, Southwest Center, the University of Arizona; coeditor of Water, Place, and Equity

New Book: The power of narrative in environmental networks

This new book looks quite interesting.

I had a chance to comment on an earlie9780262519571r draft of the manuscript and very much look forward to seeing the final volume now that it is out with MIT Press. Here is the info from the publisher’s site:

The Power of Narrative in Environmental Networks

By Raul Lejano, Mrill Ingram and Helen Ingram


For as long has humans have lived in communities, storytelling has bound people to each other and to their environments. In recent times, scholars have noted how social networks arise around issues of resource and ecological management. In this book, Raul Lejano, Mrill Ingram, and Helen Ingram argue that stories, or narratives, play a key role in these networks—that environmental communities “narrate themselves into existence.” The authors propose the notion of the narrative-network, and introduce innovative tools to analyze the plots, characters, and events that inform environmental action. Their analysis sheds light on how environmental networks can emerge in unlikely contexts and sustain themselves against great odds.

The authors present three case studies that demonstrate the power of narrative and narratology in the analysis of environmental networks: a conservation network in the Sonoran Desert, which achieved some success despite U.S.-Mexico border issues; a narrative that bridged differences between community and scientists in the Turtle Islands; and networks of researchers and farmers who collaborated to develop and sustain alternative agriculture practice in the face of government inaction. These cases demonstrate that by paying attention to language and storytelling, we can improve our understanding of environmental behavior and even change it in positive ways.

About the Authors

Raul Lejano is Associate Professor in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University and the author of Frameworks for Policy Analysis: Merging Text and Context.

Mrill Ingram, a PhD in Geography, is an independent scholar in Madison, Wisconsin and Associate Director of the Gaining Ground Project at the Farley Center for Peace, Justice, and Sustainability.

Helen Ingram is Research Fellow at the Southwest Center, University of Arizona, and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author or editor of many books, including Reflections on Water: New Approaches to Transboundary Conflicts and Cooperation (MIT Press, 2001).


“Clearly written and illustrated by rich case studies, this book establishes a powerful argument for the role of narrative in creating the identities that establish and maintain social networks tackling the complex and difficult challenges of social and ecological sustainability. In so doing, the authors lead us away from the usual repertoire of one-size-fits-all solutions—whether neoliberal fantasies of marketizing nature, managerial delusions of control, or naive conceptions of participation—toward a richer repertoire of stories to guide environmental action. The Power of Narrative in Environmental Networks is a must-read for social theorists and environmental practitioners alike.”
Steve Rayner, James Martin Professor of Science and Civilization, Oxford University

“In recent years, narrative analysis has begun to receive the attention that it deserves in political and policy inquiry. Lejano, Ingram, and Ingram not only illustrate the importance of such narrative analysis in methodological terms, they also offer case examples that demonstrate both how it works and what we learn from it. What is more, the three case narratives make an essential contribution to our understanding of the role of environmental networks in the policy process. The book, in short, is an impressive addition to the literature.”
Frank Fischer, Professor of Politics and Global Affairs, Rutgers University

“This book is quite important, in that it opens the path to new ways of studying social interactions of all kinds, a path that blends detailed interviews with what is in the end a literary sensibility. It is an integration of social science and the arts, an approach that is in some ways less precise than social science in imitation of the natural sciences but an exploration that is equally valid and useful as a way of understanding human interactions. I thank the authors for an enjoyable read.”
Robert Paehlke, Professor Emeritus, Environmental and Resource Studies, Trent University

The right to water and sanitation toolkit

Thanks to Raul connecting me with these resources on the right to water and sanitation toolkit.

There is a lot of information to be found at the site linked to above: fact sheets, reports, laws, committee meetings and so on.

Here is the overview from the website:

Key aspects

The water supply for each person must be sufficient and continuous to cover personal and domestic uses, which comprise water for drinking, washing clothes, food preparation and personal and household hygiene.

Water for personal and domestic uses must be safe and acceptable. It must be free from elements that constitute a threat to a person’s health. Water must also be of an acceptable colour, odour and taste to ensure that individuals will not resort to polluted alternatives that may look more attractive.

Water and sanitation facilities must be physically accessible and within safe reach for all sections of the population, taking into account the needs of particular groups, including persons with disabilities, women, children and the elderly.

Water services must be affordable to all. No individual or group should be denied access to safe drinking water because they cannot afford to pay.

Earth engine: time-lapse imagery of human impacts on earth

This is a very interesting project, where google earth uses satellite data to show changes to land cover in a range of places, from deforestation in the Amazon to the growth of cities like Las Vegas, glacial retreat, etc.

The data spans 1984-2012 – mainly from Landsat, so about a 30m pixel resolution if memory serves correctly.

James Wescoat on “The Duty of Water”

James Wescoat, at MIT, has a new paper out that looks at the irrigation concept known as the “duty of water” to see how different social norms have changed over time. It’s open access, here is the PDF.

Here is the abstract:

This paper assesses changing norms of water use known as the duty of water. It is a case study in historical socio-hydrology, a line of research useful for anticipating changing social values with respect to water. The duty of water is currently defined as the amount of water reasonably required to irrigate a substantial crop with careful management and without waste on a given tract of land. The historical section of the paper traces this concept back to late-18th century analysis of steam engine efficiencies for mine dewatering in Britain. A half-century later, British irrigation engineers fundamentally altered the concept of duty to plan large-scale canal irrigation systems in northern India at an average duty of 218 acres per cubic foot per second (cfs). They justified this extensive irrigation standard (i.e., low water application rate over large areas) with a suite of social values that linked famine prevention with revenue generation and territorial control. Several decades later irrigation engineers in the western US adapted the duty of water concept to a different socio-hydrologic system and norms, using it to establish minimum standards for water rights appropriation (e.g., only 40 to 80 acres per cfs). The final section shows that while the duty of water concept has now been eclipsed by other measures and standards of water efficiency, it may have continuing relevance for anticipating if not predicting emerging social values with respect to water.

Grounding water policy

The oil spill I mentioned earlier in Alberta is still on-going. I think we’re at about 3 months now estimates from a few days ago have the leak at about 1.2 million gallons. And counting.

The problems with this leak have a lot to do with the sort of mining technology being used and, clearly, some unpredictable factors nobody foresaw. But it also raises some concerns over groundwater law and policy that are finding traction elsewhere.

Here are a few of the things I’ve seen recently that caught my eye. The first is by Cynthia Barnett (who wrote Blue Revolution, which is a great book on water if you’ve not seen it) and can be read here. It covers a lot of ground – literally – and is a nicely written piece that considers ground water issues around the world.

51jllnVHJOL._SL500_AA300_Another is a recent blog post by Michael Campana at Oregon State University on groundwater monitoring in the U.S. He is the ‘aquadoc’ and has a number of good posts on groundwater, including reference to a forthcoming book on groundwater and conflict by his colleague Todd Jarvis.

Mike also linked to a 2013 report (PDF) on a framework for developing a monitoring system that might be of interest to some.

Water commons, citizenship and security

An interesting post regarding this report (PDF). Here is the intro section:

“[The] water crisis is largely our own making. It has resulted not from the natural limitations of the water supply or lack of financing and appropriate technologies, even though these are important factors, but rather from profound failures in water governance.”
– United Nations Development Program report on water governance

“What we do to water, we do to ourselves and the ones we love.”
– From Popol Vuh , an ancient Mayan text , from: Future Generations at the Table: Governing and Managing Our Water Commons

Revolutionizing Water Management and Governance

In Cebu City, the Philippines, public sector workers like Zosimo Salcedo at the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD) opposed Asian Development Bank financing that would purportedly increase the burgeoning city’s water supply. The financing sounded like a water workers dream – more infrastructure funds spells more jobs. So why was Zosimo Salcedo opposing the funds?

Contrary to common perceptions that workers are only concerned with preserving jobs and receiving higher pay, the union acted as stewards of the water commons. You might call them water citizens. They understood their responsibility as ‘carers’ of water, from catchment to storage to distribution. They didn’t measure their effectiveness simply in numbers of households connected to the grid but in conservation, watershed protection and raising questions about what increased debt would mean for the water system’s long-term financial and resource sustainability. They asked the hard question as to whether, in fact, the new infrastructure meant to extract more water would, in the long run, actually ensure continuous and increased water supply. Rather than tap new surface and groundwater sources, they concluded that it made more economic and ecological sense to conserve water through cheaper system repair and watershed protection.

What is extraordinary about this change in mindset is the emergence of a new consciousness that workers have an important role to play in tending, caring and nurturing water, even though their own daily work involved a minimalist technical role with water distribution alone. In effect, Salcedo and his colleagues in the MCWD workers union symbolized a fundamental restructuring of the relationship between the water workers, the water utility, the community and water itself. In this new consciousness and practice, which we call water citizenship, they sought to secure water for all, for all times.


Place Your Bets on Earth’s Future

This looks quite interesting.

New book on Canada-US waters

From the UTP website and edited by Emma Norman, Alice Cohen and Karen Bakker.

There is also a complimentary website here with more material. Comes out in a few weeks and looks interesting.

9781442643932Since 1909, the waters along the Canada-US border have been governed in accordance with the Boundary Water Treaty, but much has changed in the last 100 years. This engaging volume brings together experts from both sides of the border to examine the changing relationship between Canada and the US with respect to shared waters, as well as the implications of these changes for geopolitics and the environment. Water without Borders? is a timely publication given the increased attention to shared water issues, and particularly because 2013 is the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation.

Water without Borders? is designed to help readers develop a balanced understanding of the most pressing shared water issues between Canada and the United States. The contributors explore possible frictions between governance institutions and contemporary management issues, illustrated through analyses of five specific transboundary water “flashpoints.” The volume offers both a historical survey of transboundary governance mechanisms and a forward-looking assessment of new models of governance that will allow us to manage water wisely in the future.

Free multidisciplinary articles and global health DVDs

Feel free to share this around – looks great.


Free Multidisciplinary Articles and Global Health DVDs

Received by 55 Countries


PDF Version is available at 


NEW HAVEN, CT.  Monday, July 1, 2013 – An abundance of multidisciplinary resources, covering diverse topics from anthropology to economics to global health are being distributed free of charge by the Global Development And Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University.  These will be sent to thousands of libraries, organizations, and institutions in 138 less-wealthy countries and will be invaluable additions to library materials for use in classrooms and communities, by researchers and government decision-makers.  As of June 25, 2013, these resources have been made available in over 1,200 entities across 55 countries.


Contribution of these significant learning tools is made possible thanks to an innovative approach founded by Dr. Neva Goodwin, co-director of GDAE.  It is called The Social Science Library: Frontier Thinking in Sustainable Development and Human Well-Being (SSL).  These contributions come from the GDAE, the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), the WorldWatch Institute, and Horizon International at Yale University.


The diversity of SSL resources to which students, researchers, and public health workers now have access includes nearly 10,000 scholarly writings (including journal articles, book chapters, research reports, and working papers) covering the disciplines of Anthropology, Economics, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Social Psychology, and Sociology collected and organized by GDAE; publications are also included on sustainable development from UNRISD, on environment topics from the WorldWatch Institute, and coverage of global health is presented in four hours of multimedia DVDs that accompany Horizon International’s book, Water and Sanitation Related Diseases and the Environment: Challenges, Interventions, and Preventive Measures, written by 59 experts and compiled by its Editor, Janine M. H. Selendy.

The realization that a peaceful, healthy future for humankind will require the best thinking of social scientists from all parts of the world—not only the West, which now largely dominates the social sciences—was the thinking behind Dr. Goodwin’s conception of the Social Science Library project. This was furthered by the knowledge that many educational and research institutions in developing countries lack even rudimentary reading materials in these areas.

“Addressing the social and environmental challenges that face humankind in the 21st century will require creative and informed thinking by social scientists from all parts the world,” explains Dr. Goodwin.  Educational and research materials in the social sciences are badly needed by libraries in poorer countries, where many teaching and research center have neither adequate printed publications nor Internet access.

Among the main objectives of the SSL project are to ensure that global debates on the future of the human species will increasingly include voices from all parts of the world and to give global attention and emphasis to those social science and environmental writings that are most likely to contribute to understanding and promotion of sustainability and human well-being.

Pauline Yu, President of the American Council of Learned Societies and a member of the Humanities Commission was quoted in the New York Times on June 19th 2013 defending the report, “The Heart of the Matter,” prepared by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at the request of a bi-partisan group of legislators for distribution to all members of Congress. Yu referenced  “the report’s treatment of scholarly research, which it calls the ‘core’ of the humanities and social sciences at all levels,” saying, “The statement is right there: research is the ‘bedrock’ of everything else.” The Times continues, “The report…notes that China, Singapore and some European countries are currently turning to American-style liberal arts education ‘as a stimulus to innovation and a source of social cohesion.’”


The SSL is achieving results. The Republican Library for Children and Youth of the University of Central Asia wrote about the SSL: “More than 150 thousand readers, 80% of them being university students/youth, visit our library annually. For our readers’ information and [for] sustainable development and human well-being [the library collection] is very useful and necessary. Information on social sciences is the most demanded type of information among our readers.”


The National Library of the Kyrgyz Republic, upon its recent receipt of Horizon International’s global health DVDs and other SSL materials wrote, “The donated DVDs contain information on healthcare, which will help to understand many problems facing society. The Library Collection has been replenished with a source that presents great scientific and educational value, and certainly will incite professional interest not only for specialists, but also for general readers.”


The donated DVDs were produced for use as teaching tools in classrooms and communities, by organizations, researchers and policy makers. They contain 16 videos and 4 short-clip videos. For example, videos on water treatment and safe storage, successful household-centered sanitation systems, measures to prevent water pollution, dengue, cholera, schistosomiasis and trachoma, and the successful effort leading to the eradication Guinea worm disease. They also contain 525 illustrations, tables, and maps from the text, chapter abstracts written specifically for the DVDs, and text content and images not found in the book. The DVD contents are described in an insert that accompanies the DVDs with the SSL packets. The insert is available at this link (


In addition to including Horizon International’s DVDs in new shipments, arrangements are being made to give them to the 25 countries GDAE had already reached prior to Horizon’s participation such as Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan to which they have now been sent.


Asked about receiving DVDs, Ms. Bintou Conde, the Guinea Economic Counselor wrote, Guinea “… will be more than interested and glad to receive … copies of the Horizon Materials on Water, Sanitation, Health and the Environment for Guinea Universities, as a next step of the SSL material you granted us, last time. That kind of material for training is badly needed.”


These are among the many responses specifying the value of these resources. Armenia, Iran, Ghana, India, Haiti, Tanzania and Brazil are among the more than 50 countries that have received them to date.







News Release: a PDF version is also available at


A two-page summary of the article about the SSL project by Dr. Goodwin, Free Scholarly Journal Articles and Global Health DVDs Available to 3,800 University Libraries, Institutions and Organizations in 138 Countries  that appears on the Horizon International Solutions Site at

PDF Version is also available at





Janine M. H. Selendy, Founder, Chairman, President and Publisher

Horizon International

Yale University

Department of Biology

New Haven, CT 06520-8103

Mobile: (914) 329-1323 Res: 914-276-3155


Neva Goodwin, co-director of the Global Development And Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University and Founder and Director of the The Social Science Library: Frontier Thinking in Sustainable Development and Human Well-Being (SSL) initiative.


Josh Uchitelle-Pierce, Project Manager for The Social Science Library (SSL), Global Development And Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University or





Dr. Neva Goodwin is available for interviews by phone or radio (and possibly in-person, off camera interviews).

Read More About the book at Water and Sanitation Related Diseases and the Environment: Challenges, Interventions, and Preventive Measures.

The book’s Supplementary Material is available on both Wiley’s Web site for the book and on the Horizon International Solutions Site at

The book’s DVD contents are described in the insert that accompanies the DVDs. It is available at this link (

The book was published by Wiley-Blackwell in collaboration with Horizon International.


About Horizon International:

Horizon International, based at Yale University, works to find and advance solutions to vital concerns in the interconnected areas of health, the environment, population and economic well-being through its programs, lectures, conferences, consultancies, and book. The organization focuses on needs that it can most effectively address, prioritizing initiatives that are most pressing and that inform and inspire positive action with the help of its Scientific Review Board and Special Advisors.

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