Water governance in the Anthropocene

Here is a lecture by Claudia Pahl-Wostl, a name those in the academic community on water research will be familiar with. I’m in La Crosse, Wisconsin looking out at the Mississippi and very much looking forward to the Water Ethics conference that begins tonight.

Water ethics on a human-dominated planet: new paper published by Christiana Peppard and I

WIREs Water has published its latest issue, which includes an article by Christiana Peppard and I. The paper is free on the Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water (WIREs) website, or you can download the pdf by clicking here.

Here is the title and abstract:

Ethics and the duty of water

I’ve mentioned the interesting work that James Wescoat has been doing on the “duty of water” in a previous post. And now there is another work of his that is out on the concept. This one is in the Journal of Landscape Architecture and it combines issues of ethics with those of irrigation. Here is the abstract:

The ‘duties of water’ with respect to planting: toward an ethics of irrigated landscapes


The ethical dimensions of irrigation in landscape planning and design are examined. After introducing the historic ‘duty of water’ standard for irrigation use, four major extensions of that concept are discussed: 1) the duty to start watering (reclamation ethic); 2) the duty to reduce watering (conservation ethic); 3) the duty to stop watering (ecological ethic); and 4) the duty to continue watering (planting ethic). No one of these duties universally overrides the others. They need to be critically examined and coordinated with one another in irrigated landscapes. The final section of the paper outlines a pragmatic path toward an ethics of irrigation in landscape planning and design.

New Book on Water Ethics by David Groenfeldt

David Groenfeldt, Director of the Water-Culture Institute, has a new book out from Routledge. All the details are here.

Water Ethics: A Values Approach to Solving the Water Crisis

This book introduces the idea that ethics are an intrinsic dimension of any water policy, program, or practice, and that understanding what ethics are being acted out in water policies is fundamental to an understanding of water resource management. Thus in controversies or conflicts over water resource allocation and use, an examination of ethics can help clarify the positions of conflicting parties as preparation for constructive negotiations.


The author shows the benefits of exposing tacit values and motivations and subjecting these to explicit public scrutiny where the values themselves can be debated. The aim of such a process is to create the proverbial ‘level playing field’, where values favoring environmental sustainability are considered in relation to values favoring short-term exploitation for quick economic stimulus (the current problem) or quick protection from water disasters (through infrastructure which science suggests is not sustainable).

The book shows how new technologies, such as drip irrigation, or governance structures, such as river basin organizations are neither “good” nor “bad” in their own right, but can serve a range of interests which are guided by ethics. A new ethic of coexistence and synergies with nature is possible, but ultimately depends not on science, law, or finances but on the values we choose to adopt. The book includes a wide range of case studies from countries including Australia, India, Philippines, South Africa and USA. These cover various contexts including water for agriculture, urban, domestic and industrial use, the rights of indigenous people and river, watershed and ecosystem management.

The June Water Ethics Newsletter is out

It is available here.

Thanks to Dave Groenfeldt for putting it together, lots of interesting stuff on a new water charter, hydropower and several other developments.

Modern water ethics: implications for shared governance

Received the proofs of a forthcoming article in Environmental Values. It was co-authored with Dan Shrubsole and should be out in the August issue. Here is the abstract:

“It has been suggested that water and social values were divorced in modernity. This paper argues otherwise. First, it demonstrates the historical link between ethics and politics using the case of American water governance. It engages theories regarding state-centric water planning under ‘high modernism’ and the claim that water was seen as a neutral resource that could be objectively governed. By developing an alternate view from the writings of early American water leaders, J.W. Powell and W.J. McGee, the paper offers a way to understand the project of state-centered governance without the claim that water falls to the latter half of a society/nature dualism. Second, the paper reviews how the emerging ‘water ethics’ discourse helps organize both the ethical and legal norms at play within contemporary political shifts towards decentralized governance. The review identifies how McGee’s early influence may warrant more attention, both in terms of water governance and environmental ethics. The paper concludes by arguing that, given the arguments presented, success in decentralizing water governance turns not only on political considerations, but also on fairly ordering normative claims as part of fostering and extending the reach of coordinated water governance.”


New review of my co-edited book Water Ethics

It is by Janine Selendy and is available here.

February Water Ethics newsletter: special look at mining

Available here.

Water ethics bibliography updated

At long last, I’ve finally updated the resources page I created to build a bibliography on water ethics. It is by no means complete, but provides a decent starting place I think.  Any and all suggestions for improvement are very welcome.