The Water Ethics Network facilitates sharing of experience, ideas, and information about events and activities relating to water ethics. The aim is to bring an awareness of water ethics into the everyday discourse of water policies and management decisions, so that choices about water use and water ecosystem management are consciously informed by values.

Water Ethics Newsletter
   April 2012
Water Ethics in the Green Economy

The role of Water in the Green Economy was a major theme at the World Water Forum last month, and promises to be a central issue at Rio+20 and beyond.  Ethical implications are everywhere, starting with framing the issue.  Is it about how better water management can contribute to sustainable (Green) economic growth?  Or is it about how green economic strategies can contribute to healthier water ecosystems?  Proponents of "Payments for Ecosystem Services" might answer "Yes" to both questions, but in practice, choices will have to be made about how to weigh economic growth vs. environmental, social, and cultural benefits.  The good news is that there is a lot of advice available; the bad news is that the advice is conflicting!

The Business Case for Sustainable Water Management.  The Guardian's Sustainable Business Water Hub is a great resource for smart, green, pro-growth ideas.  Andrew Deutz (The Nature Conservancy) suggests, in Making the Business Case for Water and Green Growth, that there are clear win-wins.  Leon Kaye, on the other hand, sees conflict brewing between rural communities and the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, whose economy is fueled by an extravagent lifestyle that does not easly take water conservation to heart (The Fight for Water in Las Vegas Is a Sign of Things to Come).

Green Economy / Blue Water?  A good overview of the issues is provided by a recent report from UN Water (also cited in the February issue of this Newsletter), Challenges and Opportunities for Water in the Transition to a Green Economy, which looks at the issues from the perspective of how water resources and ecosystems stand to benefit from the green economy.  A companion Water Toolbox, provides explicit recommendations of best practice.  A major new report, Water and Green Growth, was released at the World Water Forum last month by the World Water Council, and the Korean Ministry of Land, Transport, and Maritime Affairs.  The report is built around a set of case studies grouped into themes.  The Executive Summary can be downloaded here. The full report (18 MB) can be download from, or click here to go directly to the download page.  

The Counter Story.  With so many strong advocates, it's refreshing to hear some skeptical voices as well.  The ETC group has released a provocative report, Who Will Control the Green Economy?  which suggests a corporate conspiracy to control biomass.  More specific to water issues is a briefing note from the Earth Law Center (see Featured Organization in the Sidebar of this Newsletter), Water in the Green Economy.  The issue pointed out here is not conspiracy, but complacency of letting the new concept of Green Economy serve the old paradigm of profit-oriented water management.

Water Rights in the Green Economy.  What are the implications of the Green Economy for Rights to Water, or for Rights "of" Water Ecosystems?  Shiney Varghese, Sr. Policy Analyst for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, posted a blog on The Right to Water: What's at Stake for Rio+20?  The rights of water ecosystems is also cited in the Marseille declaration of the Alternative World Water Forum (FAME).  The Earth Law Center produced a succinct briefing note for the World Water Forum on legal rights for waterways

Rights of Mother Earth.  Indigenous Peoples from the Americas gathered at the Rights of Mother Earth conference at Haskell Indian Nations University (Kansas, USA) April 4-6, to continue a tradition started by Bolivian President Evo Morales who hosted a conference on the same theme in Bolivia for the past two years.  Click here for an overview of the event in Kansas.  For summaries of the presentations, click here, and see especially the video of Dr. Daniel Wildcat's presentation, who noted (paraphrasing Chief Oren Lyons),  "We don't have a word for resources....We talk about relatives;  we talk about relationships."

News Briefs

Hopi - Navajo Water Rights.  Two Southwestern tribes are considering a proposal to give up future claims to local water, in exchange for assured running water.  The source of the proposal?  Senate Bill 2109, intruduced by Arizona's two Senators who want the Federal government to pay for the water development, which reportedly would then allow outside industries to tap the water now claimed by the tribes.  Whose ethics will prevail?   Wenona Belally Baldenegro, a Navajo condidate for US Congress, opposes the deal as water theft (see her blog post).  For an overview of the case, click here.  

Pebble Mine
Rio Tinto and Anglo American have plans to establish one of the world's largest open-pit mines (for gold and copper) in Bristol Bay, Alaska.  The mine would effectively destroy the local salmon industry, and of course, the salmon themselves (see  The issue has attracted the attention of both environmental groups (e.g., the Natural Resources Defense Council) and investors wary of the financial risks stemming from legal challenges (click here for an assessment).  Shareholders meeting in London last week saw a full page ad against the mine in the Financial Times and also in the New York Times.  For details see this article from Huffington Post.

Call to Transform Agriculture.  A High Level Roundtable meeting in New York last month issued a call for "transformation of agriculture and food systems away from the present towards more sustainable models."   Video presentations by Achim Steiner (Director-General, UNEP), David Nabarro (UN Special Representative on Food Security) and Olivier de Schutter (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) are on the website.  The Rountable's Recommendations will presumably be taken up again at Rio+20.

To Read...

Water Policy and Law in the Mediterranean: An Evolving Nexus. [PDF, 2.5 MB] Edited by Slavko Bogdanovic.  This publication contains the results of the European University Institute (EUI) Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS) 10th Mediterranean Research Meeting Workshop 11: “Law of Water Management in the Mediterranean – Past, Present, Future”, held in Montecatini Therme (Italy) in 2009.  Published by University of Novi Sad In collaboration with UNESCO, 2011

A Case Study of Accommodating Indigenous Cultural Values in Water Resource Management: Privatization and Co-Management   Alex Steenstra, Ph.D.

Northern Arizona University

Yuma Branch Campus, published in Indigenous Policy Journal (

The Need for a Resource Conservation Ethic in Flood Risk Management.  Doug Plasencia, P.E. CFM and Jacquelyn L. Monday, ASFPM Foundation’s Symposium 1: Defining and Measuring Flood Risks and Floodplain Resources, Sept. 2009.

L'eau en commun:  De ressource naturelle à chose cosmopolitique. by Gabriel Blouin Genest, Frederic Julien, and Sylvie Paquerot.  
Presses de l'Université du Québec, 2012.  Click here to download PDF of the table of contents and excerpt, 1.2 MB.

Releasing the Pressure: Water Resource Efficiencies and Gains for Ecosystem Services, [PDF, 2.8 MB] by P. Keys, J. Barron, and M. Lannerstad (2012), published by United Nations Environment Programme and the Stockholm Environment Institute.

The Positioned Construction of Water Values: Pluralism, Positionality and Praxis by Antonio A.R. Ioris.  Environmental Values 21 (2012): 143-162. [only the abstract is openly available online].

Water, Cultural Diversity, and Global Environmental Change:  Emerging Trends, Sustainable Futures?  by Barbara Rose Johnston, Lisa Hiwasaki, Irene J. Klaver, Ameyali Ramos Castillo and Veronica Strang.  The Front matter (including table of contents and preface) can be downloaded here.  This is an important book for understanding the cultural context of water ethics.  The complete book will be available for free download after one year.

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Call for Panelists

The Ethics of Water—everything flows from here  is a conference hosted by Delaware Valley College, in Doylestown, PA (USA), October 11-12, 2012.  This interdisciplinary symposium aims to bring together academics, educators, business leaders, environmental designers, policy makers, environmental advocates, planners, engineers, attorneys and farmers to discuss issues of sustainability and regeneration. For details, see the conference announcement.  Within this conference, the Water Ethics Network is organizing a panel around the linked themes of "Rights of Rivers" and "Rights of People to Healthy Rivers".  [By "rivers" we mean all water ecosystems]   If you are planning to attend the conference, and are interested in presenting on this theme, please email David Groenfeldt at: Network [at] waterculture [dot] org and send a short (<100 words) abstract of your proposed paper, by May 31. 

Upcoming Events

Tapping the Turn: Water's Social Dimensions.  Inspired by a growing interest in more effectively combining scientific and humanities and social sciences (HASS) research, Tapping the Turn will be held in Canberra, Australia on 15-16 November 2012.  Papers highlighting the links between the natural, physical and technical aspects of water, and its social roles and cultural meanings will be presented.

Featured Organization

Earth Law Center seeks to transform the law to recognize the inherent rights of all Earth’s inhabitants and ecosystems to co-exist, thrive and evolve.  The Center's
initiatives include research, university educational programs, and advocacy projects on behalf of specific ecosystems and communities.  Earth Law Center also works to broaden the vocal constituency for these initiatives through strategic alliances with environmental and citizen group advocates, indigenous groups, legal professionals, scientists, students, government officials, green businesses, sustainable living organizations, and others.  For details see the website, or contact Linda Sheehan, Executive Director:  LSheehan [at] Earthlaw [dot] org.

Featured Interview

Veteran forest rights activist, scholar and historian Sanjay Basu Mullik, who heads Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan, in India, discusses emerging challenges of forest rights movement with Aparna Pallavi. Click here for the interview, from Down to Earth.

Featured Blogger

Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project, blogs on occasion for the National Greographic Freshwater Initiative, and water ethics is one of her long-standing themes (for evidence, see her long list of publications.   See especially her World Water Day blog, Reflections on a Thirsty Planet (click here)  and her recent Op-Ed on the fate of the Colorado River Delta, published in the Los Angeles Times (click here). 

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Last Updated April 2012

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