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
   May 2012

Robert Redford's Latest Movie...on Water Ethics!

Watershed: Exploring a New Water Ethic for the New West is the latest film by renowned producer, director, and actor, Robert Redford.  Narrated by Redford, the film highlights how five people, in different parts of the vast watershed of the Colorado River, feel a deep connection with the once mighty river that now struggles -- and fails -- to reach the sea.  The long process of restoring the river, suggests the film, starts by embracing a new water ethic.   Watch the 2-min. trailer here, and read a news story from Reuters here

Rivers and Reconciliation 

Rivers are more suited to reconciliation than conflict, and two very different initiatives attest to this role for rivers:

>  Blue Peace. The Strategic Foresight Group, a Mumbai-based think-tank, doesn't look for water-sharing formulas as the solution to transboundary river negotiations. Instead they facilitate a stakeholder process based on shared principles (ethics?) of how to share water, rather than how much water to share.  It's a fine distinction but the theory is that the agreements will be more resiliant in the face of future shortages.  At least SIDA (Sweden) and SDC (Switzerland) feel it's a promising approach, and are supporting two "Blue Peace" initiatives in the Tigris-Euphrates Basin and the Nile.  See the Strategic Foresight website for details of both initiatives. 

>  A River Gathering of Native Americans.  Inspired by the vision of Tekaroniaken Jack Swamp, late elder of the Mohawk Nation in the United States, Native Americans will convene at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, in the state of Minnesota, June 18-23.  Jack Swamp's vision perplexed him until "one day I was teaching a group of youth the time when we received our clan system in ancient times. The teaching involved the river and how it was set up to remove grief. I started to think deeply and realized that our Indigenous Peoples are carrying a great burden of grief caused by the colonization of the past five hundred years. Then I thought of the Mississippi River.  Would it be possible to bring leaders and elders to the river and have a Great Condolence Ceremony?"   For details, and to watch a 5 min. video of Tekaroniaken Jack Swamp speaking about his vision, visit 

June 15 Deadline for Comments on Draft Water Stewardship Standard
The Alliance for Water Stewardship has been working on the International Water Stewardship Standard for the past 18 months, and has released an initial draft for comments.  The comment period closes on June 15.  Visit the AWS website to view/download the 53-page draft as well as a companion Guidance Document.  It takes some effort to wade through everything, but this is an important enterprise from the perspective of water ethics.  A water stewardship standard is a "soft-law" concept; it has no real teeth, but is supported by peer pressure.  A water ethic is softer still, based on principles rather than specific rules. The stewardship standard depends on a shared water ethic which will motivate the peers to excert effective pressure! 

Water-Energy-Food Nexus
The "Nexus" concept captures -- in a single word -- the complexities of trying to solve three problems at once, all critically important, and all rich with ethical assumptions.   The German Government has launched a website devoted to this theme:, and a recent blog post nicely summarizes the value of "nexus-thinking".  See also the views of Mark Smith (IUCN's water director) that the environment is the missing, fourth dimension of the water-energy-food nexus.

Global Water Security
An assessment of Global Water Security was released in Washington earlier this month by the US Government Intelligence Services  (click for audio and video podcasts of the presentations from May 9).  The short version:  "While wars over water are unlikely within the next 10 years, water challenges – shortages, poor water quality, floods – will likely increase the risk of instability and state failure, exacerbate regional tensions, and distract countries from working with the United States on important policy objectives," according to this gloomy report.  But what about water ethics?  Could greater attention to common ethical principles about water help transform these threats into opportunities for political solidarity in the face of climatic adversity?

Water as a Human Right:  New Resources

The UN "Water for Life" Decade has updated their website, providing a convenient focal point for resources on the human right to water and sanitation.  Click here to visit the new website.  Especially recommended is the video from a lively interview held in 2011, featuring Catarina de Albuquerque (UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water) and other experts.  Click here for this discussion on YouTube.

The WaterLex Online Legal Database collects all laws and policies at international and national level relevant to the human right to water and sanitation.  The database also provides links to the original sources and case law references.    For details, visit, or click here to go directly to the WaterLex database.

Water as a Public Good
The European Citizens' Water Initiative is seeking EU legislation requiring not only that governments provide all citizens with sufficient and clean drinking water and sanitation (in response to the UN resolution that water access is a human right) but further specifiying that water supply and management will not be subject to ‘internal market rules’.  Water should be considered a public good and water services should be excluded from liberalisation. In the words of Christiane Franck, director-general of Vivaqua, the Brussels public water company, "Only the public management of water resources can ensure that everyone has access to the best product and the best service at the best price."  For details on this issue, see the Background Paper.

How to Change Behavior
The Climate, Mind and Behavior Project of the Garrison Institute convenes leading thinkers and practitioners in the fields of climate change and environmental advocacy, neuro-behavioral and evolutionary economics, psychology, policy-making, abd social media to identify ways to shift human behavior. It brought experts from these fields together for the third annual CMB symposium on February 15-17, 2012.  Click to browse through videos of the presentations For details about the CMB project, click here.  [Thanks to the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology for this news.]

To Read...

UNEP Policy Series on Ecosystem Management.  (Scroll down to see the individual issues, especially Issue No. 7: “Putting Ecosystem Management in the Vision of Africa’s Development: Towards a sustainable Green Economy” and Issue No. 6, "Restoring a Natural Foundation to Sustain a Green Economy." 

Educar con ética y valores ambientales para conservar la naturaleza.  Convergencia, Revista de Ciencias Sociales, núm. 50, 2009, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México.  This article by Adriana de Castro Cuéllar et. al., suggests that environmental education at the elementary school level imparts knowledge, but does not necessarily inculcate new ethics.  [Spanish with English abstract].

Exploring the Textured Landscape of Water Insecurity and the Human Right to Water. [Link to journal website] Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 54:2, 4-17 by Andrea K. Gerlak & Margaret Wilder (2012).  In this article, we explore what progress has been made by the international community to address the inequity and insecurity of access to water worldwide.  To request a copy of the paper, email the lead author: 

Dams: Sharing the Water Sharing the Benefits [Link to IUCN webpage] This report from IUCN and the Global Water Initiative reviews experience from six dams in Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal through the lens of “benefit sharing” with local populations.  The report is available in English or French.  For additional information, contact Jérôme Koundouno, IUCN-West Africa,

Comparative Environ Politics: Theory, Practice, and Prospects, 2012. [Link to book description where you can download the introductory chapter] Edited by Paul F. Steinberg and Stacy D. VanDeveer, this book "offers fresh insights into environmental problems ranging from climate change to water scarcity and the disappearance of tropical forest..." 

: Farm Pollution Threatens Drinking Water [link to download page] by 
Olga V. Naidenko and Craig Cox. This 2012 report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) paints a depressing picture of rural drinking water quality in the Midwest United States, and offers specific policy prescriptions.  For a quick summary, see this blogpost by Donald Carr published in the Huffington Post.

World Rivers Review 2011. [Link to download page] The March 2012 newsletter from International Rivers gives a review of river policies, projects, and progress during the past year.  Of particular note is the article on "greenwashing" of dam standards.
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The Water Ethics Newsletter is an initiative of the Water-Culture Institute and is made possible through a generous grant from the Kalliopeia Foundation

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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.  For details, see the conference announcement.  The Water Ethics Network is organizing a panel presentation.  If you are interested in joining the panel, please email David Groenfeldt at: Network [at] waterculture [dot] org. 

Featured Organization

New Water Culture Foundation  ( works to restore aquatic ecosystems (springs, rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands) which are the ultimate expression of life on our planet. We promote the restoration of national, cultural, emotional, aesthetic and recreational values of our rivers within a society that has confused "progress" with "business."  Based in Zaragosa, Spain, the Foundation undertakes research, education, and on-the-ground restoration activities, all with a strong cultural and ethical orientation.  The website (in Spanish only) is worth exploring.  See especially the long list of NGO links and recent documents.

Featured River

The Ganges River, or "Mother Ganga" is sacred to Hindus, but is suffering from a thousand cuts in a predominantly Hindu nation.  What's gone wrong?  The same forces that inflict rivers everywhere, with the added pressure of a basin-wide population density perhaps unmatched in the world.  A series of recent fasts-unto-death by a retired IIT professor and environmentalist, G.D. Agarwal, has added new urgency to the long-standing controversies about how best to manage the river.  Agarwal, who formally became an acestic last year and changed his name to Swami Gayanswaroop Sanand, has been demanding action by the government to clean up the river by next year.  Other demands from other groups call for a halt to new dams and diversions along the river.  For some sense of the complicated politics of the river, see this recent article from India Today, when the Swami broke an earlier fast last month after promises from the government, and an article last week in the Times of India about government responses to his current fast.  For background info, see the website of the Save Ganga Movement.

Featured Technology

Decentralized Water Retention is an approach based on principles of permaculture and the teachings of Viktor Schauberger, and currently applied in the work of Tamera Foundation in Portugal.  A carefully-made earthen dam can impound water in a way that enhances infiltation and promotes aquatic life while recharging the groundwater.  This and related topics were featured in the Second International Water Symposium held at Tamara recently.  Click here for a video about the work of Sepp Holzer and Bernd Müller, explaining how they designed the water retention landscape at Tamara.


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Last Updated May 2012

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