AWRA Water Blog

A Water Ethics Charter in 2014?

David Groenfeldt is a PhD anthropologist who founded (2009) and directs Img_0103the Water-Culture Institute (“Adding Values to Water Policies’) in Santa Fe, NM. The Institute (WCI) also runs the Water Ethics Network.

He’s the author of a recent book, Water Ethics: A Values Approach to Solving the Water Crisis.

I have known David for several years and admire his work so I was not too surprised when I received this email from him yesterday morning:

I am writing to enlist your support for safeguarding water ecosystems — all of them, everywhere.
The Water-Culture Institute is developing a new way of thinking about water that is based on a very old principle common to Indigenous Peoples everywhere: Putting Nature’s needs ahead of our own immediate desires, so we will all be better off over the long term.  The image of flowing rivers with clean water and healthy fish is not just a romantic idea from the past, but a realistic and necessary expectation for the future.  We need to, and we can, adopt nature-friendly principles to support a sustainable water future.
The approach we are taking is to draft a new statement of principles about water, a “Water Ethics Charter” and then seek endorsements from cities, corporations, and other organizations who will pledge to uphold those principles.  The text of the Charter will be finalized during 2014 and will include the intrinsic value and rights of nature, and ideas of social and cultural justice.  The Charter will provide cities and businesses with clear moral reasons to respect nature in their decisions about water use and management.  For details about how this process will work, see the“water ethics” page of our website.
Our partners in this effort include UNESCO, the French Water Academy, the Club of Rome, and other groups representing both environmental, corporate, indigenous, youth, and other perspectives.  The Water-Culture Institute serves as the lead organization among these groups (for purposes of this initiative), but we need to raise our own funds to provide effective leadership.  Will you help us provide that leadership?
So what exactly would a Water Ethics Charter do? From the aforementioned “water ethics” page:
The Water Ethics Charter will serve as a tool for better decision-making through crystalizing ethical concepts that make intuitive sense to a broad range of stakeholders, cutting across cultural boundaries and gender, age and class distinctions.  The Charter will articulate a common set of principles about how water and water ecosystems should be utilized and protected for the benefit of present and future generations.  Some provisional objectives of the Water Ethics Charter (subject to revision) are the following:

  • Articulate clear principles and guidelines of what constitutes ethical water practices in particular situations;
  • Recognize inherent rights of water ecosystems to exist in a healthy state, and the right of people to enjoy clean water and healthy water ecosystems;
  • Raise awareness about the ethical implications of water policies and water decisions at multiple scales;
  • Elicit endorsement by companies, agencies, cities, indigenous groups and NGOs to uphold and disseminate the Charter;
  • Promote social and legal reconciliation among diverse stakeholders through values-based deliberation and consensus around a shared water ethic.
This will be a tough, but necessary, sell.
The Water Ethics Charter (WEC) movement as described herein arose from a session at the Sixth World Water Forum in Marseille, 2012 March: Toward an Ethical and Spiritual Approach to Water”. A mechanism was established to develop a WEC for presentation at theSeventh World Water Forum in South Korea, 2015 March. The WCI has been designated the lead organization in this effort. A steering committee exists but I could not find its composition. I suspect (and hope) Cynthia Barnett is involved.
Some useful documents from the WCI website:

In his email David also asked for financial assistance to help the WCI fulfill its role as WEC lead organization. All contributions will be matched 1:1 by the Kalliopeia Foundation (up to $8,500). You can donate online or send a check (get WCI’s address from the site). It is tax-deductible for US taxpayers.
This is a worthwhile endeavor. I wish it and David success. I just did my part.
Happy New Year!
And development of a WEC is a good resolution for 2014.

“The water ethic begins with that one, brave steward. Then, it spreads out into the community, building collective courage among citizens, businesspeople, church members, political leaders. Just like ripples of children playing in a wide, free river.” –
Cynthia Barnett, Blue Revolution: Unmaking America’s Water Crisis, p. 229.

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