September 15, 2011

Water Ethics Newsletter - September 2011

Letter from the Editor

Welcome to the second monthly issue of the Water Ethics Network Newsletter! The Network's purpose is to raise awareness about ethical dimensions of water, promote collaboration among the members, enhance understanding, and promote the practical application of ethical concepts and perspectives. The Network is an initiative of the Water-Culture Institute in partnership with the individuals and organizations listed in the sidebar below. The content of this Newsletter, as well as past issues, is permanently posted on this Blog. To subscribe to the "home edition" of the Newsletter, (delivered by email) fill out the subscription form here.  It's free!  To submit news to include in upcoming newsletters, contact me at network[at]waterculture[dot]org.  Your news should have some connection to water values/ethics, but other that that we have no strict filter.  One of the purposes of the Network is to expand our understanding of how and where ethics play a role in water behaviors.  And don't worry about sending in polished prose; it's my job to edit!  Thanks in advance for your contributions.

- David Groenfeldt, Editor

Water Ethics News

The biggest water ethics news coming out of North America during the past month was the Tar Sands Action in front of the White House in Washington, DC.
Environmental celebrities (Bill McKibben, Gus Speth, Jim Hansen) joined rank and file demonstrators to urge President Obama to not allow construction of a pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, carrying oil extracted from Canada’s tar sands. The central reason given in most of the statements focused on climate change and the extra CO2 contained in tar sands oil, but there is an equally compelling water story. Strip mining of vast areas of tar sands is contaminating the interconnected lakes and rivers which are home to both wildlife and people: First Nations tribes who have co-evolved with this land and water-scape over thousands of years. The environmental justice issues are well documented in a report from the Indigenous Environmental Network. Click here for a video report on the White House demonstration.

Rivers and Wildlife in South Africa

The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Healthy Rivers Programme was initiated as a response to the poor protection of and intensifying pressures on South Africa’s our freshwater resources. The programme is focusing on the North West Province of South Africa, in the Crocodile (West)-Marico Catchment (the upper reaches of the international Limpopo River basin). The perception of rivers as boundaries, rather than the focus of protected areas, has meant that freshwater resources are often overlooked in national conservation planning initiatives. Only 16 of the 112 main river ecosystems are moderately to well represented within protected areas. We need to start appreciating the value of rivers and wetlands, as immensely biodiverse ecosystems in their own right and this may involve adopting a new approach to the way in which we perceive water. The ecological value of functional springs, watersheds, riverine corridors, wetlands, etc. cannot really be measured. It is only when they have been traded in for short-term economic gain will we begin to understand their true value. For more info visit:

Can Religion Save India’s Yamuna River?
A workshop held in January 2011, co-organized by Yale University (Forum on Religion and Ecology) and Teri University in New Delhi, explored how religious values might motivate environmental action along the Yamuna River. Click here
for the papers and news clippings from that workshop

Donate to the Water Ethics Network!
Please consider making a donation to the Water Ethics Network and help us become financially sustainable.  The Network is currently run entirely through pro-bono contributions of staff time. We are working to change that through grand proposals to various foundations, but we need bridge funds in the meantime. To make an on-line donation, click the "Donate Now" button on the Water-Culture Institute's homepage and type "Water Ethics Network" in the "Designation" box.  On-line donations are processed through Network for Good, which adds a 5% processing fee, but they are also a worthy NGO providing financial services to groups like ours.

Ethics of Water Planning

his month we feature several reports dealing with the complex issues of planning water infrastructure, and how values and ethical perspectives makes a difference in how planning is done.

1. Ethics and Unintended Consequences
We routinely hear development horror stories about well-intentioned projects making things worse, but rarely do we get the details. Senior scholar, Prachanda Pradhan has documented how a municipal water and sanitation program in Bhaktapur, Nepal had unintended environmental and health consequences. The local river became an open sewer when the centralized sewage treatment system fell into disrepair, and farmers tapped into drain pipes for irrigation, resulting in further health risks. If we think of ethics as a way of enlarging our arena of concern, e.g., to include neglected rivers and marginalized people, what are the implications for planning? Focusing on a narrow set of intended outcomes (smoothly functioning water and sanitation services) without accounting for the natural environment (pollution from the treatment plant) or local culture (farmers viewing sewer drains as an irrigation source) leads to unintended consequences. You can read Dr. Pradhan’s account here (PDF, 500KB).

2. Who Should Be Involved in Planning?
A new report from UNESCO’s Ethics and Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific (ECCAP) Project, addresses the issue of Representation and Decision-Making in Environment Planning. While the main focus is energy infrastructure, water is usually a central issue (e.g., hydroelectric dams and mining-related water pollution). Click here to go to the download page.

3. Stakeholders in Urban Water Governance
Who should be involved in water planning and governance? How can the diverse views of stakeholders be effectively incorporated into water decisions? A synthesis from the experience of urban water programs is available from the SWITCH program, a just-completed EU initiative to enhance the environmental and social benefits of urban water supply in a dozen cities around the world. This newly released report focuses on stakeholder issues.

New Journal on Water and Gender

wH2O is a new special-issue academic journal on women and water and sanitation from the University of Pennsylvania. Women face disproportionate impacts from a lack of sanitation and clean water, yet in many areas are systematically excluded from water/sanitation decisions. We are aiming to be an academic hub for information, research and thought, to augment work already being done, and to help facilitate more work on the issue across the globe. We are soliciting papers, case studies, opinion pieces, photo journalism, interviews and other research on women/gender dimensions of water or sanitation. Topics can be international or domestic, but must address the nexus of women and water. The first issue will be published online in the spring of 2012. A one-page abstract should be submitted by September 30th, 2011 to

New Books and Reports

Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis by Cynthia Barnett exposes the extent to which the nation’s green craze missed water — the No. 1 environmental concern of most Americans, according to Gallup. As a journalist (“I’m not an academic!”) Barnett offer lots of inspiring stories, and presents solutions from across the nation and around the globe. Reporting from San Antonio to Singapore, Barnett shows how local communities and entire nations have come together in a shared ethic to dramatically reduce consumption and live within their water means. Barnett credits the late hydrologist Luna Leopold, son of Aldo Leopold, with having articulated an ideal water ethic for the United States – a set of guiding beliefs for government, large water users and citizens. Barnett says that, having written for many years about the efforts of government and large water users to solve water problems, she wrote this book for citizens. [Cynthia Barnett is a member of the Water Ethics Network advisory committee.]

Water Governance Key Approaches: An Analytical Framework. By L. Miranda, M. Hordijk, and R. K. Torres Molina. Literature Review No 4 – September 2011
Different actors have different approaches to water, governance, and water governance. In this document we present working definitions of water, as well as some insights regarding water conflicts and how different actors value water. We also present the four main approaches to water governance in an attempt to contribute to a greater understanding of the perspectives, interests and main concerns of the various actors in the water sector. An increased understanding of underlying values and approaches can foster consensus building for the reconfiguration of water governance to equip it to tackle the expected effects of climate change. Download the report here.

Improving Irrigation in Asia: Sustainable Performance of an Innovative Intervention in Nepal
, by Elinor Ostrom, Wai Fung Lam, Prachanda Pradhan, and Ganesh P. Shivakoti. The 2009 Nobel Prize laureate joins forces with long-standing colleagues to explore Nepal’s experience in applying institutional reforms to the irrigation sector. Click here for the book announcement and summary.

Looking for a New Ethic? A UNESCO report, Universalism and Ethical Values for the Environment discusses how different world views deal with human relationships with the environment. This was the first report from the Ethics and Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific (ECCAP) Project, released in 2010. The report discusses the extent to which universal values can be agreed upon, exemplified by an empirical analysis of values contained implicitly and explicitly in UN treaties and international statements on the environment. Click here to go to the download page.

Sustainability Multiplier Effects from Cotton Production in the Aral Sea Basin. The environmental implications of cotton production in the Aral Sea Basin go far beyond the “front line” tragedy of the Sea itself. An ecosystem services Case Study provides an overview of the social, economic, and environmental costs linked to the cotton economy. Click here for the 4-page report. For more information, contact Landen Consulting.

Are You Working on Water Ethics Issues?
Please share your news with interested colleagues. Submit a brief description with a link to the details to network[at]waterculture[dot]org. Submit before 12 October for the next Newsletter to be issued on 15 October.

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