February 2014

BOOK REVIEW / Water Ethics – A Values Approach to Solving the Water Crisis

By David Groenfeldt

Routledge 2013 (paperback) 216 pages


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 understanding 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, David Groenfeldt, adjunct associate professor, Department of Anthropology at UNM and founder the Water-Culture Institute in Santa Fe, shows the benefits of exposing tacit values and motivations and subjecting these to explicit public scrutiny and debate. 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 that science suggests is not sustainable).


The book also 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 that 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 book’s chapters include: Introduction to Water Ethics; Manipulating Rivers; Water for Agriculture: The Ethics of Irrigation; Ethics in Urban and Domestic Water Use; Water for Industry: What is Responsible Use?; The Ethics of Water Governance; Indigenous Water Ethics; Towards a New Water Ethic.




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