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🗣️ "Ethics and the Future of Water"

Water Foresight Podcast

Photo by Clark Tibbs / Unsplash

Host: Matthew Klein
Guest: Dr. David Groenfeldt | Director | Water-Culture Institute
Category: 🗣️ Opinion

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[5:25] “To me, it's a challenge to interest my fellow water professionals, in using ethics as a tool for understanding water and for making decisions about water, deciding whether this dam should be built or not built. How do you evaluate that? It's not just a matter of environment versus economics. And what I love about ethics, is that when you start thinking about what's ethical and what's not ethical, you integrate a lot of different fields of study. And that's what we need to do with water. Water touches everything in our society and everything in our economy. And we need to […] have a big picture perspective of why we're doing what we're doing. And […] to have a sense, when things aren't really working. […] And right now, with climate change, we need to rethink our strategy.”

[10:06] “Anthropologists have always been famous for cultural relativism that one culture is as good as another in the end. I grew up studying that in grad school and agreeing with it. But I've become more judgmental as I've gotten older and had more experience. And so now […] the book that I co-edited is about the experience of developing and proposing a universal code of water ethics, which you can find at And that's a little bit controversial, […] the idea that there is such a thing as universal ethics.”

[12:25] “I think […] where the differences in worldview are glaringly evident, they usually involve indigenous people, […] whose cultures have inculcated a […] relational value with water. […] Indigenous communities bring up their kids to recognize earth and […] bodies of water as relatives, […] [which] has an incredible influence on how we treat water and what we consider to be acceptable, or what's good behavior towards a river. And we look at the other way, little kids grow up and go to school and learn about American capitalism and they're predisposed to put water to economic use. And water in New Mexico and most of the other western states, you can only claim a water right, assuming there's water available, […] to extract water for economic benefit. […] But you can't claim water and give it back to the stream and say well, the stream needs water more than I do.”

[15:38] “Use it or lose it. That's a phrase that you hear a lot in any water water conference in the West. […] [The Rio Grande and the Colorado River] are totally extracted by the time they get to the end of their journey and try to get to the salt water. And to me, that's because of the expression of responsible water use which is you divert, divert, divert until there's nothing less today left to divert. And then you say, we're suffering from water scarcity. And it's all true, you are suffering from water scarcity, but the reason you're suffering from water scarcity, climate change has something to do with it, but the bigger reason is, there have been too many diversions for too many irrigation systems or too many cities. And nature can't provide all that water.”

[18:45] “When you go to water meetings, there's not much conversation about the river about the river itself. The conversation is about water security for us. […] What but what we people are concerned about is we want to know that we'll have water for our economic needs. And we consider our economic needs to be whatever we're using water for now, that's what we need. […] You don't hear about that willingness right off the bat. You don't hear people question, well, maybe we don't really need that much. We can get by with less. We need to give more attention to the river so that we have a source of water into the future. You just don't hear those kinds of environmental acknowledgments that […] our own future as a human society and a national economy ultimately depends on our natural ecosystems, our rivers, our lakes, our aquifers.”

[24:36] “If you want to get truly different views of water, go to any session […] organized by indigenous groups. And you'll find the statements about the earth is our mother and a lot of what we consider from the outside [as] slogans. But I think those of us in the water profession are gradually realizing [that] they actually mean it. And they do mean it. […] I think one of the landmark developments on this score is the agreement between the Maori and the government of New Zealand to acknowledge the Whanganui River as being a person as having the rights of a person the same way Exxon is considered a corporate person. […] And the Whanganui River is then controlled or simplistically, the the government side names watermaster, and the Maori tribe names another water guardian. And those two kinds of water overseers for the river, then represent the interests of their group, the government and the Maori tribe, and make decisions on behalf of the river.”

[28:44] “I think that water should have standing. I fully believe […] that we need to have a sense and a religious view of nature, an animistic view of nature. We have to have something like that, whether we personally believe it or not. We need to respect water as if it were a deity that we believed in.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Google | Spotify
🕰️ 35 min | 🗓️ 06/09/2021
✅ Time saved: 33 min

Additional Links:
Book: Water Ethics (Dr. David Groenfeldt)