Water-Culture Institute

About Us

"Adding Values to Water Policies"

The Water-Culture Institute is a registered public charity incorporated in Santa Fe, New Mexico (USA) in July 2010.  The Institute is exempt from Federal income tax under section 501(c)3; donations are tax-deductable.   

The Institute works both globally (Water Ethics Network) and locally (Rio Grande Governance Initiative) seeking to walk our talk, while recognizing that for the challenge of sustainable water policies, talk is also essential.  Our activities are implemented through partnerships with a wide range of individuals and organizations.  If you are interested in joining our work, please contact us with your ideas and we will respond promptly.  There is a lot to be done!

David Groenfeldt, Founder and Director 

An anthropologist, David received his PhD in 1984 from the University of Arizona, based on field research on irrigation development in India. Most of his career has focused on international water issues, including five years with the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka and 13 years in Washington, DC working with consulting firms, and the World Bank, on water and natural resources policies in developing countries. Since 2002, David has focused on environmental and cultural aspects of water policies. He helped establish the Indigenous Water Initiative to coordinate inputs from Indigenous Peoples in the World Water Fora in Kyoto (2003) and Mexico City (2006).  He was director of the Santa Fe Watershed Association, in Santa Fe, New Mexico (USA) from 2006 to 2009.  He established the Water-Culture Institute in 2009 to promote the integration of Indigenous and traditional cultural values into water policies and practices.  David is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, Albu
querque.  Email: dgroenfeldt [at] waterculture.org


Darlene Sanderson, Senior Fellow 

Of Cree and Russian heritage, Darlene is leading a new initiative on Indigenous Water Planning.   She holds a Masters in Child and Youth Care from the University of Victoria (1999), and a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Simon Fraser University (2009).   Darlene has over 17 years of experience as a cardiac nurse, and has served as a health coordinator and community developer for numerous First Nations.  Her PhD research explored the topic of water from Elders’ teachings from her native Cree tradition, the Maori of Aotearoa/New Zealand, and Nuu-Chah-Nulth.  Darlene has developed curricula and awareness that honors local Indigenous traditions about water, and health education that focuses on cultural identity and the maintenance of the sacred water understandings in Indigenous languages and cultural practices.  She serves as Secretariat for the upcoming Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace, is a member of the Sectoral Committee for the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, and is on the environmental committee for the Vancouver Foundation. Email: darlenesanderson [at] shaw.ca

Rutgerd Boelens, Advisor 

Educated in Irrigation & Rural Development  (MSc and PhD from Wageningen University, Netherlands) Rutgerd worked for many years in the Andean Region as advisor on participatory irrigation and watershed development, empowerment and institution-strengthening; gender equity; and customary rights. Since 1998 he has held the position of senior researcher and associate professor at Wageningen,  He was Coordinator of the program Water Law and Indigenous Rights (WALIR) working in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Mexico.  Currently he is the Consortium Director for the interAndean program Concertación (water policy research and training in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador); and coordinator of the NWO-WOTRO Integrated PhD Program “Struggling for Water Security in the Andean countries”. Recently he has set up the inter-continental research program Justicia Hidrica for which he acts as coordinator; and he was appointed as Visiting Professor at the Catholic University of Lima.   Among his numerous publications are Searching for Equity. Conceptions of Justice and Equity in Peasant Irrigation (with G. Dávila, Van Gorcum, 1998); Water Rights and Empowerment (with P. Hoogendam, Van Gorcum, 2002); Water and Indigenous Peoples (with Chiba and Nakashima, UNESCO 2006); Políticas Hídricas en la Región Andina (with P. Urteaga, IEP-AbyaYala 2006), and most recently, Out of the Mainstream. Water Rights, Politics and Identity (with D. Getches and A. Guevara,  Earthscan, 2010).   Email: rutgerd.boelens [at] wur.nl.

Zheng Xiao Yun,  Advisor

Zheng Xiao Yun is professor of anthropology and history, and assistant president of Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences(YASS), in China, and Director of International Center for Ecological Culture Studies(ICECS-YASS).  His honorary posts include president of the International Water History Association, Vice director of the Chinese Senior Expert Committee for Water Culture (China Ministry of Water Resource), Invited Professor of Yunnan Uiversity, Yunnan Nationalities University, and Honorable Professor of Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies.  Prof. Zheng focuses his research on history, culture and sustainability of water, forest and environment change in China and East/Southeast Asia, particularly the Red River and Mekong River basin,.  His theoretical orientation emphasizes cultural identity and social capital in rural areas, and regional water culture in Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand. He has co-organized a series of important international conference, including the International Conference on Yunnan Ethnic Culture and Forest Protection along the Mekong River (Tokyo, 2003, International Conference on Water Culture and Water Environment Protection in 2005, and the International Conference on Ecological Civilization among Red River Basin in 2008.


Lars T. Soeftestad, Advisor

Lars is an anthropologist with expertise in social and institutional analyses in natural resource management, Indigenous Peoples issues,  governance, monitoring and evaluation, and strategic communication. His theoretical and applied interests in development cooperation are in the areas of agriculture, coastal zone mgmt., common property resource mgmt., CBNRM, fisheries, ICTs and development, minority-majority ethnic group relations, and participatory approaches. Lars is Founder and Coordinator, the Community-Based Natural Resource Management Network (CBNRM Net), a global community of practice. He is owner and CEO of Supras Consult, a development consulting firm based in Kristiansand, Norway.  Former employers include Rural and Health Development Center Foundation (a Bangladeshi NGO), Sida, University of Zurich and World Bank. He has consulted widely in Eastern Europe, Central Europe, the Horn of Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and West and Central Africa, for, among others, DFID, Dutch Aid, GEF, Govt. of Norway, GTZ, IFAD, IFC, ILO, Innovation Norway, Norad, Sida, UNDP, UNOPS, USAID, World Bank, and private sector firms and NGOs.
Email: lars[at]supras.biz


Board of Directors

The Water-Culture Institute is incorporated in the State of New Mexico, USA, as a non-profit corporation.  We are currently in the process of filing for federal 501(c) 3 tax status which will render us eligible to apply for charitable grants from US-based foundations,  The Institute is overseen by a Board of Directors, comprising David Groenfeldt (Director), and three other Board Members:

Jutta von Gontard, Board President, was raised and educated in Germany and Ecuador and recently left a successful career as a non-profit professional. For the last twenty-five years, her work as a fundraising and program development executive took her to Israel, Central America, and Southern Africa, where she supported community-based development and microfinance programs. Recently retired from her last position as Senior Program Director for a New-Mexico based environmental organization, Jutta now applies her passion for equitable and ecologically sustainable community development as a volunteer for several non-profit-organizations in New Mexico.

Alan Hamilton holds a BA in Mythological Studies (Colorado College), an MA in Liberal Arts Education (Saint John’s College), and a PhD in Clinical Psychology (Pacifica Graduate Institute). He has worked professionally as a psychologist, house builder, business consultant and community organizer around river conservation and other environmental issues.  One of Dr. Hamilton’s strengths is his ability in to find interdisciplinary connections that bring new perspectives and possibilities to difficult and situations.   Dr. Hamilton is presently working as a psychologist in private practice and concurrently as the Conservation Director for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.  He is also President of Rio Grande Return, a joint venture designed to support the conservation of the Rio Grande and its surrounding agricultural lands.  He is the founder of BackTalk, a community based therapy program for adolescents, and a board member of several organizations including: BackTalk, The New Mexico Water Dialogue, and the S.B. Foundation. 

Steve Harris is a river guide, water activist, and Executive Director of Rio Grande Restoration.  He holds a B.A. in Journalism and Sociology from the University of Oklahoma.  He is the owner of Far-Flung Adventures, a river touring company, and is also a certified river and flood rescue instructor.  He is a co-founder and since 1994 Executive Director of Rio Grande Restoration, a collaboratively-oriented non-profit dedicated to restoring the health of the Rio Grande.  Through this organization, he has been closely involved with the New Mexico Strategic Water Reserve Program, the Closed Basin Project, and efforts to promote state-wide environmental flow policies. He has been a lecturer for the Chatauqua Program of the New Mexico Council on the Humanities, a Fellow of the Rio Grande Institute in Marathon, TX, has served as Director of the Tamarisk Coalition, and is a Past President of the Alliance for Rio Grande Heritage.  He has served on the Upper Rio Grande Water Operations Steering Committee, the National Assessment of Water Quality, and the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program.