Mission & Strategy
The mission of Water-Culture Institute is to establish a moral consensus about how water should be used, managed, protected, and governed. We apply already existing cultural values about water, and we work to develop new values where needed. Our work is guided by ethics, but here too we are careful about the water ethics we promote. A key part of our mission is to develop tools for ethical analysis of water-related policies and behaviors.
Our premise is that our values are better than our behaviors would suggest. This is a hopeful premise, because our collective water behaviors are patently unsustainable, destructive, and wasteful. Rivers, lakes, aquifers, and wetlands are being contaminated and depleted. Both people and nature are suffering the consequences of our short-term and careless actions.
We need to tighten up our management practices, but this involves more than laws, policies, and market forces. Underlying the laws and policies about water is an often overlooked stratum of values and ethics which profoundly motivate behavior. For example, water quality regulations are not enacted unless there is a political and moral consensus about the importance of protecting water quality.
How we started
Water-Culture Institute was founded in 2010 in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a response to the quandary of why the widely accepted best practice of maintaining minimum stream flows was not accepted by local water managers. How could the well documented economic and ecological benefits of environmental flows be rejected as inappropriate for local conditions?
The reasons were not that local ecological conditions were unique, but rather that local legal and value traditions favored the total abstraction of surface water for "beneficial use," most typically irrigation. Similar tradeoffs are ubiquitous in the ways water is used. Coal mines that irredeemably contaminate vast watersheds, in addition to exacerbating climate change, are accepted in favor of maintaining the economic status quo for a few more years.
What are we thinking, to accept outlandish tradeoffs of large-scale ecocide for small profits, or simple convenience? Rather that ill intent, the problem seems to be more of an ethical laziness. It's too difficult to consider all the pros and cons of every water decision. Water-Culture Institute is developing tools and conceptual frameworks that bring values and ethics into the center of water decisions.
Where we work
From our home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we work globally through the Water Ethics Network (which we host) as well as locally in the Santa Fe metro area, and regionally in the Rio Grande and Colorado River Basins.
We are also developing long-term partnerships with organizations in the US-Canadian Great Lakes region, and in India.