Looking Beyond (and Below) Institutions: The Role of Cultural Values in Sustaining Water Resources

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"Conceptual approaches to understanding water resources management include an emphasis on management, institutions, and environment. Each of these has proven important in stimulating reforms and building capacity for more effective and sustainable water management. A values approach offers a similarly novel way of understanding, and improving, water policies and management practices. The approach applies concepts from environmental ethics and cultural studies to focus on the often hidden values which motivate water behavior. The example of the Santa Fe River (New Mexico, USA) illustrates how deeply held utilitarian values about nature are reflected in policies which are regarded as unsustainable from a scientific perspective. Strong institutions enforce and reward private water rights and exacerbate the unsustainable water practices. Analysis of the Santa Fe case suggests the need for an environmentally-oriented water ethic, but changing values is a complicated process. While there are many potential and complementary ways to influence water values, the most promising avenue is governance arrangements that include a broad range of stakeholders, including environmental voices. By acknowledging values and ethics as an explicit dimension of water management, institutions can function more flexibly and water use might become more sustainable."
culture, ethics, value, environment, governance and politics