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Reconceptualising water quality governance to incorporate knowledge and values: Case studies from Australian and Brazilian indigenous communities

Kate A. Berry
Department of Geography, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, USA; kberry@unr.edu

Sue Jackson
Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia; sue.jackson@griffith.edu.au

Laurel Saito
The Nature Conservancy, Reno, NV, USA; laurel.saito@tnc.org

Louis Forline
Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, USA; forline@unr.edu

ABSTRACT: This paper examines the significance of knowledge and values for water quality and its governance. Modernist approaches to the governance of water quality in rivers and lakes need to be reconceptualised and overhauled. The problems include: perceiving water only as a physical and chemical liquid, defining quality in narrow terms, rendering water knowledge as invisible, boiling down water values to uses of presumed economic importance and limiting how and by whom objectives are set or actions taken. In addressing the need to reframe water quality governance, and as a counter to the objectification of water quality, we propose a framework that explicitly recognises the significance of knowledge and values relating to water. While our framework could apply to other contexts under the influence of modernist water-management regimes, here we pay particular attention to the relevance of the water knowledge, values and governance of water quality by Indigenous people. In the second half of the paper we address issues related to Indigenous water-quality governance in two countries, Brazil and Australia, showing some of the ways in which, despite enormous obstacles, Indigenous communities re-work governance structures through their engagements with water quality and pay attention to water knowledge and values.

KEYWORDS: Indigenous peoples, water quality management, Australia, Brazil