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Viewpoint - Further ideas towards a water ethic

Adrian C. Armstrong
School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, UK;

ABSTRACT: This essay expands the water ethic of Armstrong (2007) by identifying four main functions of water: as a source of life, as a land-forming element, as a habitat, and as a mover of materials (i.e. a geomorphological agent). It is suggested that from these functions, four guiding principles can then be derived: 1) in allocating water, human beings allocate life potential; 2) altering water fluxes affects the function of a whole system; 3) water is a (fundamental) component of the earth system in its own right; 4) water fluxes are essential for the continued function and maintenance of both biological and non-biological systems. From these a full ethical evaluation of any proposed action could be based on an environmental axis as well as on the economic axis in decision making. Such full analyses can often be reduced in practice to a series of 'rules of thumb' for everyday decisions. Some candidate rules are suggested. Focusing on practical decision making and action on the function of water offers a potential way of implementing the Leopold 'land ethic'.

KEYWORDS: Water ethic, water for life