How will we transform our relationship to water from one-sided exploitation (We exploit the water “resource”) to shared experience and co-existence? That’s the promise of Water 3.0, when healthy people and healthy rivers become an inter-twined goal.
Last week I was in Vancouver, Canada, and got an inkling of that potential. I was attending a workshop on Water and Innovation at the University of British Columbia’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. A presentation by Carolyn Drugge from the City of Vancouver’s “water, sewer and energy” section, outlined three stages of urban water management starting with pristine nature (Water 1.0) to conventional water capture and treatment for urban consumers (Water 2.0) and the application of new approaches to managing storm water and restoring urban streams (Water 2.5). Water 3.0 is the approach of the future (we hope!). It’s not just about us; it’s also about nature, and reconceptualizing our relationship to the whole water ecosystem. Now that’s innovative!
Wreck Beach in Vancouver, an innovative “clothing optional” beach pictured here on a cold January morning.
How do we get to Water 3.0? I was there to talk about “water ethics” suggesting that ethics is the starting point for change, but I realized from listening to the other presenters that there can be many different starting points. A crisis might change people’s values about what’s important, or values can change first, and that’s how we realize that there’s a crisis (as in the value shift inspired by Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring). Or regulations can be imposed from the top (as was the case with British Columbia’s carbon tax) and people’s values then adjust to the new reality.
Technologies can help us implement ethical goals such the human right to water (e.g., by using remote sensing to locate new groundwater supplies) but those same technologies can also abate the crisis and allow old and ultimately unsustainable value systems to continue a little bit longer. Technologies, like water itself, need to be managed with ethics in mind.
To install the Water 3.0 upgrade successfully, we will need an ethical approach not only to water, but to the very idea of innovation.