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Title: What is Water Really Worth? An Analysis of Innovative Approaches to Better Appreciate the Value of Water
Contributor(s): Charpleix, Liz Marjorie (author); Bartel, Robyn  (supervisor)orcid ; Williams, Jacqueline  (supervisor)orcid 
Conferred Date: 2020-04-02
Copyright Date: 2020-01
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Related DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12238

Access to fresh, clean water is essential for the maintenance of healthy life for humans and nonhumans on Earth. As human populations have grown over time, access to clean water has become less secure across the globe. The research in this dissertation explores the possibility that deficiencies in water’s management have their roots in the way water is valued. It investigates innovative water valuation systems that may provide better solutions to the world’s water problems by identifying a greater range of water’s values.

The first category of innovative water valuation systems explored is hybrid economic approaches. Examples of these include the system of ecosystem services, which allocates value to the contributions of the natural world that generate goods or services that humans value, and Australia’s National Water Accounting system, which is based on financial accounting models. The next category examined is innovative legal approaches, including legal pluralism and legal personhood for nonhumans. This was investigated by conducting a case study of the Whanganui River in Aotearoa/New Zealand, which in 2017 was the first river in the world to be recognised as holding legal personhood. The third category scrutinised is innovative omnicentric approaches, which decentre humans in order to appreciate more fully the value of water. Common in Indigenous cultures, these include relational approaches that recognise nonhuman agency.

The methodology comprised a case study and an evaluation of different approaches to water valuation. Evaluation criteria included equity, as water is an essential good for humans and nonhumans; appropriateness, which assesses the need for a program; effectiveness, which assesses the extent of achievement of anticipated outcomes; and cultural and geographical transferability. Each approach was evaluated for its potential capacity to more fully appreciate the values of water by tallying its observed strengths and weaknesses.

The results indicate that each innovative valuation approach displays both strengths and weaknesses, suggesting a potential for creating hybrid models combining the strengths of different approaches. The strengths of innovative economic hybrids include visibilising water and encouraging transferability through globally cooperative economic systems. Their weaknesses relate to the incoherence between the profit motive upon which economic systems depend and the needs of actants, such as the environment, that are not well recognised in economic systems. Strengths observed in innovative legal approaches include the ability for plural legal systems, particularly those followed by Indigenous cultures, to meet nonhuman needs in addition to human ones. Weaknesses in effectiveness and equity exist due to the power differentials between dominant legal systems and Indigenous cultures. Strengths of the innovative omnicentric approach include its appropriateness for meeting the needs of the greatest range of human and nonhuman actants, its effectiveness in appreciating the agency of water and its potential for transferability across cultures that recognise nonhuman agency. Weaknesses in this approach include its lack of recognition in hegemonic economic systems, which may limit its transferability. As valuation methods evolve, improved solutions based on an appreciation of a wider range of values than the purely economic are more likely to be realised.

Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Fields of Research (FoR) 2020: 410406 Natural resource management
440704 Environment policy
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2020: 130203 Literature
130703 Understanding Australia’s past
180305 Ground water quantification, allocation and impact of depletion
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
Description: Please contact if you require access to this thesis for the purpose of research or study.
Appears in Collections:School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
School of Law
Thesis Doctoral

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