Valuing water: A global survey of the values that underpin water decisions

Christopher Schulz*, Lukas Wolf, Julia Martin-Ortega, K Glenk, Maarten Gischler

*Corresponding author for this work

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Valuing water is gaining popularity among policymakers and academics as a new water management paradigm. However, there is a lack of clarity about how to translate this paradigm into practice. We propose a multifaceted approach to valuing water that considers not just the values that people assign to water, such as its uses and benefits, but also broader personal guiding principles (e.g., security) and governance-related values (e.g., social justice) that underpin decision-making about water. Using an interdisciplinary conceptual framework and data from a global survey among water professionals (N = 293), we provide the first empirical evidence showing how preferences among three archetypical perspectives on water management – (1) controlling water flows through engineering solutions; (2) managing water through market-based mechanisms; (3) working with natural water ecosystems – can be explained by different types of values held by respondents, despite the enormous diversity among water management contexts around the world. The valuing water paradigm thus has an expressly political dimension to it; applying it makes explicit how water management decisions are informed by and may reinforce some values and weaken others. As such, it can be a useful diagnostic in the context of water conflicts, to help understand how decisions about water are linked to different stakeholder groups’ values. Valuing water may thus involve balancing conceptually contrasting values and preferences. It also requires the development and application of mechanisms and institutions for effective stakeholder participation in decision-making, especially in the context of significant power differentials between relevant stakeholders.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103685
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Early online date29 Jan 2024
Publication statusPrint publication - 1 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

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  • Environmental values
  • Global survey
  • Valuing water
  • Water governance
  • Water management
  • Water policy


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