David Groenfeldt


An anthropologist, David received his PhD in 1984 from the University of Arizona, based on field research on irrigation development in India. His career has focused on water, including five years with the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka and 13 years in Washington, DC working with consulting firms, and the World Bank, on water and natural resources policies in developing countries. More recently, David has focused on environmental and cultural aspects of water policies. He helped establish the Indigenous Water Initiative to coordinate inputs from Indigenous Peoples in the World Water Forum in Kyoto (2003) and Mexico City (2006). His work as director of the Santa Fe Watershed Association, in Santa Fe, New Mexico (USA) from 2006 to 2009 highlighted the role of community values in driving water policies. He established the Water-Culture Institute (waterculture.org) in 2009 to promote the integration of traditional cultural values and ethics into water policies and practices. He coordinates the Water Ethics Network (waterethics.org) and is involved in developing a global charter on water ethics, as well as local water ethics charters at the level of cities and watersheds. His ideas are outlined in two recent books, Water Ethics: A Values Approach to Solving the Water Crisis (2013), and Global Water Ethics: Towards a Global Ethics Charter (2017, co-edited with Rafael Ziegler). David is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.


I use photography to “image” water and through these images to stimulate the process of “re-imagining” the world of water and our relationship to that world. My purpose in doing this is both aesthetic (to become more aware of the beauty of water and its infrastructure) and practical: To improve decision-making about water whether at a personal, community, national, or global level, and thereby contribute to outcomes that are more sustainable ecologically, more fair socially, and more meaningful and better rooted culturally. The conceptual frame for my project is “creative placemaking” and more specifically “water placemaking” a process aimed at situating ourselves within our physical and moral waterscape. My SFAI residency project focused on a portrayal of Santa Fe’s water cycle through images of the water infrastructure that takes water out of nature (dams, diversions, and pumps), uses the water for human purposes in homes, gardens, and businesses (not much agricultural use here), and then cleans the water and returns it to nature. The focus on infrastructure is because that’s where the water is: It’s behind dams, inside pipes, sprinkling onto golf courses, and cleaned in treatment plants. By becoming more aware of the physical infrastructure that conveys water from nature to us and back again, perhaps we will also become more attuned to our “moral waterscape” and the tacit ethics underlying our behaviors in how we use water and manage water ecosystems.

Image Gallery


Impact on me: Through interacting with my fellow artists and engaging in my photo project, I learned that we are all trying to raise awareness about water, in order to make a difference in the world. In my water policy work, I use writing as a tool to bring tacit values and ethics about water out into the open where they can be debated and discussed. I am now more committed to making use of the arts, and partnering with artists. Impact on water governance in Santa Fe? The city’s Water Division was very interested in my project because they saw a fit with their own priorities of building community awareness about water. More generally, the very concept of a photo project about water infrastructure provides a basis for follow-up discussions about the potential for integrating art and artists into the practical work of water management and governance. Santa Fe could learn from the cities of Calgary (Alberta) and Seattle (Washington) about integrating public art into public water. impact on SFAI? Because Santa Fe as a community is already highly water-aware, and SFAI as an organization has substantial institutional “water capital” from the water-rights residency program, there is a real opportunity to develop formal relationships with the City’s Water Division and perhaps with ongoing local water initiatives, such as the ongoing Santa Fe Water Charter process which I coordinate through the Water-Culture Institute. 

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