Using Ethical Principles, Not Money, to Guide Our Use of Water

By Susan Lea Smith, First Congregational UCC, Salem, OR

bottled-waterQuestioning whether to continue serving bottled water at your church’s events? Not sure about how to respond to Nestle’s attempt to use Oregon spring water from the Columbia Gorge?  Outraged about our rivers being destroyed by corporate water pollution? Feeling guilty about your five minute shower?  Wondering how to protect enough water instream to keep aquatic ecosystems healthy?  Doubting that there will be sufficient water available for growing food given the push toward biofuel, tar sands, and other industrial water use?  Resolute in your conviction that everyone should have safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities? Interested in whether private corporations should be in charge of providing water and sanitation services?  Uncertain whether desalination is the right way to address increasing water scarcity caused by climate change.  If you use water in your daily life, read on!

This issue of “Rolling Justice” presents the ten fundamental principles of water justice declared by the Ecumenical Water Network, World Council of Churches (EWN-WCC).  EWN is the World Council of Churches’ program initiative, which advocates for water justice at international level and supports churches in water justice efforts at national and local levels.  EWN uses these principles, and the commentary explaining them, to guide its water justice program.

The “ten commandments” of water justice have recently been articulated in EWN’s theological foundation, which will be published, along with 17 reflections on water justice by theologians and water activists, in Smith, Suna, and Zacariah’s forthcoming book, Pilgrimage of Water Justice: A Theological Foundation for Faith Action (WCC 2016).  The theological foundation more fully explains the principles as well as discussing the realities and roots of water injustice, the Christian faith basis for water justice advocacy, and the role of faith communities in achieving water justice.  As you think about water, consider using the principles as a means to make decisions about water use and to bring your faith more deeply into everyday life.

Fundamental Principles of Water Justice (2015)


I. Ethical Management

Water justice requires ethical management of water, rather than management of water as an economic good.

II. Intergenerational Equity

Water justice requires that we manage water as a gift from God to be available for life-sustaining purposes to the current and all future generations.  We must not deplete groundwater reserves, we must protect the sustained availability of surface water, and we must not destroy the ability to use ground or surface water by polluting it.

III.    Protect Biodiversity and Aquatic Ecosystems

Water justice requires responsible human action to preserve biodiversity  and to maintain the ecological integrity and resilience of aquatic ecosystems.

IV. Assure universal access to water and sanitation

Water justice requires universal access to safe water and adequate sanitation.  Efforts to provide such access should give preference to the poor and marginalized.

V. Assure access to water by smallholders

Water justice requires that water be available for use by subsistence and smallholder farmers, herders, and fishers.

VI. Assure availability of water for priority uses

Water justice requires that three uses of water take precedence over any other water uses:  water for household uses; water for food provided by smallholder farmers, herders and fishers; and water to maintain aquatic ecosystem integrity and resilience.

VII. Democratic water governance

Water justice requires democratic governance of water.

VIII. Water is a common good

Water justice requires that water be considered a common good.   No compensable private rights in water should be created.

IX. Prevent economic exploitation of water

Water justice requires that use of water for commercial purposes be strictly regulated.  Economic exploitation of water is unethical. The principles explore the extent to which water marketing, commercial water bottling and consumption of bottled water, privitization of water services, and water pricing practices constitute economic exploitation of water.

X. Meet water stewardship responsibilities

Water users have profound stewardship responsibilities with respect to water that we are ethically bound to meet.  The principles suggest that we should avoid waste, pollution, alteration of natural flow, desalination of marine water, and groundwater use that leads to saltwater intrusion.


Susan Smith represents the national United Church of Christ on EWN’s advisory board and served as preliminary drafter of the principles.  She is available to meet with CPC congregations wishing to explore the principles and/or other water justice concerns in more detail.  Just e-mail her at

Churches Saving Creation

By Rev. Jim Ruyle, Hillsdale Community UCC, Portland, OR

habitat-restorationAs members of churches or other religious organizations, we care about environmental issues and want to do our part to protect creation. But the issues seem so huge, like global warming, that we may have difficulty identifying a special role that churches can play, other than just being good citizens, preaching about the issues, and doing our recycling. In fact, however, there is an issue in which churches are uniquely positioned to assume leadership, and it is an important one, right up there with global warming:

Scientists like E.O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist, tell us that at the rate we are destroying wildlife habitat, we will have lost as much as half of all plant and animal species by the end of this century, one-quarter by 2050. Tell that to your children and grandchildren. Besides animal lovers, this has implications for all humans because a large percent of the animals at risk are insects that pollinate or otherwise convert plant life to the food we eat. We take away their food by replacing native plants with foreign species, not just English ivy and Himalayan blackberry but much of our modern landscaping material including lawn grass. Insects can’t and won’t eat plant material that they did not evolve with over millions of years. To show the important role of insects, Wilson says that if all insects vanished, eventually all life would vanish, including humans. (See his book, “The Creation.”) Ask yourself what good it will do if we fix every other environmental problem but not this one.

So we need to restore wildlife habitat. But what’s that have to do with churches? Douglas Tallamy, in his popular book, “Bringing Nature Home,” tells us that after the loss of space to agriculture and cities, the remaining space available for restoring wildlife habitat is suburbia. (National and local preserves and parks, while important, do not by themselves contain enough space for this purpose.) What we need to do is encourage suburban landowners to restore habitat on their properties. This doesn’t mean landscaping exclusively with native plants, only making more room for them. And they’re just as beautiful as foreign plants.

This is where churches come in. Most churches either own outdoor space or associate with churches that do. These churches can demonstrate habitat restoration on their properties and offer education to their communities about habitat restoration and how to do it on their own properties. Organizations like the soil and water districts often use churches as teaching venues. Here neighbors can learn about the need for habitat restoration and how they can incorporate native plants in an attractive way in their own landscaping. Considering that church properties are scattered all across the country and the world, think of the impact churches could have if they and their national bodies seized this opportunity. Churches could take the lead in saving creation.

What Does Your Pilgrimage Towards Climate Justice Look Like?

by Susan Smith, First Congregational UCC, Salem, Oregon
pilgrimage WCCThe World Council of Churches has called upon Christians around the world to begin a pilgrimage towards climate justice. So what does that look like?

Christians from many countries have started their pilgrimage towards climate justice by heading to Paris, on foot and by bicycle, seeking to reach there by the end of November. Once in Paris, they will attend interfaith side events aimed at influencing the international climate change negotiations. The hope is that the Paris conference, the 21st annual meeting of nations that ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will result in a treaty consisting of binding and enforceable national commitments to reduce net carbon emissions by every nation – as well as national funding commitments for a Green Energy Fund to fund renewable energy efforts in the poorest developing countries. For more information, visit:  World Council of Churches.