Today’s Guest Post is by Ian Kerr-Wilson, Manager of Heritage Resource Management for the City of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and Interim Co-Vice President of the Global Network of Water Museums
Every Thursday at noon, a small group gathers at the Door of the Apostles in the Plaza de la Virgen in Valencia, Spain. They are the Tribunal de Las Aquas. The origins of the tribunal are a bit obscure, but it is known to have been in continuous operation since the 13th Century.
The tribunal consists of 8 local farmers elected from those using the irrigation systems in the Valencia watershed. They meet to settle disputes and enforce rules on water usage.
The court has become something of a tourist show. Hundreds come to witness an apparently quaint folkloric ritual. When I met José Font Sanchis, President of the Tribunal last year, he spoke of the popularity of the meetings with a mixture of pride, horror and amusement.
In fact, there is nothing quaint about the meetings; it is a working court with real legal power. Their rulings are quick, public and final. Moreover, the tribunal’s tradition of open, grassroots and democratic processes is a model for sustainable watershed management in an era of increasing pressure from climate change and urbanization.
The tribunal is also an essential part of the Valencia’s heritage. Valencians embrace the tribunal as ‘living heritage’ and an expression of who they are as a community: imbued with traditional common sense and fairness and committed to working together for the benefit of all.
The dual role as both a guardian of sustainable water practices and heritage institution led the tribunal to participate in the first meeting of the Global Network of Water Museums in Venice in 2017.
Nineteen countries were represented in Venice. Attendees came from national water museums, science centres, historic sites, universities, eco-museums, small community-driven museums, art projects, virtual museums and, of course, the tribunal. This diverse group had little in common beyond a commitment to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular, SDG #6: Clean Water and Sanitation.
The final report of the conference noted that, using water management models inherited from the past in conjunction with new ethical principles reflecting justice and social equity, museums can reach local communities, where they are a “reference point to inspire new behaviours.”
In addition, they can also encourage more farsighted water use and management approaches from a watershed-based, regional and/or historical perspective.
The following year, an expanded group met in Den Bosch, Netherlands to evaluate the consensus of 2017. During their session, Raul Garciadeigo and Gisela Herrerías, of the Museo del Agua highlighted the inter-relationships between SDGs in their work. In 1980, they moved from Mexico City to Tehuacan to conduct community development work. Their project evolved into Museo del Agua “Agua para Siempre” or the “Water Forever Museum.” Over the next decades, the couple used the museum as the hub for water management, forest restoration and sustainable agriculture practices. Raul and Gisela were explicit that, from an engaged community development perspective, all SDGs interconnect. Building capacity for water access is also taking action on climate change, poverty and human rights.
The “Water Forever Museum” remains the centre of their work but it will always be a tool in a larger endeavour.Ian Kerr-Wilson
Inspired by the work of Raul, Gisela and others, delegates created a manifesto which states, in part:
- The challenges of growing water scarcity, pollution, exhaustion of resources, desertification, but also recurrent floods, and melting of glaciers due to climate change, with the…production of new social conflicts, seem not to be resolvable only by means of technocratic visions and approaches.
- Through the Global Network of Water Museums, a new ethical vision concerning the most precious source of life will be fostered, promoted and disseminated worldwide…
In June 2018, through the active efforts of delegates from the Network, the International Council of the UNESCO-International Hydrological Programme established the Network as an UNESCO-IHP Initiative “…with the aim of better using water museums to improve water management via communication and educational activities.”
Which brings us back, at last, to Valencia. The Network will convene in that city in June 2019, hosted by the Tribunal and the municipality. Delegates will elect a formal Board of Directors and begin the hard, slow job of establishing a work plan with goals and measures, growing the Network, and putting some structure to the happy phrases of the Charter.
Ian Kerr-Wilson joined the City of Hamilton museum system in 1989 and has worked in various curatorial and management positions. Currently, he is the Manager of Heritage Resource Management for the City of Hamilton, overseeing 9 museums/historic sites including 6 National Historic Sites. He has a B.A. from Trent University, a M.A. and B.Ed from Queen’s University and a M.M.St. from the University of Toronto.
He is an interim Co-Vice President of the Global Network of Water Museums. If you are interested in the Network, feel free to contact him at email@example.com