The water resources graduate program at Oregon State University offers a fresh approach to communication, negotiation and conflict resolution of heated global disputes over seemingly murky waters.
“Water: It’s that one thing (that) connects everybody together,” said Julie Watson, a Ph.D. candidate with an emphasis on water resources and environmental justice in the department of geography. “If we learn everything we can about water, we can be problem solvers, conflict resolvers and work toward bettering human rights and achieving the end of suffering.”
Watson, who has always had a strong interest in international politics and problem solving, strives to make a difference in the world.
She came to OSU to earn a master’s degree in the water resources policy management program, which is housed in the water resources graduate program.
Aaron Wolf, a professor of geography in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and an internationally recognized tour-de-force on global water negotiations, is Watson’s graduate adviser.
Wolf’s research focuses on assessing conflict and cooperation in water resources. This work takes him all over the world. Throughout recent years, Wolf has carried out extensive negotiations in Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
Wolf has measured all the trans-boundary basins of the world (water sources that cross borders). He found that two-thirds of the interactions over water are cooperative rather than conflict-riddled.
According to Watson, this was a big deal. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan made a statement back in 2000 that “there would be wars over water in the future.”
“Are there going to be water wars?” was the question Wolf sought to answer.
Wolf’s findings revealed that, in fact, people tend to cooperate more than not on issues surrounding water.
Water acts as a bridge for dialogues to commence on alternate issues such as human rights, agricultural practices and creating sustainable peacebuilding methods.
Teaming with Wolf’s ground-breaking conclusions, Watson’s current Ph. D. research addresses the questions, “If people are cooperating over water, why haven’t we attained all the millennium development goals, why are there still millions of people who do not have access to safe drinking water, why are there still environmental justice problems all over the world?”
Watson is currently developing a scale to capture justice-related issues and human rights issues revolving around water resource conflicts.
The idea of this research is that it could be implemented everywhere.
Watson will use a case study from her work with Wolf in Southeast Asia on the Mekong River Basin in China. Watson hopes to travel to China for her research sometime during winter term.
Watson’s interest in environmental justice and water was initially sparked by a global academic group conference trip with Wolf based in Israel in December 2012. The focus was on water securitization.
At the conference, Israelis and Palestinians discussed the different ways that they see water.
According to Watson, Israel sees water as a national defense, a high-level issue that you have to protect and secure, whereas Palestinians are thinking about water from a human rights perspective.
In Watson’s travels around Israel, she came across things that shocked her.
Within a local Bedouin settlement, she recalls seeing the people’s water supply foaming and with dead animals resting within it.
“I can’t believe I’m seeing this … the experience was totally shocking for me coming from the United States, where of course everything just comes out of the tap clean,” Watson said. “Seeing that there were people living like this, and I didn’t even know what was going on — it made an impact.”
Watson said that working closely with Wolf, a rock star figure in the global water scene, gives Watson the opportunity to make some really cool contributions toward resolving global water conflicts.
Even though Wolf is the OSU researcher out there in the world actually solving all the problems, just being on the periphery has given Watson some great opportunities.
Career prospects for Watson following the completion of her Ph.D. are looking quite good. Water is considered a global issue, more vital than oil according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Watson envisions using her water resource graduate degrees to work with non-governmental agencies within an environment where everyone is being creative and working collaboratively together to come up with innovative solutions for the important problems on water, environmental justice and human rights that our world faces today.