Christians taking baptism in the Jordan River (Source: Aaron Wolf, 2019).
Water, Culture and International Institutions


  • E. Lynn Porta Concurrent Technologies Corporation
  • Aaron T. Wolf Oregon State University image/svg+xml




This article focuses on the integration of different values of water, ranging from intrinsic to emotional, in international treaties and transboundary organizations. After introducing the “four worlds of water” (Wolf 2017), we discuss the increased recognition of locally based cultural and spiritual values of water in global conventions, international freshwater treaties and regional river basin organizations. Global conventions generally use more technical and broad formulations and international treaties tend to focus on small geographic areas and the need to protect water, and environmental resources associated with water, while the cultural impacts of water management decisions on local communities are most apparent at the governance level of regional organizations.

How to Cite

Porta, E. L., & Wolf, A. T. (2023). Water, Culture and International Institutions. Blue Papers, 2(2), 16–25.





challenges, concepts and new approaches

Author Biographies

E. Lynn Porta, Concurrent Technologies Corporation

E. Lynn Porta is currently an energy and climate analyst at Concurrent Technologies Corporation supporting the Department of the Air Force in having water-resilient, mission-- supportive systems amid rapidly changing climate and energy policies. In her second career, she is one of the co-founders and current USA Co-President of the North American Youth arliament for Water. She received a master of science in Water Resources Policy and anagement and a Certificate in Water Conflict Management and Transformation from Oregon State University, and she has published her MS research on international water politics and changing values of water. She has worked to support the training, capacity development and inclusion of community values, particularly from youth and young professionals, in water management spaces across North America and in the Middle East.

Aaron T. Wolf, Oregon State University

Aaron T. Wolf, PhD, is a professor of geography at Oregon State University, USA, with an appointment as professor of water diplomacy at IHE-Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands. He has acted as consultant to the US government, the World Bank, and several international governments and development partners on various aspects of water resources and conflict management. A trained facilitator, he directs the Program in Water Conflict Management and Transformation, through which he has offered workshops, facilitations and mediation in basins throughout the world.


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Government of New Zealand. 2014. National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. Accessed May 31, 2023.

Porta, E. Lynn, and Aaron T. Wolf. 2021. “Intrinsic and Spiritual Dimensions of Water at the Local Scale, and the Disconnect with International Institutions.” Sustainability 13, no. 16: 8948.

Schmeier, Susanne, Andrea K. Gerlak and Sabine Blumstein. 2016. “Clearing the Muddy Waters of Shared Watercourses Governance: Conceptualizing International River Basin Organizations.” International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics 16, no. 4: 597– 619. UNECE. n.d. Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes.

Wolf, Aaron T. 2008. “Healing the Enlightenment Rift: Rationality, Spirituality and Shared Waters.” Journal of International Affairs 61, no. 2: 51–73.

Wolf, Aaron T. 2017. The Spirit of Dialogue: Lessons from Faith Traditions in Transforming Conflict. Washington, DC: Island Press.