Skip to main content

Ecowisdom and Water in Human Settlements

  • 719 Accesses

Part of the EcoWISE book series (EcoWISE)


I examine human–water relations in cities to demonstrate how water provides a visible, critical connection to nature in urban areas. These interactions allow opportunities for humans to co-create “ecologically wise” solutions for long-term resiliency and offer a useful litmus test for the following proposition: Ecological wisdom (EW) offers successful pathways to conserving, repairing, and facilitating socio-ecological systems that may lead to long-term resilience. In this chapter, I provide a brief literature review focused on two important characteristics of water in settlements: visibility and variability. I then discuss findings stemming from an analysis of 632 vernacular water supply records from Yale University’s Human Relations Area Files database, which I used to identify several EW strategies. Two strategies in particular—matching sources and uses and using soil and vegetation to preserve water quality—may prove useful for rapidly growing and climate change impacted regions such as Texas. These two strategies provide useful examples of the types of wise systems that humans have designed with the rest of nature. I finish by concluding that although context always matters, transferable EW patterns exist and can be shared, allowing any community to work toward EW. In particular, water’s visibility and variability allow for a significant opportunity for people to co-create resilient urban habitat with the rest of nature.

  • Urban water
  • Green infrastructure
  • Ecological infrastructure
  • Vernacular water systems
  • Ecowisdom
  • Ecologically wise

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD   129.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD   169.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Learn about institutional subscriptions


  • Barten PK, Caryn EE (2004) Land conservation and watershed management for source protection. J Am Water Works Assoc 96(4): 121–135

    CrossRef  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Brown J (2014) SAWS application for bed-and-banks permit highlights tension in having dual surface water and groundwater regimes. Kay Bailey Hutchinson Center for Energy, Law and Business. Accessed 10 Nov 2016

  • Brune G (1981) Springs of texas. Texas A&M Press, 590 pages

    Google Scholar 

  • City of Austin Staff Member (2015) Interview with Katherine Lieberknecht (personal communication)

    Google Scholar 

  • Collier K (2015) San Antonio city council hikes water rates. Texas Tribune. Accessed 15 Nov 2016

  • Environmental Protection Agency, Drinking water source protection programs, source water protection: best management practices and other measures for protecting drinking water supplies, pp 1–8. Handbook of Texas Online (undated) Aquifer levels. Accessed 14 Nov 2016

  • Hemenway T (2015) Permaculture city. Chelsea Green Publishing, Danvers, MA, 287 pages

    Google Scholar 

  • KENS5 Eyewitness News (2016) Aquifer levels. Accessed 12 Nov 2016

  • Lemonick S (2013) Drinking toilet water: the science (and psychology) of drinking wastewater. Earth

    Google Scholar 

  • Lieberknecht K (2000) The barton springs salamander controversy. In Timothy C, Andy W (eds) Foundations of natural resources policy and management. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp 149–172

    Google Scholar 

  • Lieberknecht K (2017) Adapting vernacular water systems to texas water planning. In review

    Google Scholar 

  • Mosqueda P (2013) Whooping cranes lawsuit could change texas water rights. TexasObserver, 11 Apr

    Google Scholar 

  • Olmsted FL (1857) A journey through Texas; or, a saddle-trip on the southwestern frontier; with a statistical appendix

    Google Scholar 

  • Page GW, Susskind L (2007) Five important themes in the special issue on planning for water. J Am Plann Assoc 73(2):141–45.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Pahl-Wostel C (2011) Adaptive and integrated management of water resources. In: Grafton RQ, Hussey K (eds) Water resources planning and management, pp 292–310

    Google Scholar 

  • Texas State Historical Society (undated) Aquifers of texas. Accessed 13 Nov 2016

  • Trust for Public Land (2006) Source protection handbook: using land conservation to protect drinking water supplies. Trust for Public Land, 90 pages

    Google Scholar 

  • San Antonio Staff Member (2016) Interview with Katherine Lieberknecht (personal communication)

    Google Scholar 

  • San Antonio Water System (2014) Conservation plan 2014–2021. SAWS, San Antonio, 31 pages

    Google Scholar 

  • Swearingen WS (2010) Environmental city. The University of Texas at Austin Press, Austin, TX, 278 pages

    Google Scholar 

  • Wong THF, Rebekah RB (2011) Water sensitive urban design. In: Grafton RQ, Karen H (eds) Water resources planning and management. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 483–504

    Google Scholar 

  • World Commission on Dams (2000) Dams and development: A new framework for decision-making: The report of the world commission on dams. Earthscan

    Google Scholar 

  • Xaing W-N (2014) Doing real and permanent good in landscape and urban planning: ecological wisdom for urban sustainability. Landscape Urban Plann 121:65–69

    Google Scholar 

  • Yale University (2015) Welcome to HRAF. Accessed 25 Nov 2015

  • Young RF (2016) Modernity, postmodernity, and ecological wisdom: toward a new framework for landscape and urban planning. Landscape Urban Plann 155:91–99, Nov.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Young RF, Steven AW (2007) Toward a pragmatic program for critical urban ecology. Urban Ecosyst 10.3:349–354

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Katherine Lieberknecht .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2019 Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Lieberknecht, K. (2019). Ecowisdom and Water in Human Settlements. In: Yang, B., Young, R. (eds) Ecological Wisdom. EcoWISE. Springer, Singapore.

Download citation