Call to Establish National Working Groups on ‘Water and Heritage’

High Bridge, NYC

Image:  View of High Bridge, 1916. Photo courtesy NYC Department of Environmental Protection Archives. The High Bridge was an aqueduct bridge that was part of the Croton Aqueduct System in New York City. It reopened for pedestrians only in 2015.

Call to Establish National Working Groups on ‘Water and Heritage’

At the ICOMOS General Assembly in Delhi, India in December 2017 the ICOMOS Scientific Council encouraged ICOMOS Netherlands to initiate the establishment of an International Scientific Committee on Water and Heritage (ISCWH). Subsequently, at the “Water as Heritage” International Conference held in Taiwan in 2019, a Task Force was formed for this purpose. The Task Force prepared a Mission Statement and a Statement of Significance, and in 2020, organized a survey to gauge interest for the establishment of an ISCWH among National Committees and ICOMOS members. Of those surveyed globally, more than 80%  recognized the absence of a group within ICOMOS that focused sufficiently on water-related heritage and almost 80% felt that the creation of the ISC would complement ICOMOS’ mission. Over 90% of survey respondents felt that the existence of a Water and Heritage ISC could encourage National Committees to organize National Scientific Committees for Water and Heritage. Building on the survey respondents’ strong support, the creation of the new ISCWH was to be included on the agenda for the ICOMOS General Assembly scheduled for  October 2020. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the event will not take place in Sydney.

At the International Symposium on Water and Culture held in Tokyo, Japan on February 3rd, 2020, Dr. Han Seung-soo, former Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea and Chair of the High-level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP), issued a statement titled, Learning from Water Heritage to Innovate Regional Development. Dr. Seung-soo’s  statement encouraged ICOMOS to develop narratives on the significance of water-related cultural heritage for the future through cooperation with water professionals.

In addition to initiating a series of international symposia focusing on water and heritage, ICOMOS Netherlands has also spearheaded several recent publications including Water & Heritage: Material, Conceptual and Spiritual Connections (Sidestone Press, 2015) and Adaptive Strategies for Water Heritage: Past, Present and Future (Springer, 2019).

At this time, the ISCWH Task Force seeks to establish Working Groups on Water and Heritage, comprised of heritage experts and water professionals, at national levels. The Task Force also encourages ICOMOS National Committees, in cooperation with water management institutions, to develop a portfolio of case studies, as well as methodologies to assess the significance of these examples, for present and future water management challenges. While the Task Force has set up a large network of international water management institutions, we urge National Committees to identify and collaborate with water management bodies in their own states. Action items and activities for the national Working Groups are in formation. If you are interested in joining a US-based Working Group on Water and Heritage, please contact ISCWH Task Force member Meisha Hunter Burkett at WaterHeritageUSICOMOS [at] We look forward to your participation in continuing to build momentum for this global initiative together. A copy of the survey, the ISCWH Draft Mission Statement and Draft Statement of Significance for Water as Cultural Heritage can be found here.

Signed by Henk Van Schaik (Water and Heritage Ambassador, ICOMOS Netherlands); Ian Travers (Chair, ISCWH Task Force; Past President Australia ICOMOS); and ISCWH Task Force Members: Dr. Steve Brown (Australia ICOMOS and ISC Cultural Landscapes); Meisha Hunter Burkett (US ICOMOS; TICCIH); Toshiyuki Kono (Vice President, Japan ICOMOS); Dr. Hsiao-Wei Lin (ICOMOS Taiwan; TICCIH); Dr. Tino Mager (Board Member, ICOMOS Germany); Nupur Prothi Khanna (Secretary General, ICOMOS ISCCL); Dr. Sergio Ribeiro (CIRAT Brazil); Diederik Six (Past President, ICOMOS Netherlands and Envoy for Water and Heritage); Dr.  Sahdev Singh, (ICID); Ansari Taha (National Agency of Hydraulics Resources); and Dr. Sunite Yu (TIIWE Taiwan).

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