Where Are They Now? David Brooks

A special anniversary series

Published On: May 25th, 2023

The POLIS Water Sustainability Project is turning 20 this year! We couldn’t have made it this far without the support of our colleagues, partners, advisors, funders, water leaders, and many many supporters across B.C. (and beyond!) who give their time and energy and continually champion the necessary and crucial work of water sustainability and watershed security. To celebrate some of the people who have made this milestone possible, POLIS Communications Director Laura Brandes got in touch with several “POLIS alumni” to find out what they’ve been up to since leaving POLIS, and to ask if there are lessons from their POLIS days that they still carry with them…

Dr. David B. Brooks is a longtime advisor to the POLIS Water Sustainability Project team, with expertise on water soft paths and transboundary water management and governance (with his research having a particular emphasis on Israel and Palestine). In 2009, David was co-editor of the acclaimed book Making the Most of the Water We Have, which was the first book to comprehensively present and apply the water soft path approach. He was educated in geology and economics, and has had an advisory role with several Canadian non-governmental organizations related to fresh water. His career has included working for the International Development Research Centre and International Institute for Sustainable Development. He was also the Founding Director of Canada’s Office of Energy Conservation, Principal with the firm of Marbek Resource Consultants Ltd., and a Senior Advisor on Fresh Water at Friends of the Earth Canada.


Laura Brandes: What is your current job and how long have you been there? 

David: As of the end of May 2023, I will be 100% retired, which means resigning from the two groups with which I am currently affiliated. That may appear depressing, but one must take into account that I am now 89 years old, and next February I will turn 90.  I am proud to be associated with two organizations—POLIS and EcoPeace—that have such convening power and that get so much policy work done. Will I remain linked in an informal way? Yes, I will.

Of course, for the past 25 years my focus has been on agricultural water conservation, and that will remain so. I know that drinking water or, perhaps better said, household water is critical, but many people are already working on that. Only a small number of us are working on agricultural water conservation, even though agriculture is responsible for 80% of human use of water in the world (significantly less in Canada).


Laura: When did you work at POLIS?

David: I never did “work” at POLIS, but Oliver and I have been colleagues for many years. At some point, I was appointed to “research associate” status with the POLIS Water Sustainability Project, and that link with POLIS has extended over many years.


Laura: What was your biggest contribution to the work at POLIS? And what were the impacts of that work?

David: This answer is easy. Oliver and I are authors or co-authors, or editors or co-editors, of almost all of the major publications with respect to water soft paths. Some of that work was published by POLIS, but most of it was either book length or in major professional water journals. With a few exceptions (as with the region north of Toronto, where soft path concepts eliminated the need for a major pipeline), our impact has been small. We are still having trouble getting Canadians off the mistaken notion that Canada is water rich. We also need to make conceptual as well as practical differences between the economic First and Third Worlds. I am confident about water soft paths in the First World, but not elsewhere. Our future steps around water soft paths are, at this time, uncertain, and must be distinguished from POLIS’ ongoing success in provincial water policy from a number of perspectives.


Laura: Are there any skills or lessons from your POLIS days that you still carry with you today?  

David: There is a lot to say here, but I think I can summarize by saying that we were naive in thinking that what was almost self-evident to us would also be to other citizens. Also, from when I began working with the International Development Research Centre in the late 1980s, I began to realize how different water was in the Third World from all perspectives, not excluding how much agricultural water was controlled by the small class of rich (read, “politically powerful”) people. The burden of that work remains to be done, but I doubt that it can be generalized as we have done for the First World.


Laura: What adventures have you been on since leaving POLIS? Are there any major milestones—either personally or professionally—that you’d like to share? 

David: 1) You do not have to stop working even if one is no longer formally linked. There are books to read, proposals to comment on, conferences to attend, government work that deserves criticism, and a smaller amount that deserves praise.

2) Though COVID put a real barrier on travel, I was able to maintain my links and intellectual support for EcoPeace, which has offices in Israel, Jordan, and Palestine, and focuses on sustainable transboundary water management. I was able to offer some (if only periodic) contributions to its Green Blue Deal for the Middle East. This is an environmentally focused freshwater policy that has received some recognition from each of the three governments (Jordanian/Palestinian/Israeli).

3)  In addition to this work with EcoPeace, there were a number of publications stemming from collaboration with my long-term colleague Dr. Julie Trottier, including, most recently, a book on water in the West Bank published by UNESCO.

4) I do think that this phase of my life is not likely to continue. However, non-professional work can continue by finding something else to interest you.  In my case, this is “secondary research” (based on earlier literature, not the initial Hebrew or Aramaic) on Jewish Biblical-era literature, such as the prophets, lesser known books in the Bible, and those things that did not make it into the Hebrew Bible. They can all be turned into adult education and, if you are lucky, a publication here and there.


Laura: Do you have any favourite POLIS memories you’d like to share?

David: In 2022, I was able to meet up with Oliver in Sidney, B.C. when my wife Toby and I were in town to celebrate the birth of our great grandson.

POLIS Project Lead Oliver Brandes and longtime POLIS advisor David Brooks in Sidney, B.C. in 2022