The Water Funder Initiative (WFI), a collaborative to identify and activate promising water solutions through strategic philanthropic investments, has released a blueprint to guide and inspire efforts to make our water systems more balanced, resilient, and sustainable.
WFI is supported and guided by the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation as well as the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, Energy Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Pisces Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, and Water Foundation.
Toward Water Sustainability: A Blueprint for Philanthropy (the “blueprint”) offers a roadmap for collaborative and expanded philanthropic action to advance sustainable water management at a scale never before attempted in the water field.
This document, available at www.waterfunder.org, describes the need and opportunity in water issues and describes the six priority strategies that emerged from the Water Funder Initiative’s consultation with experts and stakeholders.
In addition to outlining roles for funders and examples of near-term opportunities, the blueprint summarizes a set of funding action plans that detail how philanthropy can address high-priority problems.
Water is the essence of life and vital to the well-being of every person, economy, and ecosystem on the planet. But around the globe and here in the United States, water challenges are mounting as climate change, population growth, and other drivers of water stress increase. Public, private, and philanthropic investment in water solutions has not been commensurate with the challenges we face.
This underinvestment has led to heightened conflicts and costly litigation among water users as drought and other extreme weather have caused billions of dollars in damage. Precipitous declines in water supplies—both above and below ground—simply cannot be sustained, nor can we continue operating with deteriorating infrastructure and outdated policies that further jeopardize human communities and freshwater ecosystems.
Recognizing the urgent need to solve water problems at scale, a group of foundations launched WFI, a collaborative effort to identify and activate promising water solutions through strategic philanthropic investments in the U.S., starting in the West where scarcity and reliability of clean water are urgent issues.
Over the past 15 months, WFI has been gathering the most promising ideas from across the American West—and from a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including NGO experts, policymakers, funders, scientists, farmers, attorneys, water utility executives, and others. More than 140 people have contributed through individual interviews and six WFI workshops in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Texas. WFI’s analysis also included an extensive survey of foundation interests and we continue to seek insights from a network as diverse as the West and its water community.
WFI envisions a sustainable water future where:
- Clean water supplies are available for people and nature.
- Freshwater ecosystems are recovering.
- Cities, agriculture, and industry continue to thrive by proactively managing the water supply risks that accompany population growth and a changing climate.
To realize this vision, we must achieve two goals:
- Bring basins into balance for people and nature. We must use existing supplies more carefully so that, over the long term, we use no more water than is available and our supplies support vibrant ecosystems, communities, and economies.
- Strengthen resilience of water systems in a 21st century climate. Extremes are becoming the norm as the planet warms, and many of climate change’s impacts will manifest through the hydrological cycle. Water management systems must be flexible and resilient enough to cope with times of water stress and mitigate risks to water users.
WFI’s expanding network of experts and advisors has identified key areas where targeted and strategic philanthropic investment can advance sustainability:
- Shape healthy water markets: Meet changing needs, reduce over-allocation, and embed social equity and environmental considerations into equitable and transparent markets.
- Develop new funding sources: Expand and diversify funding for sustainable water management and infrastructure, including by properly valuing water.
- Improve water governance: Promote governance structures that reduce over-allocation, protect environmental values, support disadvantaged communities, and respond to climate variability.
- Drive decisions with data: Accelerate the development of open data and information systems to support sustainable management.
- Strengthen communications and build political will: Improve the field’s strategic communications capacity and build the political will and constituencies needed to support water management reforms.
- Accelerate innovation: Accelerate development and deployment of innovative technologies and practices to advance goals in the urban, agricultural, energy, and environmental water sectors.
The American West, where WFI has focused its efforts thus far, is a complex, diverse landscape that ranges from deserts to rainforests and defies any simple definition, but much of the region faces inherent water challenges due to its aridity and highly variable precipitation. Across the region, policymakers, water managers, industry executives, NGO leaders, and others are seeking new ways to meet the water needs of cities, farms, energy providers, and ecosystems sustainably.
Within the West, WFI is focusing on three areas—California, the Colorado River Basin, and Texas—where nearly a third of the nation’s people and GDP depend on increasingly unreliable water supplies. Although WFI’s initial focus is on the American West, many of the approaches are applicable elsewhere in the world and lessons from other regions can help solve water problems confronting the West.
WFI is continuing to work with funders, NGOs, water experts, and a diverse group of stakeholders to develop funding action plans to address the most pressing water challenges. WFI is not a grantmaking institution and does not accept proposals. For more information on WFI, see our website, www.waterfunder.org, which provides the full blueprint, an executive summary, graphics, frequently asked questions, and other resources.