This document offers a blueprint for collaborative and expanded philanthropic action to advance sustainable water management at a scale never before attempted in the water field. The blueprint was developed by the Water Funder Initiative (WFI), an effort launched by a group of foundations that recognizes the urgent need to solve water problems. WFI is a collaborative initiative to identify and activate promising water solutions through strategic philanthropic investments in the United States, starting in the West where scarcity and reliability of clean water are urgent issues.
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and below ground - simply cannot be sustained, nor can we continue operating with deteriorating infrastructure and outdated policies that further jeopardize human communities and freshwater ecosystems.
Philanthropy can - and must - play a more pivotal role in addressing 21st century water challenges. Effective, strategic, and collaborative grantmaking already has made a difference by advancing critical policy reforms and new water management practices in some places. But with the pressures intensifying, now is the time for the field to rapidly scale up this progress and transform our relationship with water from reactive crisis management to long-term sustainability.
WFI is starting with a focus on the American West, where nearly a third of the nation's people and GDP depend on increasingly unreliable water supplies. In this region, as in many other parts of the world, risks are rising for cities, rural economies, low-income communities, recreational industries, and natural freshwater systems. Although the 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.