SACRAMENTO — Community leaders, clean water advocates, and the philanthropic community joined Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday, March 22, to announce an initiative that invests in transformative changes to California’s water in the face of climate change. The Drought Resilience Challenge aims to raise at least $30 million in philanthropic funds to support healthier and more resilient communities and watersheds.

“We’re deploying an all-of-the-above approach to support our communities hardest hit by the drought and build a more sustainable future for all Californians,” said Governor Newsom. “With this Drought Resilience Challenge, the philanthropic community can help to ensure that state funding is equitably and effectively implemented, and we look forward to more leaders in the community stepping up to help meet the moment.”

With 2022 beginning with the driest January and February on record, California is bracing for a third year of drought and more unrelenting heat, ferocious wildfires, dried-up wells, toxic tap water, and parched farmland. The lived experience of individuals most affected by drought conditions enables them to best understand, design, and drive durable solutions. These water leaders will stay committed in fighting for — and carrying out — solutions to help their communities. A new philanthropic partnership with the Newsom administration is determined to help frontline communities build capacity and power to protect freshwater ecosystems and ensure that residents can access affordable, safe, and clean drinking water.

“We have the biggest opening we will see in a decade, if not a generation, to advance the basic right to water for people and nature,” said Allison Harvey Turner, CEO of the Water Foundation. “The Drought Resilience Challenge is about thinking beyond the immediate drought crisis into long-term systemic changes that will spur a just, sustainable water future. Communities need to drive decisions about water that affect them. Philanthropy has the imperative and the opening to provide our partners on the ground with the capacity to access and deploy the resources their communities need.”

The state’s recent $37.6 billion commitment to address climate change, which includes more than $5 billion for drought relief and water management, opened a window of opportunity. That state-level support coincides with $3.5 billion from the bipartisan federal infrastructure law that California expects to receive over the next five years for improving California’s water infrastructure and access to clean drinking water. Philanthropy can play a pivotal role in optimizing these public investments, and other public resources, for healthier communities and thriving ecosystems.

The Drought Resilience Challenge aims to raise at least $30 million in pooled and aligned support from philanthropy for three related priorities:

  1. Building community power and grassroots capacity to access public funding for urgent drought relief and long-term resilience and recovery.
  1. Supporting water leaders representing drought-affected communities to design and advance solutions to ongoing drought and a changing climate.
  1. Ensuring that this crisis moment drives a pivot toward systemic solutions for a more just and sustainable water future for California’s ecosystems and communities.

The Drought Resilience Challenge is seeded by a $1.5 million matching gift from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and encourages engagement from water, climate, health, civic engagement, and equity funders.

“Drought resilience is not simply a water issue; it is also an economic development issue, a health issue, a social safety net issue, an equity issue, and a democracy issue,” said Alan Kwok, director of climate and disaster resilience at Northern California Grantmakers. “Frontline leaders in drought-affected communities are tackling multiple community issues at once, and ensuring water resilience in our most affected and often most marginalized communities will require an all-hands-on-deck approach by the funding community.”

Pooled funding for the Drought Resilience Challenge will be housed at and deployed by the Water Foundation, a public foundation leading philanthropic efforts to solve some of toughest water challenges in California and the U.S. more broadly. Founded in California in 2011, the Water Foundation brings grantmaking capacity, expertise on interconnected water issues, deep relationships with partners in the field, and a tested model for deploying resources quickly where they are most needed. The Foundation can accept and regrant funds or work with donors to strategically align their support to the Fund’s priorities via a network of partners throughout the state.