Clean, reliable water lets communities prosper and ecosystems thrive. Unfortunately, millions of people lack access to safe drinking water, many of our rivers, lakes, and wetlands are in peril, and water’s benefits are unevenly shared. The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) offer a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform how our nation’s water resources and systems are managed, and who they serve—in ways that advance environmental, health, justice, and climate goals.
For philanthropy, this public funding represents a call to action: support a growing national movement to ensure that water meets the needs of people and nature in the face of climate change.
The Water Solutions Fund responds to this call by pooling and aligning philanthropic resources and working with the field to ensure that the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and IRA realize their full promise by focusing on power, policy, and projects.
Policy. Federal and state policy and program design ensure transparent, equitable, and effective implementation of water-related infrastructure funding—and shape future federal investment patterns.
Projects. Innovative projects across the country demonstrate how water infrastructure can support human and environmental health, and community development.
Power. Local and regional leaders shape the design and implementation of infrastructure programs and projects and grow the influence of a community-led movement for water.
About the Work
Across the country, there are creative networks, coalitions, organizations, and leaders building a better water future for people and nature. The Water Solutions Fund provides organizations with holistic support to respond to urgent needs and build for long-term impact.
Philanthropy is supporting work to use infrastructure dollars to improve policy, advance projects, and build power. Funders contribute resources to the Water Solutions Fund in different ways: directing funding through the Water Foundation in order to take advantage of its staff, political experience, and lobbying capacity (pooled); or making grants directly, while learning and coordinating alongside other funders (aligned). To maximize efficiency and simplicity for grantees, funders commit to coordinate and streamline grant proposals and reports whenever possible.
The Water Solutions Fund is made possible by the Water Table, a philanthropic collaborative that delivers coordinated resources for a sustainable and equitable water future in the US.
The Water Equity and Climate Resilience Caucus, anchored by PolicyLink, represents a first of its kind coalition of water, climate, and environmental justice advocates. Since its establishment in 2018, it has grown to a national network of nearly 100 members and allies across the US, with significant representation in cities in the South, West, and Great Lakes regions. Together, Caucus leaders set strategy, build power and policy momentum, and advance change for their communities. The Caucus is leveraging community expertise to drive federal and state policy change to lead to more equitable water projects and policy.
In order to realize synergies with other philanthropic infrastructure, and to expand the reach of its network, the Water Solutions Fund partnered with Mosaic to support twelve organizations that were identified through Mosaic’s national request for proposals. These organizations are supporting early stage pre-planning and power-building on green infrastructure, flood resilience, drinking water and water quality, and forest, river, and wetlands restoration.
Trends & Insights
Through conversations with leaders and grantees, the Water Solutions Fund has found that:
- Many organizations are addressing power dynamics, but not all organizations are in direct relationship with marginalized communities and community leaders. To help draw this distinction, the Water Solutions Fund will work more closely with grantees to designate which organizations have those direct relationships.
- Power and communications capacity are highly related. Some organizations are working with film makers and storytellers, others have investigative journalists on staff. Others work directly with media outlets to ensure that frontline community members are telling their own stories. Most are excited about the potential for capturing a range of examples to be able to tell a collective story about the impact of the water infrastructure investments.
In March 2023, the Water Solutions Fund asked grantee organizations the following question: To what degree are you working directly with marginalized communities to build power? Who do you rely on or partner with to build power? For results on these questions and more, please see the 2023 Survey—Preliminary Results.
The Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership published a report on barriers to accessing federal funding for watershed-scale restoration that it and its partners have used in conversations with the Bureau of Reclamation, Forest Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service to advocate for changes in program design, structure, priorities, and execution.
Headwaters Economics has been actively engaging with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, publishing an analysis of its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program that showed that interior states are struggling to win those resources and improving access for rural communities.
Trends & Insights
Through conversations with partners and allies, the Water Solutions Fund has learned that policy engagement is primarily focused on improving the efficiency and accessibility of water funding programs—especially for communities with the greatest need.
Permitting reform is an area of intense debate, with interest in accelerating a clean energy transition in conjunction with the Inflation Reduction Act and reducing regulatory hurdles for good projects, but also protecting frontline communities and ensuring equity in the distribution of the impacts of infrastructure development.
Many organizations and coalitions are calling for transparency around where funding has gone in relation to stated funding priorities, especially Justice 40—a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of federal investments flow to communities that have been marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution and climate change.
In early 2023, the Water Solutions Fund asked grantees the following question: To what degree are you focused on policy and program reform? What federal funding programs are most relevant to your organization’s work? Who do you partner with on policy and program reform? Find more here.
Trout Unlimited has secured more than $100 million in infrastructure funding to support watershed restoration, fish passage improvements, abandoned mine cleanups, and water supply projects in partnership with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Funding supports collaboration with other federal and state agencies, Tribes, local communities, and private landowners on rivers and streams from the Columbia to the Potomac.
Communities across the country working in partnership with the Anthropocene Alliance (A2) won $3.7 million in grants for green infrastructure and climate resilience projects from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 2022. In 2023, they have helped partners submit 13 pre-proposals to the NFWF National Coastal Resilience Fund on behalf of 48 A2 members across 16 states, as well as four applications for the EPA Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving Grant, on behalf of nine community-based organizations.
Trends & Insights
Through conversations with a range of leaders, the Water Solutions Fund has found that:
- There is a substantial amount of federally funded and philanthropic funded technical assistance. These resources are essential for communities to access federal funding, and future work should focus on leveraging and optimizing these programs.
- Many organizations are creating standard templates and processes and making those resources available—this can help communities to replicate success and reduce the administrative burden of federal funding, but the most effective technical assistance support also helps communities use those resources and walks with them through the federal process.
The Water Solutions Fund asked grantee organizations the following question: To what degree are you developing projects or providing technical assistance? What federal funding programs are most relevant to your organization’s work? What technical assistance providers do you turn to for projects? Find more here.
The Water Foundation administers grants from the pooled fund and supports grantmaking strategies of aligned funders; aligned funders make their own grants. Grants are structured to provide flexible resources that allow grantees to navigate complexity and adapt to changing context.
Coordination & Learning
On an ongoing basis, partners in the Water Solutions Fund share resources (knowledge, relationships, etc.), provide strategic counsel, and cultivate additional financial support for water infrastructure. The Water Foundation connects with aligned funders, contributors to the pooled fund, and grantees to get their strategic advice; discuss evolving opportunities, pivots, and lessons learned; receive updates; and help identify new partners. The Water Foundation also surveys funder and grantee partners to develop and maintain a map of the funding landscape and track trends.
The Water Solutions Fund tracks the funding that philanthropic partners move directly to advance goals aligned with the broad aim of maximizing the ecological and equity impacts of the water-related investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
In early 2023, we surveyed funders to assess rough grant trends, focusing on how much money has been granted to support the field with implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and IRA, how many organizations are receiving support, and where that support touches ground.
As a complement to aligned funding, the Water Foundation administers a pooled fund designed to rapidly assess the grantee and political landscape and respond quickly to field needs. It also provides collective resources for grantees and projects that might not otherwise match individual funder priorities. The Water Foundation considers proposals for pooled funding on a rolling basis.
To inform pooled fund grants, the Water Foundation:
- Regularly meets with leaders working across the country to implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the IRA to learn about what is working and where there are challenges;
- Conducts focused interviews with grantees to understand how philanthropy can best support movement leaders;
- Surveys aligned funders to understand where philanthropic resources are being targeted and where there might be gaps; and
- Surveys grantees to identify core capacities and new partners.
The Water Foundation uses this input to award grants that can help generate near-term wins while positioning partners to build capacity to engage in this work over the long term.
In the spring of 2022, California Environmental Associates (CEA) assessed the 148 water-related programs in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Their analysis showed that these programs received appropriations of $320.4B with additional authorizations of $45.2B. Most of the appropriated funding went to existing programs, much to "formula" programs that distribute resources via the states, with just under 9% allocated to new programs.
CEA's 2023 review of the Inflation Reduction Act identified 46 water-related programs totaling $85.6B in appropriated funding, primarily within the USDA and EPA. The Inflation Reduction Act legislation generated 20 new water-related programs, most of which prioritize integrated issues like climate resilience and green infrastructure. Those programs run primarily through competitive federal grants or direct federal spending.
The Water Foundation uses this information to award grants that advance projects, support advocacy on key policy targets, and position grantees to grow capacity as needed to engage in this work over the long term.