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. Funding policy and programs are not keeping up with the pace and scale of these challenges. The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act 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 new 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 realizes its full promise by focusing on policy, projects, and power.
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 Fund
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.
Funders contribute resources to the Water Solutions Fund in different ways: pooling funds through the Water Foundation in order to take advantage of its staff, political experience, and lobbying capacity; or aligning funds and making grants directly, while learning and coordinating alongside other funders. To maximize efficiency and simplicity for grantees, funders commit to coordinate and streamline grant proposals and reports whenever possible.
This effort is made possible by the Water Table, a philanthropic collaborative that works across the US to resolve conflicts over water in ways that benefit both communities and ecosystems. The Water Foundation hosts the Water Table and the Water Solutions Fund.
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 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 is also in the process of surveying funder and grantee partners to develop and maintain a map of the funding landscape.
Grant Strategies & Examples
PolicyThe Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership published a report on barriers to accessing federal funding for watershed-scale restoration that it and its partners are using 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 shows that interior states are struggling to win those resources and making recommendations to improve access for rural communities.
ProjectsTrout Unlimited has secured more than $85 million in infrastructure funding to support watershed restoration, fish passage improvements, abandoned mine cleanups, and water supply projects in partnership with the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Funding will support 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 won $3.7 million in grants for green infrastructure and climate resilience projects from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and have another $2 million in federal funding proposals pending.
Funders participate in the Water Solutions Fund by either aligning funds to shared priorities (making grants directly) and coordinating with other funders, or pooling funds through the Water Foundation.
Over the summer of 2022, the Water Foundation surveyed Water Solutions Fund partners to assess rough grant trends, focusing on how much money has been granted to support the field with implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, how many organizations are receiving support, and where that support touches ground. The information here represents initial estimates intended to inform discussions and decision-making in 2022 and 2023.
As part of the Water Solutions Fund, and 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 available for grantees and projects that might not otherwise match individual funder priorities.
To inform a first round of pooled fund grants, the Water Foundation met with more than 40 leaders working across the country to implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. In April 2022, the Water Table met with leaders in Washington, DC to discuss the opportunity to capitalize on this moment to transform how US water systems work and who they serve.
Takeaways from those conversations include:
- Now is the time for ecological health and equity to take center stage, together.
- Federal agency leaders are ready to partner with the nonprofit field to better move resources quickly and effectively.
- Neighborhoods and regions that have not previously received federal funding will need support to access resources.
In the spring of 2022, the Water Foundation asked California Environmental Associates to assess 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.
In 2022, the Water Foundation used this input to award a first round of grants that advanced key policy targets and positioned grantees to grow capacity as needed to engage in this work over the long term.