Water Funder Initiative

What you should know about the Water Funder Initiative:

Work in progress. Quotes and screenshots are from the blueprint pdf (linked to below) or the WFI website unless otherwise stated. Bolded text, my emphasis.

What is it?

“WFI is a collaborative effort 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.”

This involves several philanthropic foundations looking to create water markets and they’re looking to be involved in California, especially with the Salton Sea, with the Colorado River Delta, and in Arizona.

They published “Toward Water Sustainability: A Blueprint for Philanthropy” in March 2016:
Download executive summary
Download full document 

First Priority Strategy is water markets.


“In many places throughout the West, active markets do not yet exist and thus can be designed from the outset to be flexible, transparent, and effective. In other places, existing markets need to be improved. Philanthropy can help demonstrate the value of beneficial transactions and highlight needed reforms. In addition, funders can support advocacy for healthy trading systems and strong institutions to manage them. A key role for philanthropy is to ensure that enhanced markets and trading serve the needs of disadvantaged communities and the environment.”

Who’s involved:


What are they working on?

“Examples of near-term opportunities” for shaping “healthy markets”:

  • Support policy reform in California and Colorado to increase regulatory flexibility for transactions while protecting against negative impacts to communities and the environment.
  • Expand banking of surface water and groundwater by piloting market mechanisms and supporting water banking efforts in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
  • Support development and testing of voluntary water sharing systems.
  • Advance environmental flow transactions through market approaches that allocate cooling water from decommissioned coal plants to environmental and other water needs, and by shaping how public funding affects environmental flows in Texas and California.
  • Seed the creation of community water trusts to facilitate and engage in water transactions that produce benefits such as environmental flows, lower risks for water users, and new revenue streams for farms and ranches.”

Among “Examples of near-term opportunities” for Water Governance:

  • Support effective implementation of California’s new groundwater laws as well as exploration of promising ways to better manage groundwater in Texas and Arizona.
  • Advance negotiations to provide restoration flows in key habitats, such as the Colorado River Delta, and expand innovative agreements, such as the Colorado River System Conservation Program.

Lower Colorado River Basin Funding Action Plan (snippet)

“These and other conditions, including the ability to build on existing efforts by [Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)] and funders, present an opportunity to develop and implement solutions that will benefit both significant environmental resources, such as wetland habitats at the Salton Sea and Colorado River Delta, and major economic interests, including cities, agriculture, tribes, and industry.
Seizing this moment, the funding action plan for the Lower Colorado River region is aimed at achieving several interrelated agreements to reduce annual over-allocation in a manner that protects and restores critical freshwater-dependent habitats, including:

  • Binational agreement. Through flexible water management, this effort aims to provide flows for the continued restoration of the Colorado River Delta.
  • Salton Sea. This work focuses on an agreement that addresses restoration needs in a manner that provides for flexible water management that responds to changing Colorado River conditions, as well as provides increased opportunity for geothermal development and agricultural diversification in the Imperial Irrigation District.
  • Central Arizona demand. This work centers on an agreement to flexibly manage a portion of the Central Arizona Project’s allocation to agriculture to help re-balance Lake Mead.”

Salton Sea

“Building on California’s $80 million commitment in its 2016-2017 budget and the groundwork laid by the Imperial Irrigation District, President Obama committed $30 million to accelerating habitat and dust suppression projects across 25,000 acres, improving air and water quality, and restoring fish and wildlife habitat.

In support of this agreement, …Water Funder Initiative’s Lower Colorado working group [is] proud to have set a goal of providing $10 million over five years to support implementation of a comprehensive plan to protect public health and the environment, promote drought resilience and encourage renewable energy and restoration efforts at the Salton Sea. We view this potential funding as key to conservation efforts and as an incentive to develop the kind of comprehensive, far-reaching and collaborative plan it will take to solve the Salton Sea crisis.” Solving the Salton Sea crisis – The San Diego Union-Tribune

“At this crucial juncture, we are prepared to aim for $10 million over five years to support implementation of a comprehensive plan to protect public health and the environment, enhance drought resilience, and promote renewable energy and restoration at the Salton Sea. The funding could include loan guarantees, civil society support, private sector engagement, economic diversification programs, and other initiatives that benefit wildlife habitats and local communities.” Water Funder Initiative Foundations Announce a $10 Million Goal for Salton Sea Efforts – The Rockefeller Foundation

Important Notes

Walter “Walt” Reid is on the steering committee. Some things you should know about him are here.

Related Papers

Young, M. 2015. “Unbundling Water Rights: A Blueprint for Development of Robust Water Allocation Systems in the Western United States.” NI R 15-01. Durham, NC: Duke University. http://nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/publications
Also: Peter Culp, Disque Deane Jr., Nicholas Institute. Funding from: Pisces Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Bechtel Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

  • “Unbundling Water Rights” promotes converting water rights into two water markets of shares and allocations
  • advocates for water governance to be in the hands of new boards rather than in the courts
  • modeled on Australian water markets
  • pilot programs in Nevada

2015. “Liquid Assets: Investing for Impact in the Colorado River Basin.” Peter Culp, Encourage Capital, Walton Family Foundation

2015. “Nature’s Value in the Colorado River Basin” Earth Economics, Walton Family Foundation

2011 “Cornerstones Report: Market-Based Responses to Arizona’s Water Sustainability Challenges” Garrick, D., McCoy, A., and Aylward, B. of Ecosystem Economics. Funded by Walton Family Foundation

  • provides recommendations for enabling conditions for water market in AZ
  • promotes water rights adjudication
  • advocates for sever-and-transfer of water rights
  • advocates for a marketplace clearinghouse for water trade