Invest in Watershed Protection

Resources for Building Water Funds

Why Water Quality Matters to You:

The health of our forests and the resiliency of our watershed ecosystems are in jeopardy. Our cities continue to grow, while our water quality and supplies diminish. Currently one in ten people worldwide lack access to clean water and by the year 2025 two thirds of the world will live in water stressed areas. It’s estimated that 40% of the watersheds we depend on for our drinking water are impaired.

In the western United States, one of the greatest threats to water quality is wildfire. In recent years, massive wildfires have ravaged Colorado’s forests including the forests in the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson watersheds. The sediment and ash that pours into our rivers and streams after a large wildfire can adversely affect water quality and aquatic life for months. The cost to downstream communities in insured losses, fire suppression and disaster relief reaches hundreds of millions of dollars.

You Can be Part of the Solution:

We have the knowledge, experience, and ability to restore our forests to a healthier state, reduce the threat of wildfire and protect our water sources.  Watershed investment programs, also known as water funds, are our best chance to protect the natural resources our survival depends on, so that we can enjoy clean and plentiful water for generations to come.

Working together everyone wins

What is a Water Fund? A water fund is a mutually beneficial partnership between the downstream communities who depend on water and the people upstream who manage the land.  Through the water fund mechanism, water users invest in the restoration of the lands that produce the water they depend on.  Water funds provide a unique opportunity to bring diverse groups of water users together to achieve the common goal of protecting our greatest resource – water.

Tools for Success:

For the past 16 years The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been uniting public and private stakeholders around the world to protect water quality and security using nature-based solutions.  Through more than 120 local partnerships across 10 countries TNC has helped build more than 30 water funds with another 40 in development.   To support and encourage the creation of additional water funds, TNC and its partners have created a “Toolbox” to guide participants on how to scope, design and operate water funds.

The Toolbox was designed by water fund practitioners for practitioners. It is abundant with detailed information and real world examples for each step of the water fund process – from conception through maturation.  In addition to providing a step-by-step guide for building a water fund, the toolbox also gives us access to state-of-the-art curriculum and connects us to the global community of professionals working to apply and refine the water fund model.

What are the basic steps to building a water fund? The Nature Conservancy and their partners have standardized a 5-Step process for developing a water fund so that anyone interested in becoming a champion of water security can do so in a coordinated and strategic manner.  The steps include Feasibility, Design, Creation, Operation, and Maturity.  Following this 5 phase project cycle will greatly enhance your chances of developing a successful water fund.

TNC's 5 Step Process for Developing a Water Fund

Shared Characteristics of Water Funds

No two water funds will ever be exactly alike due to the differences that exist in local environments and the varying contexts under which funds are built. However, there are characteristics common among all water funds; TNC defines these as Governance, Science, Finance, Implementation and Communications.

  • Governance must be collaborative and local.
  • Decisions must be Science based.
  • Finance must be long term.
  • Implementation on-site must be monitored and the management adaptive.
  • Communications must be strategic and continuous.

WRI's Protecting Drinking Water at the SourceLearning from Experience

Sharing knowledge saves time and money.  Researchers from World Resources Institute and Colorado State University made a considerable investment of their time between 2013 and 2016 analyzing 13 successful watershed investment programs across the United States. Their comprehensive report, Protecting Drinking Water at the Source, acts as a road map to help guide conservationists in the planning and implementing of natural infrastructure projects. They identify common approaches, underlying conditions, and provide insight into the challenges and solutions faced by water fund professionals.  This indispensable resource details the lessons learned from each phase of watershed investment program development and, like TNC’s Toolbox, gives us real world examples to further promote the success of new projects here at home and abroad.

Why We All Win with Water Funds

Working together to restore and protect our forests and watersheds for the future matters now.  By investing in watersheds today, we will protect and enhance nature’s ability to provide clean and abundant water, healthy food, productive soils, carbon storage, wildlife habitat and inspiring open spaces for everyone to enjoy tomorrow and in the years to come.