The Nature Conservancy

Protecting the Source: Water Funds for Nature and People Highly Ranked

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Half of all people live in places where their water sources are being degraded or used up faster than they are being replenished. And when the taps run dry, the most economically disadvantaged people are disproportionally affected.The Nature Conservancy has a tested solution to address this water crisis. Water funds help cities by restoring the watersheds they depend on, they help rural communities by directing resources to improve livelihoods and they benefit nature by protecting habitat. We have successfully launched 34 water funds around the world.With a backlog of partners asking for help, we must scale up. Through 100&Change, we can bring this proven solution to a tipping point by empowering 300 cities—10 times our current portfolio—to begin implementing water funds. Along the way, we’ll improve water supplies for 70 million people, help 150,000 rural people improve their livelihoods and protect 2 million hectares of habitat.

Problem Statement

Our planet is in a water crisis. In 2018, Cape Town came within 90 days of “day zero,” when the city’s taps would be turned off. In 2019, Chennai—India’s sixth-largest city—has essentially run out of water. These are not isolated incidents. Nearly half of the world’s watersheds are unhealthy, threatening approximately 1.7 billion people living in cities. Places from Mexico City to Beijing have experienced severe water stress, with the most economically disadvantaged people disproportionally affected. Poor water management has historically been a root cause of water insecurity in cities. Relationships between the many jurisdictions that govern watersheds are complex, and effective solutions require collaboration. Rising pressure to feed the world is rapidly turning forests and grasslands into farmland and increasing demand for water. Small-scale farmers are simply looking for effective ways to improve productivity and livelihoods. Nature can play an outsized role in improving water security. Watersheds are a hidden piece of a city’s natural infrastructure, collecting and filtering water while providing numerous benefits including food, habitat and climate-change mitigation. However, cities spend most of their water supply budgets building filtration plants or moving huge volumes of water over vast distances. But New York City famously made relatively modest investments to conserve the Catskills watershed and avoided building a treatment plant that would have cost up to $10 billion to construct. Today the city boasts the largest unfiltered water supply in North America. Nature is a powerful solution for water security, but it is frequently overlooked.

Solution Overview

Four in five cities can improve their water supplies through nature-based solutions, like upstream forest restoration and improved farming practices [2]. Water funds create a way for cities to protect their watersheds cost-effectively and efficiently. Once launched, they become self-sustaining through local public and private funding, making them incredibly high-leverage philanthropic investments. Our track record to date is 6:1 leverage for every philanthropic dollar raised. The impacts from our portfolio are significant. Water funds work for rural farmers like Mama Christine, who lives in Mung’etho village outside Nairobi. After she harvested rainwater with technology made available through the Nairobi water fund, Mama Christine’s tomato crop was so successful she expanded it the next year and is now paying for her daughter’s education with her profits—all while reducing soil erosion from her farm. Water funds also work for cities. In San Antonio, Texas, we’ve helped communities protect the Edwards Aquifer, conserving nearly 50,000 hectares of green space and reducing bacteria and nitrogen in the water supplies for 2 million people. TNC research indicates that 1,000 cities could be employing nature-based solutions with a positive return on investment [2]. We will reach a tipping point by applying three interdependent strategies to empower 300 “early adopter” cities, equivalent to 10 times our current portfolio, to implement nature-based solutions. By 2025, we will provide 70 million people with better water security, reach 150,000 people to help improve their livelihoods, and protect 2 million hectares of watersheds in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

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Project Funders

  • The Coca-Cola Company and Its Bottlers 2009 - 2020
  • Inter-American Development Bank

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