$35 million investment will support urgent restoration priorities in the Colorado River Basin and Mississippi River Delta
The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) announced investments totaling $35 million to support the restoration and long-term health of the Colorado River Basin and the Mississippi River Delta. These investments are part of a larger five-year strategy to preserve healthy, flowing rivers and sustain the farmers, fishermen, businesses, families and wildlife that depend on them.
“The Colorado and the Mississippi are two of our greatest rivers, and they and the communities that depend on them are under serious threats,” said Rob Walton, board member and chair of the environment committee for WFF. “We are at a critical inflection point – the decisions made in the next few years will determine the long-term environmental and economic viability of both of these regions.”
Grants included in the investments announced today will support coalitions that include National Wildlife Federation, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana in the Mississippi River delta; American Rivers, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in the Colorado River basin; and Environmental Defense Fund and National Audubon Society in both regions.
Colorado River Basin
WFF has dedicated $20 million over the next two years in an effort to create a more flexible, effective water management system in the Colorado River Basin and improve the overall health of the Colorado River. The lower basin was recently named the most endangered river in the nation by the conservation group American Rivers. The Colorado River is indispensable to the prosperity of the Southwest. It provides water to almost 40 million people in several of the country’s fastest-growing cities. It irrigates more than 5 million acres of farmland, with agriculture and animal production from counties served by Colorado River water resulting in upward of $5 billion in sales.
“Water management is an important and pressing issue for the state of Arizona, and one that has been a top priority,” Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said. “It impacts our economy, our quality of life, our environment and our ability to continue to grow and thrive. This significant investment will amplify and expand efforts underway along the Colorado River.”
“Coloradans know the importance of protecting our precious rivers and streams. Water is essential to our western way of life,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “The Walton Family Foundation’s investment aligns with the goals of the Colorado Water Plan in ensuring water security, promoting sustainability, supporting agriculture and more. This investment is an example of the collaboration necessary to find pragmatic solutions to these issues and make sure these rivers are healthy for generations to come.”
In the face of drastic water shortages, policymakers, water managers and others in the region agree about the urgent need for water management reform. The foundation’s efforts focus on channeling this shared urgency to achieve important agreements that address ongoing water shortages and provide long-term solutions for the benefit of people and the river.
In the Lower Colorado River, WFF-funded efforts support:
Renewing the binational Colorado River agreement between the U.S. and Mexico to improve water management in both countries,
Ensuring California meets it commitment to fund and achieve mitigation to the shrinking Salton Sea, and
Partner with Arizona to manage its scarce water resources through pro-active conservation programs.
In the Upper Colorado River, WFF-funded efforts support:
Securing long-term public funding to protect and improve river health and secure the reliability of Colorado’s water supply, and
Advancing the development of an Upper Basin market-based water bank program that benefits rivers.
Core to all of this work, the foundation supports on-the-ground restoration of river health in “proof point” tributaries including the San Pedro River, Verde River, the Escalante River, the Gila River and the Colorado River Delta.
What others leaders are saying about the importance of a sustainable Colorado River:
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
“Water is one of our most important resources out here in the west, but it’s a limited one. The time is now to secure our water future, and it will take collaboration and innovation to protect assets like the Colorado River Basin and the livelihoods of the Coloradans it supports. Investments in the health, resiliency and sustainability of our precious water resources ensures our water security and the future of the Colorado River.”
Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Indian Community
“Working on a sustainable Colorado River is fostering a cultural, spiritual, and meaningful awakening of our culture. This announcement is welcome news at a critical juncture in the effort to protect the Colorado River and secure our water future.”
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton
“Forward-thinking partnerships are essential to continuing the long-standing Arizona tradition of advancing smart water policy. The Walton Family Foundation’s significant and meaningful commitment to Colorado River system conservation shows how we can work together to safeguard against climate change and the continued drought that is directly impacting Lake Mead.”
Mississippi River Delta
WFF will dedicate approximately $15 million over two years to support restoration projects that will stem the devastating land loss crippling the coast of Louisiana, where every hour a football field worth of land disappears into the Gulf of Mexico. The loss of wetlands and coastal habitat has left the region vulnerable to storms and rising sea levels.
“New Orleans is a coastal city whose future depends on fixing decades of damage due to the cutting of canals, subsidence, and erosion,” said Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu. “We’re at an even greater risk due to sea level rise. Repairing what has been lost is not just important for Louisiana, but our country’s economy and security depends on our ports to transport goods, our seafood to eat and our oil and gas to fuel the nation. Together, we can build a better future for our coast, our people and the nation.”
The combination of bipartisan support for science-based solutions and funding for restoration means the region is ripe for meaningful, lasting change. The foundation’s investments will capitalize on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by supporting three core efforts:
Advance priority restoration projects and programs from the recently approved Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, with a target construction date of 2020;
Protect and maximize available restoration funds, develop innovative funding mechanisms and ensure funds are spent on restoration projects; and
Address future challenges through advances in science, modelling and mapping capabilities.
These efforts will ensure meaningful restoration of wetlands, oyster reefs, barrier islands and other coastal habitats that sustain the region’s critical seafood and tourism industries, and protects the city and port of New Orleans from devastating storms. The coast is home to a $34 billion tourism industry and 40 percent of all seafood harvested in the lower 48 states comes from the Gulf.
About the Walton Family Foundation and its Environment Initiatives
At the Walton Family Foundation, we believe that conservation solutions that make economic sense stand the test of time. We work to achieve lasting change by creating new and unexpected partnerships among conservation, business and community interests to build durable solutions to important problems.
Through its environment initiatives, the foundation is investing in two of the most important conservation issues of our time: restoring the health of the oceans through sustainable fisheries and preserving functioning rivers and the quality and availability of fresh water they provide. This work spans four initiatives: Oceans, Colorado River, Mississippi River and Coastal Gulf of Mexico. Learn more at: http://www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org.
This initial investment represents the first of what the foundation said will amount to more than $100 million by 2020. The foundation has also pledged $15 million to support the restoration of the Mississippi River Delta…
“The Colorado River basin is arguably one of the most important in the country, if not in the world,” Rice said. “And we use more than the river provides. We need to figure out how to do more with less water.”
The $20 million will be allocated toward different groups across the upper and lower river basins, including advocacy organizations such as American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation.
Ted Kowalski, Colorado River initiative lead for the Walton Family Foundation , said helping sustain the river is crucial to supporting both the environment and the economy.
“If you look at the last 17 years, we’ve seen a remarkable drought,” Kowalski said. “It’s the longest and worst since the turn of the 20th century. It’s one of the worst we’ve ever seen. If we were to see a drought like 2012, the reservoirs would continue to decline.”
While the region would take a huge economic hit, Kowalski said the environmental cost would be worse, and work in the region should be about preventing these problems rather than combating them head on.
“The environment would be the biggest loser,” Kowalski said. “We want to hold hydrology not in the throes, but in advance of this crisis.”