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This essay describes the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's approach to evaluation in its Environment Program. This approach was grantee-centric, shaped by the varied needs of nonprofits in the environment field as well as the Foundation's decision to spend down all assets by 2020 – which limited the number of years available to conduct evaluations and put new lessons to use. The Environment Program funded grantees to evaluate work they deemed critical to their missions or to build organizational capacity to conduct ongoing learning and evaluation. Knowledge gained through grantee activities informed their internal improvement efforts as well as the Foundation's grantmaking decisions.Seven examples illustrate the range of nonprofit learning and evaluation efforts supported by the Foundation. These experiences surfaced challenges as well as recommendations, presented later in this essay, that might be instructive to other environment funders who value learning and evaluation as means to greater impact.
California's water system supports nearly 40 million people, the world's fifth largest economy, diverse natural ecosystems, and one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Yet this critical system is under significant stress: Californians face increased water scarcity, declining water quality, greater flood risk, and the deteriorating health of ecosystems.Promising solutions exist, and there are many examples of innovation and collaboration to address the state's water challenges. However, the speed and scale of change are often limited by a lack of cohesion in practices, fragmented institutions, complex technical challenges, under-resourced nonprofits, and the lack of political will. In this context, between 2009 and 2020, the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation awarded more than $130 million in program funds to support California's transition to a more sustainable water future.Grants were orchestrated within three interconnected strategies: building knowledge to improve decisions, pursuing integrated solutions to complex challenges, and engaging more funders. These strategies spurred progress on interrelated goals involving groundwater management, flood protection, stormwater and urban resilience, drinking water quality, and open data. Foundation grants also helped bring forward billions of dollars in new public funding as well as more than $400 million in new philanthropic capital.Milestones achieved are transforming how California manages water. This impact was the product of difficult, dedicated effort by many individuals, organizations, and coalitions committed to change. Their progress was aided by public attention and desire for solutions emanating from an historic, extreme drought. Their work was supported by flexible risk capital and capacity-building outlays for the water field provided by philanthropy.This brief further describes the primary strategies, outcomes, and takeaways from the Foundation's water program. While drawn from one grantmaker's experience in California, this content can have broad relevance to practitioners, policymakers, and funders everywhere who seek a secure water future for people and nature.
The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's water program is rooted in the belief that California can manage its water to meet the needs of people and nature – but only if these needs are considered together and only if management strategies jointly address surface water, groundwater, water quality, and flood protection challenges.The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation envisions a California that manages, stewards, and conserves its water and land to support a resilient environment and healthy communities. This snapshot, prepared as the Foundation nears conclusion in 2020, documents essential aspects of the Environment Program's water portfolio.
The California Environmental Flows Framework (CEFF) provides an approach for determining ecological flow criteria and guidance for developing environmental flow recommendations that can accommodate a variety of stream types and biological communities, while supporting regulatory and management agency programs aimed at protecting beneficial uses for aquatic life. CEFF applies a Functional Flows approach and provides ecological flow criteria based on the natural variability of ecologically-relevant functional flow metrics. It provides a process for considering physical and biological constraints within a stream system and provides guidance on developing environmental flow recommendations that balance ecological and water management objectives.
The 2020 Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum virtual sessions are exploring what constitutes good water governance through the lenses of water affordability and equity. While this topic was chosen prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the pandemic has further revealed and exacerbated health and financial disparities across racial, gender, and geographic lines. The first virtual session explored the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on urban water utilities. The second session focused on the unique water affordability and equity challenges present in rural communities, colonias, and tribal nations. The third session explored federal assistance programs related to food and energy, and taxes that have been developed to support low-income Americans struggling with poverty. The last three sessions explore the roles and responsibilities of local (September 28), state (this session), and federal governments (November 16) in ensuring the equity and affordability of water services.
Rosedale–Rio Bravo Water Accounting and Trading Platform: A pilot project advancing sustainable groundwater managementOctober 7, 2020
For the first time in California's history, local groundwater agencies are required to balance groundwater supply and demand by 2040 and 2042 to create a more resilient water system for generations to come.Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District (Rosedale) has co-developed the first open-source water accounting and trading platform in the Central Valley to address this challenge.As California transitions into a new era of groundwater management, this platform will help Rosedale's stakeholders — and others who would like to adopt the open-source tool — to sustainably manage their precious groundwater resources.
The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research.PPIC delivers actionable, fact-based research to help the state find practical responses to a range of policy challenges. Publications range from one-page fact sheets to comprehensive, in-depth reports. The PPIC Water Policy Center spurs innovative water management solutions that support a healthy economy, environment, and society.
Five foundations from across the state, known as the Community Foundation Water Initiative, have been working since 2015 to advance sustainable water management solutions. The Initiative partnered with Local Government Commission to develop a report on the Equitable Integration of Water and Land Use which was released in 2019. Shortly following the report, each foundation selected one nonprofit in their region to advance the report's regional recommendations and statewide strategies while building local capacity for coordination. This cohort of five NGOs collaborated for an entire year, culminating their work in this guide.
The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation invests in capacity building to enhance the effectiveness of our water and land grantees and enhance the systems and structures surrounding their work.The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation envisions a California that manages, stewards, and conserves its water and land to support a resilient environment and healthy communities. This snapshot, prepared as the Foundation nears conclusion in 2020, documents a core strategy within its Environment Program.
The Nature Conservancy's scientists in California are working to inform, influence, and inspire conservation in today's human-dominated world, to build a future in which people and nature thrive together. California is one of the most hydrologically altered landscapes in the world. As water becomes ever more scarce and the human population continues to grow, that vast engineered system strains to meet the needs of people let alone the needs of nature. Water rights allocations far exceed actual surface water supply, and millions of wells tap groundwater to meet the increasing demands of farms and communities. As groundwater reservoirs are depleted they can in turn reduce surface flows – exacerbating a vicious cycle in which people and nature both lose. Rivers, wetlands and groundwater-dependent ecosystems are caught in this struggle for an increasingly limited resource. Nearly half of California's roughly 4,000 freshwater species are considered vulnerable to extinction. Of the taxa that are found nowhere but California – our endemic freshwater biodiversity – 90 percent are at risk. But there is hope. While it is impossible to return natural flows to most of California's rivers and streams, we can – through science, technology, and innovative market tools – endeavor to deliver water when and where nature needs it most. This collection features The Nature Conservancy's publications on freshwater sytems in California.
Improving statewide conservation systems is hard in any scenario, and especially so in a time-limited circumstance. The S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation's intent to conclude operations, with an end date ultimately set for 2020, meant there might be limited chances for emerging innovations to align with political will and receptivity to new policy. Nevertheless, with a tolerance for risk, the Foundation made significant investments to help the field develop new approaches that could carry conservation efforts forward even as the Foundation ended its role as a major funder in California.
The Environment Program's water portfolio supports California's transition to a sustainable water system that meets the needs of people and nature. Achieving this transition will depend on effective networks of local, regional, and statewide organizations able to demonstrate solutions and build constituencies of support.The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation envisions a California that manages, stewards, and conserves its water and land to support a resilient environment and healthy communities. This snapshot, prepared as the Foundation nears conclusion in 2020, documents essential aspects of an Environment Program initiative.