The Great Lakes region is defined by water. The lakes are an important international resource, representing 84 percent of North America’s surface fresh water and approximately 21 percent of the world’s supply of surface fresh water.1 They supply drinking water to more than 30 million people in the US and Canada, roughly 10 percent of the US population and 30 percent of the Canadian population.2 The Great Lakes are also an economic powerhouse. If the Great Lakes region were its own country, its GDP would be $6 trillion.3
Water is the foundation of the region’s identity, and is essential to its environmental, economic, and cultural fabric. Regional leaders have long understood the value of water and have a proven track record of working together to protect and preserve water resources.
While the Great Lakes is a place rich in water resources, it is also the location of some of the most serious water crises in recent American history. Residents in communities along the shores of the Great Lakes are living with the effects of inaction. They have endured homes and businesses submerged under water, water delivery systems that are unsuitable, and beaches that are unsafe for families to enjoy. It is time to accelerate the work to create a sustainable water future for all communities in the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes One Water Partnership is a multi-year, basin-wide initiative focused on engaging shoreline community foundations as a force multiplier to advance a new era of water management to benefit people and businesses in the Great Lakes Basin. A project team, led by the Council of Michigan Foundations, will partner with a group of community foundations. They will advance collaborative water projects to help secure a sustainable water future for the region by improving the natural and the built water infrastructures that manage and transport water.
Over a four-year period, the Great Lakes One Water Partnership will bring together community foundations and their local leaders, inject financial and intellectual capital, drive technology innovation, and create a shared, basin-wide communications strategy for the Great Lakes that will build the public will for support and advancement of new solutions. The regional teams of foundations and their local partners will advance water infrastructure plans to improve health, economic development, and equity in their communities. The project team will support the community foundations and their partners as they implement community-based and regional solutions for long-term, equitable access to clean, healthy water resources.
Great Lakes Protection Fund is a private, nonprofit corporation formed in 1989 by the governors of the Great Lakes states. It is a permanent environmental endowment that supports collaborative actions to improve the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem. To date, the Fund has made 271 grants and program-related investments representing over $81 million to support the creative work of collaborative teams that test new ideas, take risks, and share what they learn. The Fund is contributing $1 million to the Great Lakes One Water Partnership.
Build the capacity of community foundations as force multipliers for progress on the most pressing water challenges across the Great Lakes. Community foundations have a unique role and opportunity to be unifying forces and trusted partners for change. Water issues are complex and diverse stakeholders need to be engaged to drive progress in water. By building capacity at community foundations to be unifying forces and powerful communicators around water issues, the Great Lakes One Water Partnership will catalyze progress across the Great Lakes region, multiplying results beyond what could be achieved independently.
- Generate community support at all levels for timely and comprehensive action. Proactively addressing water issues before a crisis occurs requires collaboration between philanthropic, governmental, business, indigenous people, and community leaders. The community foundations, supported by the Great Lakes One Water Partnership, are in a unique position to coalesce and draw on the intellect and leadership in their regions, engage the public, and build political will to act with urgency on regional water issues.
- Deploy best practices for streamlining and assembling partners, for technology and risk management, and public-private-nonprofit partnerships. The Great Lakes One Water Partnership offers the six participating regions a structured approach for identifying and deployment of best practices across several key areas. With the rapid evolution of technology in water management, advances in financing and cost structures, and new models for public-private-nonprofit partnerships, the regions will be able to access valuable information and expertise through the structure of the Great Lakes One Water Partnership that otherwise would not be available to them.
Project Team and Advisors
A dynamic, cross-disciplinary team with deep local and national expertise has been assembled to guide this effort:
- The Council of Michigan Foundations serves as the project lead and fiscal agent;
- A Blue-Ribbon Committee of regional and national experts provides insight on key water issues;
- US Water Alliance leads strategic communications efforts;
- Public Sector Consultants serves the project manager and evaluator; and
- Sheila Leahy and Sarah Kafka will serve as the field manager and liaison to the community foundations.