Shoreline communities throughout the Great Lakes basin face many of the same challenges related to water. But solutions vary when it comes those challenges, which include seasonal flooding, aging or inadequate infrastructure and beaches that are unsafe for families to enjoy.
With this in mind, the Council of Michigan Foundations set out in 2018 to engage community foundations in shoreline communities across the basin to advance a new era of water management that will improve water quality and benefit people and businesses.
By building capacity at community foundations to bring people together around water issues, the Great Lakes One Water Partnership catalyzes progress across the region, multiplying results beyond what could be achieved independently. For example, six regional teams organized under the partnership could help educate municipal leaders about green and gray infrastructure or establish flood resiliency planning procedures.
A total of 27 community foundations in Canada and the United States are addressing their local challenges as part of this partnership. The Great Lakes One Water Partnership is a four-year initiative funded by the Great Lakes Protection Fund, The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and The Kresge Foundation.
There are two primary goals:
Generate community support at all levels for timely and comprehensive action around water issues. Proactively addressing water issues before a crisis occurs requires collaboration between philanthropic, governmental, business, indigenous people and community leaders. The community foundations, supported by this partnership, are in a unique position to bring people together, 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 partnership offers the six participating regions (representing all five Great Lakes, with one each for upper and lower Lake Michigan) a structured approach for identifying and deploying best practices across several key areas. This project aims to encourage partnerships across municipal lines and various sectors to accomplish big plans.
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.
For instance, the participating regions have access to a blue-ribbon committee of regional and national experts who provide insight on key water issues in their region.
Now nearing the end of the partnership’s first year, each regional team has set its action plan in collaboration with Public Sector Consultants who is managing the project, and the teams are working toward implementation. Project funds will be released to regional teams as they meet critical milestones along the way, including local financial support. Funding details will be released at a later date.
The partnership is anticipated to build new regional networks, foster advancements in water literacy, identify new financing strategies, develop new local donor bases for water and generate new programs around water.
We look forward to sharing more details and lessons learned along the way. The partnership will launch its own website with more information on the regional advances later this year.
Dondré Young is a program coordinator for the Council of Michigan Foundations who helps manage the Great Lakes One Water partnership.
Claire Stevens is a senior consultant at Public Sector Consultants who helps manage the Great Lakes One Water partnership.