The Walton Family Foundation’s Environment Program grew out of the Walton family’s personal connection to the land and sea — times spent together hiking, camping, boating and visiting national parks.
This appreciation of the outdoors is matched by a deep understanding that a healthy environment is a fundamental building block of a healthy community and sustainable economy.
Simply put, the Walton family and this foundation believe we have a responsibility to sustain the places that sustain us.
As we enter the second half of the Environment Program’s five-year strategy for healthy rivers and oceans – and looking ahead to challenges beyond 2020 – we see strong momentum:
- Across the Mississippi River basin, more and more farmers are realizing that healthier soils are good for the environment and their business.
- In the West, collaboration is replacing confrontation as rural and urban water users work together to manage the Colorado River in a way that is good for people and nature.
- In Louisiana, we are making progress on restoration projects that will work with nature, and not against it, to reverse the loss of wetlands and support coastal resilience.
- In our oceans, the sustainable fishing movement is gaining strength as fishermen take responsibility for being stewards of the oceans, and business leaders lean in on efforts to create a market for sustainable seafood.
There is no more important time for a shared commitment to a sustainable future than right now. We need to work with nature, not against it, to confront the threats we see to our environment. And the good news is that, at the end of the day, nature is our best ally in keeping this planet livable and helping communities thrive.
Preserving the Colorado River
The health of the Colorado River Basin is at a critical inflection point, as demand for water continues to exceed supply. Experts at the local, state and – increasingly – at the national level are adapting to the changing conditions of the West’s water supply and taking steps needed to secure a water future that includes people and nature.
2018 was one of the driest years on record, and if dry conditions continue, it will be harder and harder to avoid conflict and meet competing water needs. The Walton Family Foundation is committed to identifying and implementing necessary solutions for a sustainable water future across the basin and – despite many ongoing challenges – we are encouraged by progress recently made on key fronts.
Colorado River Milestones
- U.S. and Mexico officials signed an agreement in 2017 that will save enough water for more than 400,000 households and restore the Colorado River Delta.
- California voters in 2018 approved $200 million in funding essential to continue restoration work on the Salton Sea.
- The foundation helped broker an agreement and investment by California and the federal government to stabilize the Salton Sea and return water to Lake Mead.
- Demonstrable progress is being made on the Drought Contingency Plans (DCPs) — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada are now all authorized to sign the DCP agreements. California and Arizona are expected to obtain the final authorizations to sign the DCPs in January, 2019.
Creating sustainable fisheries
In 2018, the U.S. government declared overfishing to be at an all-time low, a milestone that affirms our belief that fishing can be the sustainability success story of the 21st century. The foundation is taking the lessons learned in the U.S. to Mexico, Chile, Peru and Indonesia. Taken together, these five nations account for 25% of the fish caught in the world.
More fish means a healthier ocean, but factors like the growing demand for seafood and a changing climate, coupled with poor management, put our waters and those who fish them at risk.
By 2020, we aim to create healthy, sustainable fisheries that communities and industries can rely on for their livelihoods.
- Over the past six years, Pacific Coast groundfish fishery revenues jumped more than 20%.
- West Coast communities will see an increase of about 900 jobs and $60 million in income in 2019 from rebuilt groundfish stocks, according to NOAA.
- Ten of the world’s largest seafood companies announced they will increase their efforts to strengthen sustainable practices in the seafood industry.
- Globally, more than 350 fisheries have been certified to date, representing around 12 percent of the worldwide catch of fish.
- Revenues from the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico have increased 70% since 2008.
Sustainable Farms, Cleaner Rivers
America’s farms feed our families, sustain our rural communities and power our economy. But the way this food is grown is damaging the Mississippi River – which more than 18 million people depend on for drinking water. Further, that agricultural runoff contributes to a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
There is now a revolution underway in farming – a growing realization that soil health is good for farmers and the environment. The result is thousands of farmers adopting conservation practices on millions of acres of land that reduce nutrient loss and improve water quality.
Mississippi River Milestones
- Farmers have improved agricultural practices on 3.6 million acres of farm land, leading to better water quality and healthier soil.
- Private landowners have restored and permanently protected more than 700,000 acres of forest habitat in the lower Mississippi River valley (Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana).
- A new Farm Bill was passed ensuring conservation programs will continue, by bringing $26 billion in federal funds to improve the environmental performance of agriculture.
From Loss to Opportunity in Coastal Louisiana
Along the Louisiana coast, wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate, equal to a football field of land every 100 minutes. That loss of land leaves important communities and critical infrastructure at risk from storms and rising seas. Combined with the channeling of the Mississippi River, we have a crisis along the coast.
But in Louisiana, people are adapting from disaster response to living more thoughtfully with water. Out of this crisis we see opportunity for the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, and coastal communities all over the world, to use nature as a guide for protecting and restoring communities, economies and ecosystems.
Louisiana is on track to proceed with some of the largest coastal restoration projects in the world, ones that will work with nature, and not against it, for the benefit of people and the environment.
Coastal Louisiana Milestones
- Achieved significant acceleration of the timeline for key Mississippi River sediment diversions to rebuild wetlands, from construction starting in 2025 to beginning by end of 2020.
- More than $15 billion in federal funding has been secured for coastal restoration from the fines and penalties arising from the 2010 oil spill, with $8 billion allocated to Louisiana.
- Created a reporting team at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that has resulted in hundreds of news stories, raising public awareness about coastal issues, and a partnership with the New York Times focused on threats posed by wetlands loss.
As we head into 2019, while the challenges remain great, the progress we have made gives me hope for the future.