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Giving Thanks for Those Protecting Our Water

November 30, 2021
Amid climate distress, I draw inspiration from people and communities tackling our water crisis

Almost every day, we are confronted by images showing the toll climate change takes on people and the environment.

Giant waves from Hurricane Ida battering Louisiana’s barrier islands. The ever-deepening ‘bathtub ring’ around Lake Mead, a drought marker signaling the reservoir’s lowest water levels in 84 years. The deluge of rain from an atmospheric river washing out communities in the Pacific Northwest.

These awful scenes convey the urgent threat that climate change represents – and painfully illustrate how so many of us experience those impacts through water, from flooding to drought to more intense water pollution.

In the face of this water and climate crisis, where can we find hope?

For me, it’s in the work of people who are using their lived experiences and talents to create solutions that protect water resources and build climate resilience in their communities. They are making the difference in this fight.

I am grateful for people like Natalie Snider, who is helping lead efforts to rebuild land on the Louisiana coast by enlisting nature as a partner to confront climate change. She’s part of a broad coalition supporting projects using natural infrastructure to protect against rising sea levels and flooding caused by more frequent and intense storms.

“We have a real opportunity to build a protective landscape around Louisiana’s communities,” says Natalie, associate vice president of coasts and watersheds with the Environmental Defense Fund.

I see the same determination among Walton Family Foundation grantees who are working to improve water quality and availability across our three key geographies: the Colorado River Basin, the Mississippi River Basin and our oceans.

At the National Young Farmers Coalition, Erin Foster West is one of the next-generation of activists sowing seeds of change by helping farmers adapt to climate realities, adopt water-friendly agricultural practices and become advocates for conservation.

“Young farmers today have spent their entire careers operating in a different climate reality than their predecessors,” says Erin. “Climate change is not only real; it’s a daily threat to their livelihoods. Working with nature to conserve water, prevent runoff and enrich the soil has become a core part of their business to ensure they can keep farming for the long haul.”

The National Young Farmers Coalition is a national grassroots advocacy organization made up of 48 local chapters in 31 states. Here, a group of farmers gathers for a meet-up hosted by the coalition.

Because the impacts of climate change are often felt most by communities of color, Erin’s organization and others are working to ensure more diverse voices are included in decisions about water.

I’m grateful for the work Aaron Reiser and Erin Meier, with foundation grantee Green Lands Blue Water, do to elevate diversity in agriculture.

In their effort to improve soil health and water quality in the Mississippi River Basin, the organization emphasizes greater racial inclusion and equity in agriculture and conservation.

“If sustainability is inextricably linked to healthy and just communities, why don’t our fields include more of the diverse communities and leaders needed to co-create change?” ask Aaron and Erin.

My gratitude extends to visionary leaders like Jennifer Morris, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, and others who tirelessly champion water solutions that benefit the environment and communities.

She envisions “a future where nature and people thrive together” through new markets for sustainable seafood that benefit small-scale fishers, collaboration to share scarce water resources in the Colorado River Basin and innovations to advance soil health and water quality along the Mississippi River.

“To affect lasting change,” Jennifer adds, “we must lift up the voices of vulnerable communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change and other environmental threats.”

I’m thankful for people like Neyra Solano, a gender equity specialist at foundation grantee Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), who is working with women whose critical role in Mexico’s fishing industry is often overlooked and underappreciated.

“Our goal is to make their important role more visible, measure it, and make sure they are building social capital in the form of both compensation and participation in fishery decisions,” says Neyra.

I am grateful for the example set by leaders like Emma Robbins, who is building trust – and partnerships – with residents to deliver running water to families on the Navajo Nation, where 30% of residents lack running water.

“That's an injustice. My job is to help correct that injustice,” says Emma, executive director of the Navajo Water Project. Working with members of the community, Emma has helped install hundreds of underground water tanks at homes on the reservation, which sprawls across parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

A child bathes in running water on the Navajo Nation.

Without an informed public, many of the threats to our water – and solutions to protect it – would go unnoticed.

We’re fortunate to partner with advocates like chef José Andrés, who consistently uses his platform to help those suffering and raise awareness about the environmental threats they face.

“When my non-profit World Central Kitchen shows up to feed communities after a disaster, more often than not, water is at the heart of the suffering and the solution,” says Jose.

“We need to think bigger and go faster with our water solutions: to take our ideas and innovations and scale them up quickly. We need to change how we think, eat, cook, farm and fish.”

I’m also grateful for the independent, enterprising journalists telling the stories of climate change’s impact. We’re proud to support environmental journalism by the Associated Press, PBS, the Society of Environmental Journalism’s Coastal Desk, the Center for Environmental Journalism’s Water Desk and others.

“Our mission … is to increase the volume, depth and power of water-related journalism,” says Water Desk director Mitch Tobin.

While the stories we read and the images we see are often difficult to watch, no solution comes from ignoring a problem. For those making a difference to create healthier rivers and oceans and resilient, thriving communities, we can all be grateful.

At the Walton Family Foundation, we are grateful for our grantees and leaders determined to improve lives and create opportunity.
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