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Water: Stress and Solutions

Transfer of services and funding

In Stockholm, Sweden last month, thousands of experts and practitioners from around the globe came together at World Water Week to exchange ideas and develop solutions to an increasingly critical issue: water. As a convening partner of World Water Week, the Natural Capital Project (NatCap) joined the conversation, aiming to secure access to clean water through science-driven, practical approaches to water management. Among those successful approaches is the development of water funds, a concept recently made even more accessible through a new NatCap-supported field guide and online toolbox from The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

Water insecurity is one of the most pressing global challenges of this century. As global urbanization and climate change put increasing amounts of pressure on urban water sources, traditional water management methods are no longer sufficient. Engineered solutions like aqueducts and drains are not only expensive and unsustainable, but also often result in devastating environmental impacts. Together with our partners at TNC, NatCap is working to address the challenge of water security through the innovative, nature-based, water funds approach.

Water funds bring public, private, and civil society stakeholders together to collectively invest in water security. Water funds enable downstream water users, such as utilities, businesses, and communities, to pay people upstream to restore forests and improve farming practices. “Mutual benefits are the hallmark of successful water funds,” says Andrea Erickson, Acting Managing Director of Water Security at TNC. (Learn more about how water funds work here.)

Guiding Investments

Smart, science-driven investment is key to effective water funds. To help guide investments, NatCap designed tools in the InVEST software suite like RIOS, which focuses on a science-based approach to real-world watershed management, and ROOT, which helps users understand tradeoffs between different project decisions. NatCap’s software combines biophysical, social, and economic data to identify places and activities for targeted investments in nature.     

Water Funds Field Guide 2018
Water Funds Field Guide 2018

Working on the Ground

NatCap works directly with local water fund programs, ensuring that modeling results are understandable, useful, and applicable to the communities they’re designed to help. Over the past eight years, NatCap has worked closely with over a dozen water funds to understand the challenges that they face in designing appropriate watershed interventions, providing solutions-focused tools like RIOS, and building the capacity to use these tools.

New Water Funds Guidance

Last month, The Nature Conservancy officially launched the Water Funds Field Guide. This comprehensive guide is a complement to the web-based Water Funds Toolbox. Both tools aim to help leaders succeed in developing Water Funds. NatCap tools and expertise are woven through the guidance, which serves as a resource for any new practitioner who wants to explore Water Funds or for those seasoned water fund stakeholders who are looking to be more effective.


“You need a strong basis in science to ensure a water fund is technically feasible and that it produces the improvements in water that everyone is looking for,” said Adrian Vogl, NatCap Senior Scientist, “All the material in this toolbox represents years of work and a lot of trial and error, which has resulted in an amazing resource: one that combines the expertise of scientists, practitioners, and communities to create successful water funds.”

This combination of experts drives the feasibility and applicability of water funds. Developing and implementing solutions to the world’s shrinking water security requires collaboration. From the scientists and practitioners at World Water Week to the farmers and local government officials in water fund communities, we need diverse perspectives to achieve security. NatCap is working to connect and synthesize these perspectives, enabling cutting-edge science to have true impact on the ground.

Sarah Cafasso is Communications Manager at the Natural Capital Project

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