What We Do

Our mission is to be a catalyst for positive and lasting change leading to healthier environments and communities.

Charting New Waters

Is the U.S. facing a looming freshwater crisis that could affect the nation's economy, the livability of our communities and the health of our ecosystems? In 2010 a diverse coalition of leaders in industry, agriculture, environmental not-for-profits and government unanimously agreed we are, and in response, issued a landmark call to action to ensure clean, adequate and reliable U.S. freshwater resources. Their initial collaboration gave birth to an expanding network of organizations dedicated to catalyzing new solutions to U.S. freshwater challenges.

Today, The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread is moving into the latest phase of Charting New Waters. Building upon the rich collaboration and partnership that has characterized the initiative to date, this next phase of work is focused on catalyzing the widespread adoption of more sustainable and resilient water infrastructure systems in the United States.

By aiming to help local, state and national leaders set a course for and navigate decisions regarding the conception, construction, financing, and management of water infrastructure, Charting New Waters’ ultimate goal is to identify elements of a new paradigm for water infrastructure and the steps needed to transition to it.

Optimizing the Structure and Scale of Urban Water Infrastructure

On March 19-21, 2014, about two dozen experts – leading thinkers and practitioners –representing a mix of utilities, water-sector manufacturers, academics, consultants, advocates and regulators met at The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread to determine what type of infrastructure will be up to the task of providing clean water for the future’s cities. Advancements in technology have made distributed or decentralized systems more appealing, but how do we transition today’s structures to meet tomorrow’s needs? This convening was held with partners Water Environment Foundation, Patel College of Global Sustainability and the University of South Florida.

Ensuring Urban Water Security

On December 11-13, 2013, The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, along with partner ReNUWit, convened experts from different parts of the country to discuss the implications of chronic and episodic water scarcity on our nation’s water infrastructure – with the goal of moving beyond the “case-by-case” conversation to one about how cities can transform their infrastructure and management strategies. The resulting report identifies key principles of water security and explores components of good strategy and innovative water supply options while building the case for transformation.

Smarter Nutrient Management

In two convenings, Feb. 13–15 and Oct. 28-29, 2013, The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, the Water Environment Foundation and Environmental Defense Fund sponsored a series of discussions on nutrient management in municipal water systems. They attempted to answer whether wastewater treatment can achieve more ambitious goals for the clean water it provides, while holding the line on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. This report provides a glimpse into those discussions and preliminary findings before a more robust report by the Foundation’s partners becomes available.

Building Resilient Utilities

On August 21-22, 2013, The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread convened experts from the energy and water utility sectors to discuss how the two sectors can become more resilient and sustainable. The discussion quickly moved to the “utility of the future” and “customer of the future,” focusing on how the traditional silos of electricity, water supply and wastewater can be integrated. The resulting report explores the opportunities discussed during the convening; identifies hurdles to cross-sector collaboration and presents strategies for creating the integrated utilities of the future.

Catalyzing the Transformation of U.S. Water Infrastructure

On April 17-19, 2013, The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread brought together participants from a wide range of expertise and perspectives on water, waste, infrastructure and governance to explore the intersection between urban water infrastructure and climate change. The resulting report captures key outcomes from the dialog – in particular, how advances in water infrastructure can help communities address climate change, including promising opportunities to mitigate it and adapt to its impacts. As we consider the structure, function and purpose of future water infrastructure systems, it is imperative that we do so within the context of a changing climate and the impacts that climate shifts, variable and erratic weather conditions and water availability will have on our communities. This report offers initial insights and recommendations on the transition.

Financing Sustainable Water Infrastructure

As part of our work with Charting New Waters, we have focused on discovering different approaches to financing structures that incorporate new perspectives and input. The Financing Sustainable Water Infrastructure report is the product of a meeting convened by The Johnson Foundation, in collaboration with American Rivers and Ceres, that brought together a group of experts to discuss ways to drive funding toward the infrastructure needed for the 21st century. The report has led to testimony before Congress, amid other important work. Click here to learn more and download the full report.

New England Regional Freshwater Forum

On May 30 and 31, 2012, 36 participants representing diverse interests gathered for the Charting New Waters New England Regional Freshwater Forum at the Langham Hotel in Boston. This Forum brought together water experts and stakeholders from New England and other regions of the United States to explore the concept of “one water” – that is, planning and managing public drinking water, groundwater, stormwater and wastewater as an integrated system – as a pathway to holistic, resilient solutions. While technical solutions for many of New England’s freshwater challenges are available, existing governance structures and fragmented decision making regarding water are impeding the development and implementation of innovative, holistic solutions.

The New England Regional Freshwater Forum was the second Charting New Waters regional forum seeking to highlight innovative freshwater solutions and share them among leaders in different regions of the United States and with federal decision makers.

Colorado Regional Freshwater Forum

On October 18, 2011, nearly 100 participants representing diverse interests gathered for the Charting New Waters Colorado Regional Freshwater Forum at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The Forum brought together water experts and stakeholders from Colorado and other regions to explore Colorado’s experience developing solutions to a selected set of complex freshwater challenges.

The discussions centered on how solution-oriented efforts in the state can inform freshwater problem- solving in Colorado as well as other regions of the United States. The Colorado Regional Freshwater Forum was the first in a series of Charting New Waters regional forums seeking to highlight innovative freshwater solutions and share them among community leaders and federal decision makers.

Watch Video The Johnson Foundation's Lynn Broaddus and other experts discuss critical freshwater issues on Rocky Mountain PBS’ Colorado State of Mind.

A Call to Action to Address U.S. Freshwater Challenges

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Download Executive Summary


Read Environment Program Director Lynn Broaddus’ blog on issues surrounding the looming freshwater crisis in America.

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