Walton Foundation Gives $20 Million Toward Colorado River Projects

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Efforts to manage and preserve the Colorado River are getting a boost from the Walton Family Foundation, which has pledged $20 million over the next two years to fund projects aimed at water conservation and restoring river ecosystems.

The money will be disbursed through grants to organizations working on Colorado River issues, including Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and the Environmental Defense Fund. It’s part of a larger plan to spend more than $100 million on projects between 2016 and 2020, says Ted Kowalski, who leads the foundation’s Colorado River program. Kowalski, who used to work for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, says the Walton Foundation is in a unique position to help.

A map of the Colorado River Basin.
Credit USGS
A map of the Colorado River Basin.

"I believe that the Walton Family Foundation funding can be a catalyzing force to develop solutions that may take a much longer time to develop if you’re just depending on public resources," he explains.

There are many parties involved in the management of the Colorado River basin, from state and local governments to industry groups and residential water users. Kowalski says the foundation is focused on ensuring that all the stakeholders who depend on the river have access to its water for generations to come.

"We need to come up with balanced solutions that work for all of the states and basins and countries and sectors" he says. "It needs to work for agriculture, it needs to work for cities and it needs to work for the benefit of the environment."

The Walton Family Foundation was started by Walmart founder Sam Walton and his wife Helen. Its Colorado River program has been going since 2008. The foundation also extensively supports projects in the Mississippi River Basin.