Meet the Gap Heir Who's Working for More Sustainable Water Systems

California's historic drought persists, choking crops and lawns alike. One San Francisco-based funder thinks we can do better when it comes to how the state and the country manage our water resources. 

The Pisces Foundation, formed of wealth from Gap heir Bob Fisher, gives entirely toward environmental issues, with its signature cause being improving water resources. With national aspirations but a California emphasis, the program seeks to transition to a more sustainable water system, one that is managed like a natural resource and includes more diverse sources and conservation.

Related: Pisces Foundation: Grants for Marine & Rivers

The Water Resources program is driven by Fisher, who sat on NRDC’s board for more than 20 years and is now a trustee for Conservation International, and has been pushing for better use of water in the state for years. In 2008, he cofounded the NRDC’s national water program with then-program director David Beckman, who is now executive director of Pisces. (Beckman recently penned an op-ed for the New York Times in response to water crises in West Virginia and Ohio.) And the team just added Nancy Stoner, who oversaw water issues at the EPA for three years, and will now run the Pisces program.

The funder’s water grants go toward three main initiatives. First, they back the NRDC’s water program, which works in cleanliness, efficiency, and protection of water ecosystems, with annual funding as much as $1 million. 

Second, Pisces and the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation cofounded an initiative within the Resources Legacy Fund called the California Water Foundation. The program is entirely focused on improving how the state uses water resources, including leading a stakeholder group for the governor this summer to make recommendations on groundwater use. The CWF has also partnered with the state and the NRDC to produce PSAs featuring Conan O’Brien that encourage residents to conserve water. 

Pisces’ third main initiative is support for the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit with one of four programs dedicated to water resources. The organization has formed a California Drought Response Group and runs the site, which compiles drought information, updates and resources.

While the foundation’s work isn’t motivated specifically by the water shortages, the circumstances certainly underscore its message, and will definitely open to door for more of this kind of work. 

While Pisces’ funding is highly concentrated in a handful of initiatives, it still gives several smaller grants annually. It doesn’t accept inquiries, but you can contact the funder here.