Dept. of Next Big Thing: This Grant is Another Sign That Water Funding Is Getting Boiling Hot

Large swaths of the U.S. face serious long-term water issues, starting with California which is in the grip of a multi-year drought. But recent years have also seen droughts in other places, including the worst drought in memory in the South and devastating crop losses in some Plains states.

And it's likely we ain't seen nothing yet, with the Southwest, in particular, facing dire, long-term water challenges. 

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Until recently, funders hadn't paid all that much attention to water supply issues, at least here in the United States. But that's changing, and pretty fast, as we've been reporting. 

Our bet is that we're just at the beginning of what is likely to be a growing river of new philanthropic money flowing to confront water supply challenges—challenges that come not just from drought, but the growing contamination of water supplies as public water works decay.

Further, we bet that global water funding, long a distinct area of development assistance will start to get more meshed in with domestic U.S. water funding, as funders think holistically about water challenges. 

Related - Water Philanthropy's New Focus Country: The United States

One reason the flow of domestic funding will increase is that, as we're seen abroad and are now starting to see in the U.S., water shortages tend to slam poor communities first—and if you're a funder worried about poverty or health in the U.S., this issue is likely to find it's way onto your radar in the not-so-distant future. 

Of course, conservation funders also have reasons to focus on water, whether in the U.S. or abroad, as ecosystems face some alarming changes from drought. Remember, plants and animals need water, too. 

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

All of which brings us to a new water grant worth spotlighting. 

Tech manufacturer Ecolab has a strong business interest in water conservation, and while its been sounding the alarm on scarcity for a while now, that just translated in a $2 million grant. 

Ecolab is a St. Paul-based manufacturing conglomerate that provides products in energy, hygiene, food systems, and hospitality among other fields. While the “eco” in Ecolab actually stands for economics, not ecology, the company does quite a bit of work in improving sustainability. 

One of its newer holdings, Nalco, specializes in water treatment systems and helping companies save money on water use, and Ecolab and CEO Doug Baker have been preaching the gospel of looming clean water supply crises. It’s been working in partnerships to develop global water stewardship standards. It even recently released an online tool to allow companies to put a dollar sign on the risk they face due to water scarcity. 

The company clearly has an economic interest in water supply issues, but aside from its corporate endeavors, Ecolab’s philanthropic arm also just stepped up its support for conservation. The Ecolab Foundation just awarded $2 million to the Nature Conservancy for its freshwater conservation work.  

The grant will fund TNC’s “Securing and Restoring Water Sources Around the Globe” initiative over three years, an expansion on the corporation’s longtime support for work in Minnesota. It also will support water conservation in China and Mexico.

While water may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Nature Conservancy, it actually has a very large program in this area, with 300 scientists working in 35 countries. The program in China will be working in Shanghai to protect water resources derived from the Yangtze River. In Mexico it will work to improve clean water supply in the metropolitan area of Monterrey. 

Ecolab Foundation has been around since 1986, and gave almost $7 million in grants last year (pdf). But the environment has previously been one of its smaller priorities, making up just 9 percent of giving, compared to larger issues such as education, community development, and even arts funding. The company has given a lot to global disaster relief lately too, with $1.2 million in in-kind donations in 2013.

Its environmental giving has been focused mainly on education, but with the purchase of Nalco in 2011 and its major attention to water scarcity issues, we may be seeing the corporation shifting its giving to rhyme with its corporate goal of helping companies save water.