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Analysis: Unlocking Flow of Capital to Water Sector Requires Smart, Integrated Strategies

Parul Dubey on October 2, 2017 - in Water

Unlocking the flow of capital to accelerate improvements to water infrastructure that advance climate resilience and protect urban low-income communities from flooding requires integrated strategies for investments and grantmaking, concludes a recently released analysis.


The Climate Resilient & Equitable Water Systems Capital Scan provides a roadmap for effectively utilizing capital to accelerate water system solutions like green infrastructure and planning and preparedness measures. The scan was authored by Mission Point Partners and California Environmental Associates and commissioned by The Kresge Foundation.


“While nothing could have fully prepared Houston for the catastrophes of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there are concrete steps that municipalities, utilities, and developers can take right now to better protect low-income residents from the storms and flooding we increasingly see in the era of climate change,” said Dr. Jalonne L. White-Newsome, senior program officer with The Kresge Foundation’s Environment Program. “This capital scan shows how philanthropy can support those efforts.”


White-Newsome said inadequate water infrastructure investment leaves low-income residents at particular risk. Those communities are typically hit “first and worst” when flooding overwhelms water systems. Low-income residents are also least able to afford to prepare for catastrophic events, evacuate when danger arises, and repair or replace their housing after flooding.

The most effective philanthropic strategies for protecting at-risk communities consider a full suite of capital tools including grants, program related investments, and market-rate investments. The scan helps identify investable opportunities to use new models, catalyze markets, leverage capital, and understand risk.


“This scan analyzes where the most impactful philanthropic investments might be made, the multiple forms they might take, and strategies for overcoming the barriers to success,” said Kim Dempsey, deputy director of Kresge’s Social Investment Practice. “The scan recommends integrated strategies that will require the collaboration of funders, water system managers, policy makers, non-governmental organizations, and community-based and equity-focused organizations among others. Philanthropic capital can be a catalyst for that work.”


The scan examines six sectors that are critical to water infrastructure integrity. The analysis describes each sector and analyzes both the status of projects in the pipeline and the barriers to implementation for each sector. The sectors are:


  • Green Infrastructure – includes water treatment systems like bioswales, permeable pavement, wetlands, and rooftop gardens among others. It is identified as the highest-ranking strategy within the scan’s scope of inquiry.
  • Planning and preparedness – informed planning specifically for water management and resilience in the face of climate impacts.
  • Water monitoring – real-time and static monitoring of water use and system stressors to inform more efficient management.
  • Energy efficiency – aiming to improve the efficiency of moving water from source to end user, thus reducing costs and helping cut greenhouse gas emissions from energy generation.
  • Water efficiency – with goals like reducing leaks and demand-limitation measures and incentives.
  • Distributed treatment and supply – protecting system integrity and providing redundancy through supply options including rainwater harvesting, greywater reuse, and desalination.


The capital scan is nested within the Kresge Environment Program’s Climate Resilient & Equitable Water Systems initiative (CREWS), which aims to transform urban storm water and wastewater systems so they provide reliable, equitable, and innovative services to communities despite climate change uncertainties. CREWS was designed to encompass multiple forms of philanthropic capital to achieve its goals.


For more information, visit Kresge’s Environment Program web page and its CREWS information on the Transforming Key Urban Systems focus area page.


The Kresge Foundation is a $3.5 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit. In 2016, the Board of Trustees approved 474 grants totaling $141.5 million, and made 14 social investment commitments totaling $50.8 million. For more information, visit www.kresge.org.

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