Walter Funder Initiative


San Francisco, CA

Tax-Exempt Status:


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The Water Funder Initiative (WFI) is a left-of-center environmental advocacy group and a project of the Windward Fund,1 a sponsor of environmentalist projects associated with the Arabella Advisors network of left-progressive “dark money.” 2

The Water Funder Initiative advocates for environmentalist water policy in conjunction with several left-of-center foundations, including the Energy Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Packard Foundation. WFI seeks to create a “water fee” in key states such as Texas, California, and Colorado to subsidize water access for economically disadvantaged communities. WFI also seeks to expand government financing for environmentalist projects and supports politicians who are in favor of restructuring water rates to charge more for high usage in order to “incentivize conservation.” 3

WFI has taken on several key initiatives, including projects to restore the Colorado River Basin and other rivers in the Western United States, implement strict water management in Texas hill country, and encourage public health initiatives in California’s Central Valley. WFI is also politically active, seeking to build “strategic communications” around water in order to build a political movement around water conservation. 4


WFI is affiliated with the Water Table, a collaborative of donors focused on implementing environmentalist policy around water. 5 WFI works by creating water conservation strategies and encouraging donors and other organizations. to invest in those strategies. 6

The Water Table includes a number of notable left-of-center foundations, including: 7

WFI works in partnership with the Water Table funders and other nongovernmental organizations. 8 Susan Bell is the managing director of WFI. She is also a principal at Susan Bell and Associates, a consulting firm for philanthropic organizations. 9

Advocacy and Research

Aside from pursuing environmentalist projects, WFI has adopted several advocacy initiatives, especially surrounding wate data accessibility. WFI has demanded that federal agencies share government data on drought, water use, and water availability and contributed to publicly-funded local and state projects on water. WFI has also launched its own data and communications initiatives on water usage including the Internet of Water, a database of publicly accessible information on water. 10

WFI also releases research reports on water management. In March of 2016, WFI published “Toward Water Sustainability: A Blueprint for Philanthropy,” which it called a roadmap for philanthropic action to advance sustainable water management. 11 The report advocated for restoring water “balance” between people and nature, implementing stricter governance of water resources, and developing resistance to climate change in water systems. 12

Donors working with the Water Table committed more than $100 million to water-related projects as part of a four-year, $150 million campaign to leverage more environmentalist action on water from public and private partners. The Water Table and WFI launched the Water Campaign with $10 million to match funding for specific initiatives. 13

In March of 2016, WFI launched Project Water Data to establish information sharing between federal, state, and local governments, as well as private sector partners to improve clean waterways. 14

In October of 2016, then-President Barack Obama announced that the Department of Agriculture and WFI would provide $60 million in funding for the Sierra Valley Conservation Planning Program and the Salton Sea Authority to conserve the Salton Sea and Sierra Valley in California. 15


  1. “Project Directory.” Windward Fund. Accessed October 12, 2020.
  2. Ludwig, Hayden. “CRC Special Report Unveils Vast ‘Dark Money’ Network on the Left,” April 17, 2019.
  3. “Toward Water Sustainability: A Blueprint in Philanthropy.” Water Funder Initiative. Published March 2016. Accessed March 21, 2019.
  4. “Toward Water Sustainability: A Campaign to Support Transformation Water Solutions.” Accessed October 3, 2020.
  5. Who Are We. Water Funder Initiative. Accessed October 3, 2020.
  6. Who Are We. Water Funder Initiative. Accessed October 3, 2020.
  7. Who Are We. Water Funder Initiative. Accessed October 3, 2020.
  8. Who Are We. Water Funder Initiative. Accessed October 3, 2020.
  9. Who Are We. Water Funder Initiative. Accessed October 3, 2020.
  10. What We Do. Water Funder Initiative. Accessed October 3, 2020.
  11. Staff. “Funder Initiative Releases Guide for Water Sustainability.” Philanthropy News Digest. March 18, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2020.

  12. Press Release. “Water Funder Initiative Releases Blueprint for Philanthropy to Advance Sustainable Water Management.” Cynthia & George Mitchell Foundation. March 15, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2020.
  13. “Toward Water Sustainability: A Campaign to Support Transformation Water Solutions.” Accessed October 3, 2020.
  14. Freedman, Jon. “Partnerships and Policy: Shaping the Future of Water Together.” Triple Pundit. May 2, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2020.
  15. Staff. “Obama Announces New Funding From Multiple Partners for Salton Sea Restoration.” California Water News Daily.
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Walter Funder Initiative

1 Post Street, Suite 2700
San Francisco, CA 94014