Look to the future: An update from president Joe WhitworthFebruary 13, 2023
We recently sat down with Joe Whitworth, President & CEO of The Freshwater Trust, to discuss the critical inflection moment the organization is experiencing this year. Having been at the helm for the past 22 years, Whitworth has intentionally steered the nimble ship around many corners, ultimately always moving forward toward something bigger – and better – than the status quo. In 2023, the organization is poised to execute on bold plans to change how all rivers in the country are fixed.
We’re getting more candid about the need for systems change.
Today, more than half our nation’s waters fail the fishable, swimmable, drinkable test of the Clean Water Act. We need targets and results. We need a method for getting to where we want to be. The winning system for restoration will leverage analytics and technology to identify specific priorities across an entire basin, rapidly and seamlessly deploy funding to those projects, and track the results to completion and resilience. We are going to continue to take the gloves off more and more. We must be honest and uncompromising as to whether it is working or not.
Today, more than half our nation’s waters fail the fishable, swimmable, drinkable test of the Clean Water Act. We need targets and results.
We’re bringing an invaluable toolkit to the table.
Within the next 24 to 36 months, we will have fully user-facing products which partners can utilize to help achieve freshwater health and resilience. This organization doesn’t have to grow to be in every state. We want our products to be embedded in the local economies and supply chains so that our partners can help achieve resilience. Every restoration project in the world has come together by miracle. You have landowners who manage the resource, funders – public, private, or philanthropic – who help pay for the work each with their own motivation. You have local supply chain coordinators within the watershed that facilitate the work and get it to ground. You have the regulators that track the progress and results. Each of these has to have a frictionless path to put in what they have and get out what they need. Everyone has to be doing that at the same time. There are basins where there are two to five projects being done each year and there needs to be 200 to 500 for the basin to achieve resilience. The integrated toolset we are building will enable everything, everywhere, all the time. That’s the only way we will be able to get to where we need to on the timeline we have.
Within the next 24 to 36 months, we will have fully user-facing products which partners can utilize to help achieve freshwater health and resilience.
Philanthropy is a critical catalyst.
TFT recently launched a capital campaign to amass the critical philanthropic investment necessary to be able to build out our toolkit and demonstrate it on a massive scale. It is critical that we not only put the basins we are currently focused on a track to resilience but that we can see the system rolled out in more basins. We need to deploy capital rapidly and meet the moment. This is the moment. Nature causes drought, but man causes scarcity. We have managed our land in the West into structural drought since the 1800s. Our goal is to demonstrate how we can address freshwater issues radically better but the capital has to be there to scale.
TFT’s renewed focus on policy is centered upon targeted spending and using our toolkit to free up and guide spending to the highest priority places in a basin.
We’re going to take a page from a faster sector.
We have stopped thinking like a nonprofit and started thinking like a startup enterprise that is on a hot timeline and hit its marks. Like any business driving step-change function, we want to show what our products can do at scale across a landscape. It’s not enough to hope that something good will happen. That’s a fantasy.
We have a renewed but radically tightened focus on policy.
From a policy perspective, timing really matters. Valuable policy gets made when you have clear and present problems that cannot be kicked down the line. Today, we have a clear and present problem set that cannot be avoided. TFT’s renewed focus on policy is centered upon targeted spending and using our toolkit to free up and guide spending to the highest priority places in a basin. There’s a lot of funding available but it remains siloed when it needs to be integrated and move more rapidly.
Our history and experience on the ground has given us a deep understanding of the process and a better understanding of the problem.
We will continue to invest on the ground.
The only way we could really innovate is if we understood every little step and piece in making restoration projects happen. Our history and experience on the ground has given us a deep understanding of the process and a better understanding of the problem. Our on-the-ground projects are our learning laboratories. They teach us what’s good and what can be improved. On the ground, we can tighten up our models, save money, increase our project effectiveness, and decrease project mortality. Additionally, our on-the-ground work matters because if it doesn’t actually go to the ground, none of this actually matters. We are unimpressed with big ideas that don’t get implemented.
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