Conservation Partner Spotlight: Texas Water Foundation

Texan by Nature works to bring conservation and business together in order to amplify projects and accelerate impact. We invest in initiatives that focus on conserving our natural resources, impacting people, and ensuring economic prosperity. Texan by Nature is proud to partner with 95+ conservation organizations, all working to positively benefit Texas’ natural resources and communities through innovative approaches.

In this post, we sit down with Sarah Schlessinger, CEO of Texas Water Foundation (TWF), to understand their mission, previous work, and the impacts they make on the Texas environment, people, and economy.

TxN: What is Texas Water Foundation (TWF)?

Sarah: Texas Water Foundation is a nonpartisan nonprofit working to lead Texas into a sustainable water future by investing in the next generation of water leaders. We work to build water leaders, equip decision makers, and inspire water champions across Texas.  We’re a small but highly active nonprofit based in Austin, but the work we do involves the whole state of Texas, and our partners are located from as far as Amarillo to Houston.

TxN: What was the motivation behind forming the TWF?

Sarah: Texas is in a state of perpetual drought, punctuated by disastrous flood and freezes. As such, Texas has taken a proactive approach to planning and landmark legislation tends to pass after each of these events.  In 1997, the 75th Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, which completely changed the water planning process in Texas from a top-down to a bottom-up planning process.  SB 1 directed local planning groups, with input from local stakeholders, to prepare regional water plans every five years. Those plans are submitted to the Texas Water Development Board and incorporated into a comprehensive state water plan, or our road map on how to forecast future water demand, supply, and strategies to meet both. 

With the passage of SB 1, there was a need to engage Texans on the value of water and raise public awareness about its role in our lives at the same time.  This led to the founding of TWF in 1998 by the author of SB 1, Senator Buster Brown.  Senator Brown recruited a dynamic board of founding members from across the water sector, Texas legislature, and state agencies. Over the years, TWF was shaped by water conservation queen Carole Baker and known for supporting water conservation-oriented policy. Since then, TWF has grown that original mission to an investment in people as decision makers, as leaders, and as everyday citizens.

TxN: How does TWF achieve its mission?

Sarah: In a nutshell, we see investment in people as good decision makers by equipping them with objective information, working to inspire behavioral change, and providing a container for tough conversations to be held.  Texas is growing fast, and we have to be proactive about how we manage our water if we want to ensure that we’ll have enough for generations to come.  TWF’s role in that is to provide education in the most equitable, accessible ways we can.  To do that, we conduct our outreach in multiple ways, ensuring that we reach everyone with relevant, easy to digest information about water sustainability in Texas.

TxN: What are examples of past or current TWF projects/programs?

Sarah: Despite innovative planning and financing for Texas water, we believe that every day decision makers are going to have a huge impact on how we allocate our resources and how we plan for the future. But you have to make those everyday decision makers care, and we know that one of the most effective ways to do this is to leverage our pride of place. Utilizing the winning formula used by ‘Don’t Mess with Texas,’ TWF is launching the first statewide water campaign called Texas Runs on Water.  

Unlike litter, water is complex and the challenges are different in each community. Our approach allows the campaign to be localized to each area’s unique perspective — Houston Runs on Water, the Panhandle Runs on Water, Tech Runs on Water, etc. The idea is to tap into the feeling that anything and everything we love about Texas runs on water. Keep an eye out for Texas Runs on Water in 2021 as we run our pilot campaigns in the Hill Country, Amarillo, and Houston.

In our leadership development efforts, we are proud to have launched the first program for water professionals in or stepping into positions of leadership called Texas Water Leaders.  A lot is happening in our sector right now, from increasingly complex roles to huge institutional turnover and changing demographics. TWF’s goal is to equip leaders with important skill development, encourage diverse  leadership, and support succession planning. We want to see the next generation set up for continued success.

Finally, our policy efforts are centered on the idea of providing nonpartisan, nontechnical materials to decision makers outside of the water sector. We have produced a series of two-page, digestible issue briefs on current water topics, built an online water resource hub, and hosted a series of Water Fluency workshops for local decision makers and business leaders. We believe that good decisions come from good information. We are particularly excited to be publishing the very first Texas water systems map, an interactive tool that shows you how different entities and planning processes are connected.

TxN: What are the ecological and economic benefits of the projects that TWF works on?

Sarah: Fortunately, increasing water awareness, conservation, and efficiency is good for the environment, and for the economy.  The State Water Plan predicts conservation and reuse strategies will make up 45% of proposed future water supply, so not only do we need to conserve to meet future demand, but we also know that there are economic benefits to conservation. In a study we co-authored a few years ago, we determined that investing $2 billion in conservation and efficiency could yield $2.6 billion in state output of goods and services, 17,400 jobs, and add $1.6 billion in state value.

TxN: How can individuals and organizations get involved and learn more?

Sarah: Everything we do is built to be helpful and inspiring to every day decision makers. We would love you to visit our website, follow us on social media, and sign up for our newsletter on ways to get involved.  We host different events throughout the year to keep folks engaged, and we try to make them fun, too.  For example, we host an annual Water, Texas film festival that is open for public submissions, and established a Texas Runs on Water team for the April 25 Austin Half Marathon.  We would love to have more Texas water champions and invite you to stay in touch with us.

TxN: What is in store for the future of TWF?

Sarah: With so many new programs, we think of ourselves as a twenty-year-old start up. We are thrilled about where Texas Runs on Water is going, and hope to see new pilot markets come online in the next year. We are so proud to be recruiting the second class of Texas Water Leaders, and are working to continue to produce meaningful contributions to the public policy space.

Learn more about the Texas Water Foundation on their website, and follow along on their social media channels for regular updates – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube.