On April 9,  five shoreline community foundations announced they are coming together to join the Great Lakes One Water Partnership, a new effort designed to help communities in six regions around the Great Lakes develop and implement projects that will secure the region’s water future.

The community foundations in the southwest region of Lake Michigan include: Evanston Community Foundation, Legacy Foundation of Indiana, Porter County [Indiana] Community Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust and Unity Foundation of La Porte County [Indiana].

 The Great Lakes One Water Partnership is a multi-year initiative supported by the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the Council of Michigan Foundations. The project will support these five shoreline community foundations and their local partners to advance water infrastructure plans to improve health, economic development, and equity in their communities, said the five community foundations in a prepared statement. The five community foundations in the Illinois and Indiana regions will be focused on the southwest corner of Lake Michigan, stretching from Evanston to the Indiana border with Michigan.

With $1 million in seed funding from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, the Council of Michigan Foundations and a team of water experts will be raising more than $4 million to coordinate nearly 30 community foundations in six regions surrounding the Great Lakes, in the United States and Canada.

In commenting on the regional team, Monique Jones, President and CEO of ECF, noted that “we have incredibly talented leaders from our region who will provide the technical and political guidance needed to target the most innovative solutions to our water infrastructures.”

Helene Gayle, President and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, said, “Our infrastructure is about more than moving water. It protects public health, preserves critical ecosystems, and guides community and economic growth. Piecemeal approaches simply will not work in this heavily urbanized region of hundreds of municipalities and aging systems. This partnership allows us to find solutions that work across communities and benefit everyone.”

 In explaining the importance of their support of the community foundations, Dave Rankin, Vice President of Programs at the Great Lakes Protection Fund, said, “Water defines our region. It is the foundation of our economy and it anchors our quality of life. To solve our water problems, we cannot rely on the usual players or old strategies. This project is designed to bring communities together and give them the power to collectively secure their own water futures. We need new voices and new perspectives around the table and this project is centered on investing in community foundations who can be a force for change.”   

Marybeth Schroeder, Vice President for Programs at ECF, told the RoundTable Lake Michigan is “our greatest natural resource,” and the partnership provides an opportunity to identify challenges and ways to address them on a regional basis. The first year is a planning year, she said, and at this time, it is premature to give examples of the type of programs that the five community foundations and the experts they are assembling might identify. Meetings are planned to begin in the next few weeks, she said.

Ms. Schroeder told the RoundTable that the partnership is independent of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, which became law in 2008. Each of the eight Great Lakes State legislatures ratified the Compact, and Congress consented to the Compact. Among other things, the Compact provides a ban on new diversions of water from the Great Lakes basin, but there are some limited exceptions.  Regional goals for water conservation and efficiency have been developed, and they will be reviewed every five years.