Getting To Know The Freshwater Trust

Get to know a group of bold problem solvers trying to protect and restore America’s freshwater resources.

Freshwater ecosystems make up less than 1 percent of the Earth’s total surface area and incredibly, support more than 100,000 unique species. Yet freshwater ecosystems are among the world’s most endangered. Climate change, pollution and other human impacts have taken a dramatic toll.

Working together towards ensuring a future with clean, healthy rivers, Columbia Sportswear has partnered with The Freshwater Trust to help protect and restore America’s freshwater resources. We caught up with Haley Walker of The Freshwater Trust to learn more about what they do and how it makes an impact.

What does The Freshwater Trust do?

The Freshwater Trust is a group of bold problem solvers designing and implementing data-driven solutions that protect and restore America’s freshwater resources. Using science, technology, policy and finance, The Freshwater Trust builds and manages solutions that improve water quality and quantity.

With data and 21st century tools and technologies, we enable smarter watershed management to happen faster and at a greater scale. We also employ our solutions on the ground for the benefit of both watersheds and the plants, animals and people that rely on them.

How did it come to be?

We were originally founded as Oregon Trout, the first wild fish conservation group in the Pacific Northwest, in 1983. In 2008, we merged with Oregon Water Trust, the nation’s first water trust, to become The Freshwater Trust. We had initially only been working in Oregon but opened our first office in Boise, Idaho, in 2014, and another in Sacramento, California, in 2016.

It’s The River That Binds Us: A Staff Story from The Freshwater Trust on Vimeo.

Tell us more about the concept of Quantified Conservation and why it is so significant?

“Quantified Conservation”is about using data and technology to ensure every restoration action taken translates to a positive, measurable outcome for the environment. First, we identify and prioritize restoration opportunities to maximize benefits for a watershed. Then, we work with willing landowners to restore habitat in key places, to adapt practices, or to keep more water in rivers and streams that need it.

Along the way, we track how every action we take is making a difference for our freshwater resources, our wildlife and our communities. Restoration typically asks that you accomplish an action—such as planting a tree—but Quantified Conservation takes it a step further and asks what you are actually getting for that action. It borrows a lot from the business community.

The power of business in the 21st century has been its ability to harness technology and information and to set clear outcomes that it can track against. Environmentalism hasn’t done that, and we need to. Only through strategic action and a laser focus on results can we match the scale of freshwater problems in our country on a timeline that matters.

Where do you find your projects and what type of projects do you work on?

The Freshwater Trust is the largest restoration-focused organization in the Pacific Northwest. We offer a number of services, tools and programs to accelerate the pace and scale of freshwater restoration. We currently have projects, employees, donors and partners throughout California, Oregon and Idaho.

As the nation’s first water trust, we work collaboratively with landowners to keep more water in our rivers and streams. Whether planting trees to cool streams, reintroducing river meanders, or creating log jams, we also apply strategic solutions to improve water quality and restore critical habitat. Additionally, we work with municipalities, utilities, agencies, and private businesses to offset their impacts on rivers and streams.

One of the things that sets us apart is our use of technology to decide where to do restoration. For instance, we’ve developed a tool that allows for the remote surveying of large landscapes and watersheds to prioritize restoration sites. This helps ensure we’re taking the right actions in the right places that will have the biggest impact on the river. In other words, instead of acting opportunistically, we are acting strategically.

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What impact do these projects have on your average person?

Water is at the heart of nearly everything. By restoring freshwater ecosystems, we’re protecting wildlife, our economy, our food systems, and our future generations. Every year, we publish a report documenting exact outcomes of our work.

For example, in 2015, we were able to prevent more than 274,000 pounds of phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment from entering rivers, keep millions of gallons water in rivers that needed it by working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers, and restore more than 15,000 feet of stream. Our actions have made measurable improvements for both water quality and quantity, meaning that every person relying on the rivers we’re working benefited.

Additionally, we’re developing new tools and technologies that will help advance the entire field of restoration and ensure more restoration professionals can be more efficient and effective in their work. Accelerating the pace and scale of freshwater restoration nationally means everyone relying on freshwater, all of us, benefits.

What work are you doing specifically with Columbia Sportswear?

Tim Boyle and Columbia Sportswear have supported The Freshwater Trust for more than a decade through financial and in-kind contributions. This commitment has allowed us to achieve meaningful results for rivers in the Pacific Northwest and emerge as leaders of the quantified conservation movement. Most recently, with this support, we moved into a new, highly-collaborative office space above the Columbia Sportswear flagship store in downtown Portland.

Fly fishing off the coast of Southern California