Forging environmental coalitions

In 2005, the Rhode Island Foundation brought together several dozen environmental organizations to identify ways they could collaborate to have a more effective voice. Out of these yearlong conversations, the Coalition for Water Security, a group of 16 environmental organizations addressing water supply and use issues, was born.

The Coalition worked with a number of water supply stakeholders on three critical initiatives:

  1. Protecting rivers and providing predictable water supplies,
  2. Promoting efficiency and conservation, 
  3. Exploring the application of innovative tools to achieve efficiency, conservation, and river protection.
The Foundation provided four years of funding for this coalition, culminating with the passage in 2009 of the Water Use and Efficiency Act, which improves the reliability of our water supply systems, reduces drinking water waste, and protects our rivers and streams. Then, we brought the groups back together to report on their experience and to see if they could identify another issue that would benefit from this coalition approach. The Coalition for Transportation Choices was formed.

With more than 50 members, the Coalition focused its attention on three areas:

  1. Expanding clean, efficient transportation choices,
  2. Spending taxpayers’ money on projects that produce real results,
  3. Bringing existing roads and bridges into good repair. 

The Coalition shepherded through the Transportation Investment and Debt Reduction Act, which establishes a trust fund for viable public transportation. They worked to pass Complete Streets ordinances that welcome walking, biking, and public transportation, as well as cars, in several key communities; they coordinated Walk to School events with local school departments; and they’ve increased public awareness through communication and outreach programs.

In 2013, the Foundation convened a group of more than 28 professionals and practitioners to talk about stormwater. Organizations like the Audubon Society of RI, Clean Water Action, the RI Nursery and Landscape Association, Save The Bay, and URI Coastal Institute, and state and local leaders came together to share experiences, learn from each other, and develop a collective path toward solutions. The Coalition for Green Infrastructure was launched.

The Coalition’s 37 members support infiltrating and naturally treating storm water to protect our water sources from bacteria, oil, sand, nitrogen, and other pollutants carried in storm water. They also advocate for green infrastructure construction such as residential rain gardens and urban street sewer diversions. With every rain, storm drains carry all this pollution directly to local streams, ponds, and Narragansett Bay without treatment.

Here in the Ocean State, we are particularly sensitive to the health of our environment. Although we face some daunting environmental challenges like changing climate conditions and polluted run-off, we are fortunate to have a dedicated environmental community. We are proud to support their efforts to protect and steward Rhode Island’s natural resources, making all of us more resilient.


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