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• Innovations in Water Investing: The Midwest Water Summit

November 13 2017
November 13 2017

Water is in everything. Despite the importance of water in nearly every sector of our economy and its centrality to our most pressing environmental challenges, too few impact investors take on water challenges in their investment strategy. What are the hurdles to investing in water and how can investors make an impact on our greatest water problems?

Gavins Point Dam, Missouri River

On November 7-8, Confluence convened the Midwest Water Summit in Minneapolis, MN, bringing together the country's leading investors for an in-depth, strategic dialogue about investing in water. Co-sponsored by The McKnight Foundation and Biodiversity Funders Group, the Summit focused on challenges specific to the Midwest and Mississippi watershed. Over the course of two days, investors engaged in active discussion and deep learning, and explored collaborations that support more effective investments in water across asset classes.

water quote final

Trillions of dollars in new investment is required to solve our water problems: aging and inefficient infrastructure, the rising threat of devastating weather systems and water events, the proliferation of communities with unsafe drinking water. With an eye toward community engagement and social equity, the Summit explored how impact investors can invest in ways that improve water management and quality.

Anchoring the Summit were keynote presentations from Flozell Daniels, CEO of Foundation for Louisiana, and Dave Chen, Principal and Chairman of Equilibrium. Mr. Daniels opened the Summit with a discussion of water resilience, grounded in the experience of coastal communities like New Orleans. Mr. Chen discussed opportunities and challenges in the nexus between agriculture and water, and explored the challenge of making an impact on water given the lack of scalable investments.

Flozell Daniels, JR.

Pictured: Flozell Daniels, Foundation for Louisiana

With the goal of expanding the boundaries of what is traditionally considered a water investment, the Summit provided a forum to discuss promising investable opportunities, creative financing structures, and emerging technologies. Participants explored structures like pay-for-success programs, green bonds, and private property green infrastructure programs. The group also addressed non-traditional water investments in industries like textiles and toxics. Participants also offered strategies for addressing the risks associated with novel financing structures in order to incentivize greater investment. This included the unique role of patient concessionary capital which philanthropies could provide  to support the idiosyncratic and localized nature of water investments. Supported by growing concerns among the American public about water quality, panelists and attendees also discussed how water investors can positively influence public agencies to break away from business-as-usual strategies.

Ag PanelPictured from left to right: Susan Hammel, Minnesota Council on Foundations; Dave Chen, Equilibrium; Elizabeth McGeveran, The McKnight Foundation; Tina May, Land O'Lakes; David Rankin, Great Lakes Protection Fund.


Special thanks to our co-sponsors, The McKnight Foundation and Biodiversity Funders Group, who were instrumental in bringing together this important dialogue about one of our most critical environmental challenges. For more information about the Midwest Water Summit, visit


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