Changing the Course of our Freshwater Future

By Sandra Postel, Val Fishman and Todd Reeve

We’ll cut right to the chase. We’re building a water stewardship movement, and we hope you’ll join us. Some 170,000 people and 22 companies already have. We have restored billions of gallons of water to depleted rivers and wetlands, and with your help, we can restore many billions more.

Our initiative, Change the Course, is committed to securing water for people and nature so that both can thrive. It’s a big challenge. Around the world, freshwater ecosystems are suffering. The Colorado River – which sculpted the Grand Canyon – doesn’t even make it to the sea anymore. The Nile, the Ganges, the Yellow and many other rivers, big and small, are so over-tapped they’re often reduced to a trickle.

Our economies can’t thrive without water. Neither can fish, birds, wildlife or people.

Water security depends on two things: consuming less water by using and managing it more wisely, and restoring flows to depleted rivers and freshwater ecosystems.

Change the Course aims to do both. Its mechanics are simple.

We invite people to join us by making a voluntary pledge to reduce their personal water footprints, and we provide tools and information to help people make a conservation pledge that’s right for them. For every pledge that’s made, we restore 1,000 gallons (3,785 liters) to a river or wetland in need.

Our corporate sponsors balance their own water footprints by underwriting those personal pledges and funding our restoration projects. We work closely with on-the-ground conservation organizations to select projects with good ecological bang for the buck, and we track, certify and register the gallons restored. In this way, sponsors get an accounting of how much water their funding has returned to the environment.

It’s working. For the last three years we piloted Change the Course in the iconic, but highly stressed Colorado River Basin. We restored over four billion gallons of water to depleted ecosystems from the river’s headwaters in the Colorado Rockies all the way to the delta in Mexico.

Those gallons are literally a drop in the bucket of what’s needed. But they’ve made a difference to those rivers and wetlands – as the fish and fishermen, birds and birdwatchers, tourists and local economies that have benefitted can attest.

Through a diverse array of events and engagements, our partnerships with corporate sponsors are raising awareness about freshwater across the country.

Cinemark has shown Change the Course videos in more than one hundred theatres in western states. The National Hockey League is engaging its fans, while Waste Management brought freshwater awareness to the half million visitors to this year’s Phoenix Open golf tournament. The Golden State Warriors and BMW have partnered with Change the Course to incentivize fans to make the conservation pledge by offering them a chance to win a BMW i3, an all-electric vehicle.

WhiteWave Foods Company and Cola-Cola, charter sponsors of Change the Course, are not only helping fund our restoration projects, they’re working with their business partners and supply chains to shrink corporate water footprints and raise awareness about our freshwater challenges.

We’re off to a great start, and we have a long way to go.

So watch this video to learn more, and visit us at

Water is our lifeblood – and it connects us all.


The Founding Partners of Change the Course are the National Geographic Society, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) and Participant Media. We are grateful to the Walton Family Foundation for its philanthropic support, to Charter Sponsors Coca-Cola and WhiteWave Foods Company and Supporting Sponsor Disney, as well as to our many sponsors that are helping raise awareness about freshwater and Change the Course across the country.

Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project, Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society and Co-Creator of Change the Course. Val Fishman is Chief Development Officer at BEF. Todd Reeve is Chief Executive Officer at BEF and Co-Creator of Change the Course.



Meet the Author
Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project and author of Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity. From 2009-2015, she served as Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society. Sandra is also co-creator of Change the Course, the national water stewardship initiative awarded the 2017 US Water Prize for restoring billions of gallons of water to depleted rivers and wetlands. The recipient of several honorary degrees, she works to bridge science, policy, and practice to promote innovative ways of securing water to meet both human and ecosystem needs.