Donor Impact Report 2023

Dear friends,

From all of us at Freshwater, thank you for supporting our efforts to preserve clean water and healthy communities. Our organization has undergone a great deal of change over the past year with the hiring of several new staff members (myself included). We have taken steps to strengthen our focus on the things we do best: foster collaboration, advance water research, advocate for sound public policy, and empower local communities to drive positive change.

This report highlights Freshwater’s key accomplishments and milestones from the past calendar year. From launching the second phase of our innovative work on groundwater governance, to celebrating 10 years of the Minnesota Water Stewards program, to launching a new workforce program – our work for water continues to evolve and reach new audiences.

Please know that your commitment makes this important work possible, and we welcome your ideas and feedback. I look forward to all we can accomplish together.

With gratitude,

Michelle Stockness, Executive Director

Michelle Stockness

Our work for water

Explore Freshwater's key accomplishments of 2023, made possible by your generous support.

Click the blue arrows to change slides.


Minnesota Water Stewards program celebrates 10 years

In 2023, Freshwater celebrated a decade of the Minnesota Water Stewards program, which has trained and certified nearly 500 volunteers to be community leaders for clean water. At our annual Confluence event, held this year at Minneapolis Cider Company, new graduating Stewards showcased their work, and program founder Peggy Knapp talked about the origins and importance of this groundbreaking approach to water conservation.

This year, 23 new water stewards completed their certification, and the program reported an impressive 1,600 volunteer hours. Stewards in the Art for Water program worked across a variety of media to create projects that engage their communities on water issues. Those projects included woven textiles that highlighted impaired waters in the state and paintings created with reclaimed road salt.

Minnesota Water Stewards now serve in leadership roles on watershed district boards, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, and the Clean Water Council.

Learn more about Minnesota Water Stewards.

River through farmland

Great Lakes Protection Fund awards Freshwater $1.5 Million to boost water quality through land conservation

Freshwater was awarded $1.5 million from the Great Lakes Protection Fund to lead a 5-year effort to improve water quality in the Maumee, St. Louis and Saginaw River watersheds, tributaries to the most impaired areas of the Great Lakes.

The team will use cause marketing to raise funds for permanently converting marginal cropland to perennial vegetation, thereby enhancing carbon storage and curbing runoff.

Working with local land trusts and watershed modeling experts, Freshwater will identify landowners in key locations and prioritize croplands that would provide the greatest water quality benefits.

Learn more about this project.

River through farmland
Judy Erickson and Carrie Jennings

Historic legislative session marks significant progress on water policy

When the Minnesota Legislature adjourned on May 22, the session was applauded by many conservation groups for providing significant investments in a broad range of environmental programs. Freshwater’s legislative priorities were successful nearly across the board with progress in the areas of soil health, water storage, drinking water protection and more.

In preparation for the 2024 legislative session, Freshwater has been meeting with state agency leaders and conservation partners to discuss how we can build on this positive momentum in addressing Minnesota's water challenges.

Learn more about our state policy work.

Judy Erickson and Carrie Jennings
Kris Meyer

Lake Hiawatha trash boom installed with project partners and local community

Community members and project partners gathered at Lake Hiawatha in south Minneapolis on June 3 to celebrate installation of a new boom system designed to keep trash from entering the lake through a storm drain outfall.

This innovative project is a collaboration between Freshwater, River Network, the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Friends of Lake Hiawatha, and Osprey Initiative. Debris collected in this series of three booms will be sorted, recorded and disposed of properly by a trained maintenance team. The collected debris will help the City of Minneapolis to better understand the extent of the pollution problem, and to enact measures to reduce pollution further upstream.

A number of news organizations reported on this pilot project including the Star Tribune, WCCO, KSTP and Minnesota Public Radio. Freshwater also produced a video about the project, along with an interpretive sign installed at the lake.

Learn more about this project.

Kris Meyer
Minnesota delegation

Freshwater leads Minnesota delegation to One Water Summit

In order to build new partnerships and identify shared goals, Freshwater led a Minnesota delegation to this year’s One Water Summit in Tucson, Arizona, held November 14-16. Organized by the US Water Alliance, the Summit is an opportunity for stakeholders across sectors to come together to learn and strategize about pressing challenges and emerging opportunities in sustainable water management.

The Minnesota delegation’s 24 attendees included community members, appointed officials, water utilities and nonprofit groups with diverse perspectives and relationships to water. Groups represented were the Environmental Justice Coordinating Council, Honor the Earth, Metropolitan Council, Saint Paul Regional Water Services, Freshwater and Ducks Unlimited.

Learn more about our One Water Summit delegation.

Minnesota delegation
soil warriors

Freshwater interns and partners study benefits of regenerative agriculture

This past summer Freshwater hired four undergrads from the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences to learn about regenerative agriculture practices and help develop policy recommendations. They also helped collect data in an ongoing 5-year study of farms transitioning from row-crop agriculture to a regenerative, tree-range, poultry system. We are documenting the physical, biological, and chemical aspects of soil change and the resulting improvements to water infiltration and runoff.

The Freshwater interns attended farm tours, soil-health workshops and Farmfest – and they conducted one-on-one interviews with farmers engaged in generational handoff of a farm. They wanted to understand what keeps some farmers from adopting more water-friendly practices. They presented their work to over 60 soil and water conservation district supervisors and to the Freshwater Board in a seminar class at the U of M with plans to submit an opinion piece in a soil conservation journal.

soil warriors
Water Connects Us

Freshwater supporters gather at Harriet Island Pavillion for Water Connects Us

Freshwater's annual fundraising benefit, Water Connects Us, took place on June 22 at Harriet Island Wigington Pavilion in Saint Paul. This was Freshwater's first in-person fundraiser since 2019, and we decided to host a free event to make it more inclusive.

The program was moderated by Jothsna Harris of Change Narrative with a welcome by new Freshwater Executive Director Michelle Stockness and music by Buffalo Weavers.

Tyler Pederson from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board spoke about efforts to revitalize Lake Hiawatha, followed by the premiere of a video about Sean Connaughty, a Minneapolis educator and clean water advocate.

Learn more about Water Connects Us.

Water Connects Us
tribal map

Freshwater receives Joyce Foundation grant for Phase 2 of groundwater governance work

Thanks to funding from the Joyce Foundation, Freshwater has begun a second phase of work to build capacity for groundwater governance in the Great Lakes region. This builds on previous work detailed in the 2022 report, Groundwater Governance, Well Cobbled?, which assessed the technical, legal and structural capacity of the six Great Lakes states and 35 federally recognized tribes in EPA Region 5.

The Phase 2 work includes hosting three “Aquifer Action Cluster” workshops  that are centered on a particular shared aquifer to share issues and strategies, and to elevate tribal perspectives. The team will also develop specific policy language to facilitate improved intergovernmental collaboration. This continued work is intended to provide decision makers with defined strategies on how to equitably and sustainably manage groundwater over the long term.

Learn more about this project.

tribal map
Michelle and Bel

Freshwater makes a splash at the Minnesota State Fair

Freshwater returned to the KARE 11 booth at the Minnesota State Fair to sell advance copies of the 2024 Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendar and Almanac. Staff greeted hundreds of long-time Weatherguide fans who visited the booth as an annual tradition, along with many newcomers who learned about our work for water.

On the Minnesota DNR’s Water Day, we also set up a Freshwater tent near the fishpond and engaged fairgoers of all ages with an interactive water trivia game. Plus, Freshwater Executive Director Michelle Stockness joined the KARE11 team for Sunrise Trivia to test the audience’s knowledge of water and the outdoors.

Learn more about the Minnesota Weatherguide.

Michelle and Bel
Water Workforce Pathways

New Water Workforce Pathways program launches

Freshwater's new initiative, Water Workforce Pathways, connects stakeholders across public and private sectors to increase visibility and access to abundant, stable, well-paying jobs in the water industry.

This collaborative project brings together workforce consultants, watershed districts, drinking water utilities, technical training schools and other partners to build a resilient, sustainable water workforce. A variety of online resources, including a water career guide, information on training programs, and mentorship guidance for employers, are available on Freshwater website.

Learn more about this program.

Water Workforce Pathways
St. Athony Falls cutoff wall

St. Anthony Falls cutoff wall study to evaluate structure beneath Mississippi River

During its 2023 session, the Minnesota Legislature appropriated $1 million to fund a technical study of the St. Anthony Falls cutoff wall on the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis because its current structural and geological integrity is not well understood.

The study is being led by Jeff Marr at the University of Minnesota with Freshwater playing an advisory role. In cooperation with Hennepin County Emergency Management, the team will assess the potential risk for structural, geotechnical, or hydraulic failures at the site and what the consequence of failure would be to existing civil infrastructure.

Learn more about this project.

St. Athony Falls cutoff wall
Teachers at outdoor training retreat

Freshwater helps Minnesota teachers embrace nature-based learning

Freshwater is partnering with Hamline University and the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment for a transformative project designed to empower Minnesota teachers to integrate nature-based learning into their classrooms.

This project includes immersive training retreats that aim to address a critical gap in teachers' preparedness and willingness to utilize the outdoors as an educational resource. The retreats are part of a broader initiative to create a Teacher Field School, revolutionizing the way educators approach teaching and enriching student experiences.

The work began with a $200,000 in funding from the Manitou Fund for a pilot year and is now backed by a $500,000 grant from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) for two additional years.

Learn more about this project.

Teachers at outdoor training retreat
Moos webinar on April 12

Moos Speaker Series: Soils are Sponges and Rivers Have Livers

Freshwater hosted a successful webinar in April for the spring edition of the Moos Family Speaker Series. Dr. Genevieve Ali, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at McGill University (Montreal, Canada), discussed soil layers and how these different types of "sponges" cause water and contaminants to move vertically and laterally through the ground.

Next, Dr. Kamini Singha, a University Distinguished Professor and the Associate Dean of Earth and Society Programs at the Colorado School of Mines, talked about the hyporheic zone where a river's surface water interacts with its surrounding aquifer. The lectures were followed by a discussion facilitated by Carrie Jennings, Research and Policy Director at Freshwater. A recording of the webinar is available on the Freshwater YouTube channel.

Watch the webinar.

Moos webinar on April 12
UPRIVER film event

Moos Speaker Series: UPRIVER film event

Our second Moos Speaker Series presentation of 2023 took place on December 5 with a sold-out showing of UPRIVER at The Main Cinema in Minneapolis. This documentary explores one of the nation’s most active river conservation movements on Oregon’s Willamette River system.

The post-show panel discussion included Carrie Jennings (Research and Policy Director, Freshwater), Jacques Finlay (Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, University of Minnesota), John Whitehead (Filmmaker, Fretless Films), and Patrick Moore (Emerging Systems Consulting).

We hope this film inspires new thinking on watershed partnerships here in the Midwest – and how we might creatively share our conservation stories.

Learn more about UPRIVER.

UPRIVER film event
Managed aquifer recharge

Managed aquifer recharge study to evaluate injection wells, infiltration basins

With groundwater shortages becoming a concern in some areas of the state, researchers at the University of Minnesota and Freshwater are developing a GIS mapping tool that could help pave the way for managed aquifer recharge in Minnesota.

Also known as water banking, managed aquifer recharge usually involves injecting water into the ground through wells, or constructing infiltration basins, to essentially “bank” water underground to be used later for drinking or irrigation.

This project, funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, will look at both methods to analyze the recharge potential of at least two Minnesota aquifers. Learn more about this project.

Learn more about this project.

Managed aquifer recharge

Nitrate contamination shines spotlight on private drinking wells

As state agencies, at the request of the US Environmental Protection Agency, developed plans to address nitrate contamination of groundwater in southeastern Minnesota, Freshwater took steps to support private well owners in the region. This included coordinating with the Minnesota Well Owners Association (MWOO) and the Minnesota Ground Water Association on a free well testing clinic September 30 in Elko New Market.

Freshwater also teamed up with MWOO to present a range of private well protection and outreach ideas to the Clean Water Council at their November meeting. Potential strategies include creating a private well stewards program using a similar training approach to Minnesota Water Stewards.

Thanks to our donors and members

Freshwater welcomes new team members in 2023

Alyssa Fabia – Tribal Outreach and Research Associate
Sinthya Juviani – Marketing and Development Associate
Chris O’Brien – Communications and Marketing Coordinator
John Roterman – Tribal State Liaison

Jessica Sahu Teli – Education and Outreach Specialist
Natalie Stange – Development Manager
Michelle Stockness – Executive Director

Special thanks to Finance Director Don Davies who retired at the end of 2023. It's been a pleasure and a privilege to work with you, Don!

Remembering Fergus Woolley

Fergus WoolleyJeffers Foundation leader made lasting impact on environmental education

In March, we were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Fergus Woolley, CEO of the Jeffers Foundation. Freshwater's partnership with Fergus and the Jeffers Foundation extends all the way back to 2006 when then Vice President Fergus Woolley approached Freshwater about using the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendar as a teaching tool for elementary school students. Shortly thereafter, the foundation developed a K-5 curriculum and began providing free training to teachers who wanted to use the calendar in their classroom, and the Calendar in the Classroom program began.

Fergus' meaningful contributions to the environmental education landscape in Minnesota through the Jeffers Foundation have been instrumental in raising the next generation of environmental stewards.

Notable numbers for 2023

New Minnesota Water Stewards certified
Water Steward volunteer hours reported
Donated during Give to the Max
Moos Speaker Series attendees
Raised through Water Connects Us
Weatherguide calendars sold at the Minnesota State Fair

Financial summary for Fiscal Year 2023

Balance sheet

Cash and cash equivalents $226,938
Accounts receivable $55,067
Grant payments receivable $1,205,000
Other current assets $57,552
Fixed assets $31,962
Other assets $161,370
Investments $5,246,392
Total assets $6,984,281
Liabilities and Net Assets  
Accounts payable $22,747
Accrued liabilities $53,374
Operating lease liability $177,098
Total liabilities $253,219
Unrestricted net assets $4,986,338
Temporarily restricted net assets $1,686,349
Permanently restricted net assets $58,375
Total net assets $6,731,062
Total liabilities and net assets $6,984,281

Income statement

Income Statement  
Support and program revenues $2,414,624
Interest and investment income, net $421,775
Program expenses ($1,290,477)
Fundraising expenses ($117,587)
Management and general expenses ($215,989)
Change in net assets $1,212,346
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Accountability and transparency are important to us.
Freshwater is proud to be a Meets Standards organization with the Charities Review Council.

Making a difference

"I'm a Freshwater member because I'm concerned about our water for the future of my children and grandchildren."

— Freshwater sustaining member

"The Art For Water program is an important tool in the fight for clean water, and I am thankful to be a part of it."

— Devon Hugdaul, artist in Freshwater's Art for Water program

"Your experience and leadership of the day were invaluable for us as we look to solidify the necessary direction for our organization moving forward."

—Freshwater facilitation client 

"As Water Stewards, we’re on the front lines of changing the environment working on rain gardens, French drains, rain barrels, pollinator gardens and lawns, sidewalk salt reduction, and lawn sprinkler reduction."

Chris Kunz, Water Steward and sustaining member