Freshwater Ecosystems

Freshwater Ecosystems

We believe the need for clean, plentiful freshwater is one of this century’s greatest challenges. Securing sustainable levels of this precious resource to meet the needs of both people and nature — what we call the freshwater challenge — is a key focus of much of the Mott Foundation’s environmental grantmaking in the United States.

We place special emphasis on the Great Lakes region — not only because the shores of our home state of Michigan touch four of the five Great Lakes, but also because the Great Lakes are the single largest system of surface freshwater on Earth. As such, they affect the physical, social and economic well-being of tens of millions of people in and beyond the region.

On a more limited basis, we also support work in the southeastern United States specifically aimed at securing healthy river flows. When it comes to rivers and streams, the Southeast is one of the most important places on the planet and, next to the Amazon, is home to the most biologically diverse freshwater ecosystems in the world. Increasingly, however, the rivers of the Southeast region face high risk of rising pollution levels and habitat degradation. We concentrate our grantmaking in three ecoregions: Tennessee-Cumberland, Mobile Bay and South Atlantic. This translates roughly into a focus on the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.

In both of these globally significant regions we’re working to help strengthen the community of nongovernmental organizations dedicated to the long-term conservation of freshwater ecosystems. We also seek to inform and advance well-designed and effectively implemented water-quality and water-quantity policies that conserve freshwater resources.

Great Lakes region

The majority of our freshwater grantmaking focuses on the Great Lakes — the single largest system of surface freshwater on Earth.

Southeast United States

In the southeast, we concentrate our grantmaking in the three ecoregions pictured.




Grantmaking pumped new life into rivers, paved the way for restoration efforts nationwide

Hyropower dam

Every autumn, when cold air settles over the Great Lakes region, anglers from as far away as Europe and Asia make their way to a river in west Michigan to test their skill against powerful fish known affectionately as “silver bullets.”

The prized catch is steelhead and the Muskegon River is one of the best places in America to find them, according to biologists and experienced anglers. It’s a remarkable designation for a river that carried millions of logs to sawmills in the 19th century, only to become strangled by hydroelectric dams in the first decade of the 20th century.

Dams changed the Muskegon’s natural blueprint by creating new flow patterns, altering the movement of sediment and nutrients, raising the temperature of its water, reducing the amount of oxygen available to fish, creating artificial divisions in wildlife habitat and preventing fish in Lake Michigan from reaching 79 percent of the river that is upstream of the towering structures. The result: a vital ecosystem that was profoundly changed and put at risk of significant damage.

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Featured Multimedia

Developed in 1984 at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, GREEN engages more than 100,000 middle- and high-school students in 20 states each year to monitor the streams, creeks and rivers in watersheds across the United states. Flint River GREEN is one of the largest of these local programs.
Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. American Rivers, a Mott grantee, preserves, protects and restores thousands of miles of U.S. rivers.