Change the Course campaign frequently asked questions



Q: What is the Change the Course campaign?

A: Change the Course is a national freshwater restoration campaign led by National Geographic, BEF and Participant Media that aims to redefine how corporations and people value, use and manage freshwater resources.


Q: Where do I make the free pledge to conserve?

A: You can make the pledge online at—simply click the “MAKE THE PLEDGE” button at the top of the page.

Or use your phone to text “river” to 77177. If you use the text option you’ll receive a confirmation text—you can opt out of receiving future texts at any time.


Q. Why is there a focus on the Colorado River Basin?

A. As an iconic and endangered U.S. watershed, the Colorado River Basin is symbolic of the challenges we face domestically regarding critically dewatered streams and rivers and the water management systems currently in place that contribute to this issue. The Colorado River Basin is now so heavily dammed, diverted and over tapped that since the 1980s this once mighty river no longer reaches the Sea. This reduction of water flow has had a significant impact on the economic, recreational and ecological vitality of communities throughout the Colorado River Basin.


Q: What is the reach of the Colorado River Basin?

A: The Colorado River Basin spans 7 states—Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, New Mexico and Wyoming—and Mexico. It provides drinking water to 36 million people and is the irrigation source for more than 5.5 million acres of farmland across seven states. Additionally, hydroelectric facilities along the river generate more than 4,200 megawatts of generating capacity, helping to meet the power needs of the West and offset use of fossil fuels.


Q: What are the goals of the Change the Course campaign?

A: In the first two years, the campaign aims to generate more than 100,000 unique online water conservation pledges at By the end of 2015, the campaign aims to provide funding to support at least seven water restoration projects in the Colorado River Basin that collectively restore at least 2 billion gallons of water to critically dewatered ecosystems in Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and/or the Colorado Delta in Mexico.


Q. The Colorado River seems full of water. What exactly is the problem?

A. Often the rivers we see in urban or popular recreation areas can look healthy but examining the challenges in the Colorado River Basin requires viewing it as an interconnected, complex ecosystem. Many tributaries throughout the Colorado River Basin are significantly depleted, or even go completely dry, for parts of the year. The negative impact on fish and wildlife and the surrounding environment is significant.


Q: I don’t live in any of these states so why should I care about the Colorado River?

A: An iconic river system, the Colorado faces challenges similar to those faced by major watersheds throughout the U.S. Successful projects change the way water is valued, managed and used in the geographies in which they are implemented—paving the way for scaled solutions in watersheds across the country, including those in your backyard.


Q: How does making a pledge to Change the Course really make a difference?

A: Simply put, your pledge equals 1,000 gallons restored to the Colorado River Basin. Yet, beyond this simple equation, your commitment to conserve also makes you part of a national movement. Our corporate sponsors are interested in helping us build a movement that encourages conservation from individuals (like you) and industry—as well as innovative restoration solutions on the ground that help secure the health of this iconic watershed.


Q: Reconnecting the Colorado to the Sea is a noble goal, but come on—how can a simple pledge really help achieve this?

A: Thankfully, Change the Course was launched just as a groundbreaking treaty between the U.S. and Mexico opened the door to restore flows through the now dry Colorado Delta and into the Sea of Cortez. This binding, bi-national agreement charges the U.S. federal government, Mexico and relevant organizations to raise funds and implement projects that collectively will significantly increase flows in this region. With our focus on restoring flows to the Colorado River Basin and a project launched specifically in the Delta, Change the Course—and your pledge—will play an important role in this effort.


Q: With a changing climate, how do you know that the water you restore in rivers will be there 100 years from now?

A: Unfortunately, we don’t. There is no assurance that flows restored by Change the Course will be protected in perpetuity. We simply cannot predict how climate change will alter water supplies in the West—or how society will adapt to those changes. What we can do is demonstrate how innovative solutions can provide healthier rivers side-by-side with healthy farms, cities and industry. That’s what Change the Course is about—redefining how we value, use and manage freshwater resources—and it’s an approach that will produce benefits now and in the future.


Q: Can you really be sure that water you restore in the upper reaches of the Colorado River makes its way all the way to the sea?

A: No, we cannot—and this is not an objective of Change the Course. The jurisdictional complexity of the Colorado River, spanning seven states and two countries, means that the river’s waters are governed by many sets of laws—and laws in one state may have no bearing once waters cross into other states or across the U.S.-Mexico border. In all cases, we will use our campaign funding to support and showcase innovative water management solutions that can restore water where it is needed most to support fish and wildlife, recreation, water quality and other benefits. While we cannot protect the restored flows beyond the reach of the project, we anticipate decision makers will take steps to accomplish more flow restoration once they see the benefits these solutions offer.


Q: Can Change the Course really “restore” water to dewatered streams, rivers and wetlands in the Colorado River Basin?

A: Yes. Change the Course partners with many organizations to channel corporate funding to a range of projects that actually enhance or restore the amount of water flowing through critically dewatered reaches (or sections) of rivers and streams. There are several project types that Change the Course can use to achieve flow restoration goals:

  • WATER CONSERVATION—Opportunities to conserve water used for agriculture in the U.S. abound, however funding to support water conservation is lacking. BEF’s Water Restoration Certificate® program funds projects that invest in new irrigation infrastructure to allow irrigators to conserve and divert less water from dewatered rivers, streams, and aquifers. By funding irrigation system upgrades, BEF supports projects that leave significant “saved water” in the river to benefit fish, wildlife and water quality. While projects of this type do not create “new water” they play a central role in enhancing flows in critically dewatered streams.
  • WATER MANAGEMENT—Each year, outdated irrigation systems in the U.S. can leak up to 80% of the water they attempt to transfer to thirsty crops. Addressing this challenge with modernized systems is just one of the innovative solutions that funding from the BEF Water Restoration Certificate® program supports. As a result, irrigators divert less water from rivers, thus restoring water to dewatered sections of vital streams and rivers.
  • WATER LEASING AND FORBEARANCE AGREEMENTS—In many circumstances, water rights holders may not need or use all of the water that they have a right to use. Through “leasing” agreements, water rights holders can designate some of their water to be used for “environmental benefit”—meaning that these water rights holders choose to leave some portion of their water in dewatered rivers and streams to enhance flows and improve environmental conditions. Under the right circumstances, many states in the West allow this “leased” water to be legally protected against other downstream water use. The BEF Water Restoration Certificate® program provides funding to local organizations to pay for the costs associated with implementing water leasing and forbearance agreements.
  • PERMANENT TRANSFERS—In many states, water rights can be permanently transferred from one use to another. In some cases, water rights can be transferred from low-value economic uses to serve high-value environmental needs. Funding for these transfers can provide permanent environmental benefit by restoring flows of water to critical wetland areas or chronically dewatered stream reaches to benefit endangered fish and wildlife and enhance recreational values.


Q: What does the “use it or lose it” water rights policy really mean?

A: Across the western U.S., individuals possess legal rights to divert and use water for “beneficial purposes.” Historically, rights to use water were typically allocated to landowners with the provision that water would be used to generate economic benefit—and if water rights holders ceased using their share of water, their rights could be forfeited so that another person might obtain and use this “unused” water to generate economic benefit.

This “use it or lose it” doctrine ensured that individuals did not acquire and horde water rights that they were unable to put to beneficial use. As such, if water was not used for beneficial purposes, rights could be transferred to and applied by another user to maximize economic productivity.

One problem with this legacy “use it or lose it” policy is that water rights holders today often have no incentive to use less water. If they invest in conservation measures, they may simply lose their valuable water rights. “Use it or lose it” policies are in effect throughout most of the West, though the application of this general doctrine varies state by state.

For instance, in some states any water rights that predate the establishment of a state water code may not be subject to the “use it or lose it” provision. Also many states across the West now recognize water that is used to benefit fish and wildlife as a “beneficial use.” As a result, today there are many locations across the West where water rights holders may “use” their water to benefit fish, wildlife and streams without fear of forfeiting their valuable rights. In some cases this allows water to be protected instream while providing flexibility to water rights holders that may desire to implement irrigation efficiency projects, conservation measures, or simply use some of their water to benefit critically dewatered rivers.


Q: People really use 2,000 gallons of water a day? That sounds like a lot more than any other statistic I’ve read before!

A: Water is embedded in everything we use, wear, eat and buy, so yes, it takes about 2,000 gallons4 of water a day to keep the average American’s lifestyle afloat. A simple cotton shirt takes about 700 gallons of water to make—most of it to grow the cotton out in the field. Our water use at home, indoors and outdoors, averages about 100 gallons5 per person per day. And even though this home use is only about 5%6 of our daily water footprint, conserving at home is important because it helps protect the rivers and lakes in our communities. Learn more about your embedded water footprint with the National Geographic water footprint calculator—go to and click on “Get Inspired” and then click on “Check Your Footprint.”


Q: So, I made the pledge, what else can I do to make a difference?

A: Change the Course encourages you to act with your purchasing power. When you need to make a purchase, seek out products and services that are produced with less water wherever possible. Try to buy more recycled or upcycled goods. And better yet: buy fewer things overall. Finally, encourage your friends and colleagues to Make the Pledge and help Change the Course too!


Q: Are there opportunities available to volunteer to help restore the Colorado?

A: No, the Change the Course campaign does not have any volunteer opportunities available at this time.