Apply for Funding from The Water Desk


The Water Desk’s mission is to increase the volume, depth and power of journalism connected to Western water issues, with a focus on the Colorado River Basin.

Based in Boulder at the University of Colorado (CU) and its Center for Environmental Journalism (CEJ), The Water Desk works with journalists and media outlets to strengthen their water-related coverage.

This page explains how journalists can apply to The Water Desk for funding to support their coverage of Western water issues and the Colorado River Basin.

This grantmaking program is only open to journalists. We are currently only accepting micro-grant applications but will be running a program for our standard grants in 2020.

The Water Desk is interested in supporting a wide variety of media and journalistic approaches: newspapers, magazines, websites, video, television, radio, podcasts and other channels. Both freelancers and journalists who are employed by a media outlet may apply for funding.

The Water Desk will support journalism that focuses on water issues involving the seven states of the Colorado River Basin—Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming—as well as the borderlands of Northwest Mexico.

Because water is intertwined with so many issues, we are open to proposals covering a broad spectrum of topics: climate change, biodiversity, public health, environmental justice, food/agriculture, drinking water, economics/business, recreation and more.

The Water Desk launched in April 2019 with support from the Walton Family Foundation. As a journalistic effort, The Water Desk maintains a strict editorial firewall between its content and funders. Likewise, The Water Desk has editorial independence from CU.

Micro-grants and standard grants

The Water Desk runs two grantmaking programs:

1) Micro-grants cannot exceed $2,000 and are meant to pay for discrete expenses that are necessary to produce content or advance a journalist’s professional development. These grants are meant to remove relatively small obstacles standing in the way between a journalist and better coverage of water issues.

Expenses for the micro-grants may include:

  • Travel to support reporting or to attend conferences/meetings
  • Reporting expenses, such as data acquisition, public records requests, and software
  • Training and conferences, either online or in-person

Expenses for the micro-grants may not include:

  • Salary and benefits
  • Equipment

Applications for micro-grants will be reviewed on a rolling basis. We plan to make decisions on applications within one month of their submission.

2) Standard grants cannot exceed $10,000 and are meant to support significant reporting efforts that lead to the publication of content connected to Western water issues and the Colorado River Basin, as defined above. These grants will be issued as general support grants, meaning that it will be up to the recipient how to allocate the resources. That said, applicants will still need to provide a proposed budget that outlines how the funds will be spent.

For freelancers, expenses for the standard grants may include a stipend of up to $4,000 for compensation of reporting time. These stipends are intended to supplement—not replace—any fees paid by media outlets that publish and distribute the content. 

For journalists employed by a media outlet, the standard grants cannot be used to pay for salary/benefits.

For all applicants, the standard grants cannot be used to pay for equipment, such as computers and cameras.

The deadline for applications for the 2019 standard grants was July 15, 2019. We will be running a similar program in 2020. To receive updates on the grantmaking program and deadlines, please subscribe to our email newsletter.  


Before applying for either a micro-grant or standard grant, please ensure that you are eligible to receive funding from The Water Desk:

  • Only journalists (either individuals or media outlets) may apply for funding.
  • Individuals and media outlets may only submit one application per calendar year for the micro-grants and one application per calendar year for the standard grants. It’s OK for the same journalist or outlet to receive both a micro-grant and a standard grant within a single calendar year so long as they are for different projects.
  • Journalists and media outlets are welcome to collaborate and submit a joint proposal. Regardless of how many journalists/outlets are part of the application, the cap on standard grants is $10,000.
  • Recipients of either micro-grants or standard grants should complete the work they outline in their proposals within six months of receiving funding.

Application materials

All application materials must be submitted to The Water Desk online.

To apply for the micro-grants, please visit our Google form to complete the application and submit a single document (4 pages maximum) with the following materials:

1) A short narrative describing how the micro-grant will be used, what content will be produced, and/or how the grant will benefit the journalist’s professional development.

2) A short biography (250 words maximum) for the applicant.

3) A current resume for the applicant.

4) Links to three relevant work products (stories, projects, photos, videos, etc.) produced by the applicant.

To apply for the standard grants, please visit our Google form to complete the application and submit a single document (8 pages maximum) with the following materials:

1) A summary of the proposed work that includes:

  • Narrative explaining the story/project, including its news value, potential impact and importance to Western water issues.
  • Discussion of how the content will be distributed and the potential audience. For freelancers, please include any communications from media outlets that have committed to publishing or broadcasting your work. If you don’t have such a commitment, please explain your plan for pitching and disseminating your content (see next section for more details).
  • Description of what journalistic tools and approaches you will be using (e.g., text, photo, video, audio, data visualization, public records, etc.).
  • Optional: The Water Desk has a partnership with Lighthawk, a volunteer flying service that can provide free flights for journalists, so if you see the potential for aerial reporting/footage in your story/project, please explain.

2) A proposed budget that explains how the grant will be spent. You may use your own format for the budget, but please break out expenses using standard categories, such as travel, conferences, books/reports, data, etc.

3) A short biography (250 words maximum) for the journalist(s) involved in the story/project.

4) A current resume for the applicant. If a team of journalists is applying, please only submit one resume for the project leader.

5) Links to three relevant work products (stories, projects, photos, videos, etc.) produced by the journalist(s) or media outlet(s).

Additional information

The Water Desk maintains a strict policy of confidentiality with regard to submitted story ideas. We also have a strict policy of editorial independence from our funders. Funders of The Water Desk have no right of review and no influence on stories or other journalistic content that is produced with the support of these grants.

If you are a freelancer applying for a standard grant, please include a letter of support or commitment from an editor to publish or broadcast your finished work. If such a letter cannot be provided, please describe your dissemination plan in your narrative. Questions to address: What outlets would be most appropriate for the work? Do you already have a relationship with any of them? If so, describe it briefly. Have you pitched your idea yet, and if so, what response did you get? Without a strong dissemination plan, your proposal will be much less competitive.

Funds may not be used to reimburse past expenses on a project. Funds can be used only for expenses incurred after the grantee agreement is signed and returned to The Water Desk.

Recipients of the micro-grants will receive the entire sum upon approval. For the standard grants, recipients will receive 50% of the award upon approval of the grant and the remaining 50% upon publication of the content. When the project or activity is complete, grantees will send us a short report describing what was accomplished and how the funds were expended. If supported work has been published, a link should be provided. If not, the grantee should describe the prospects for publishing the content. If there are any unspent funds, or if the project could not be completed, grantees must return those funds to The Water Desk.

We request that any content produced with funding from either the micro-grants or standard grants be made available to The Water Desk so that we can publish the material on our website,, and then make the content available for free to media outlets that join our network, which is currently under development. Journalists and media outlets are welcome to first publish the content exclusively via their own platforms. If your media outlet will not permit the content to be republished, you may still apply.

We request that recipients of either the micro-grants or standard grants report back to The Water Desk on engagement, website traffic and any impact related to content produced with The Water Desk’s support. This will allow us to track the impact of the grantmaking.

Micro-grants will be reviewed and approved by CEJ Director Tom Yulsman and Water Desk Director Mitch Tobin. For the standard grants, applications will be reviewed and approved by a committee.

Please visit The Water Desk's website,, to see water-related journalism and use free multimedia content, including photos, videos and data visualizations.

Questions? Please contact us at