In fall of 2011, commissioned by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, "the Canadian Waterscape: assessing the needs of Canada's water leaders" was completed. The research, undertaken by Lindsay Telfer and Danielle Droitsch, was the research that laid the foundation for the Alliance initiative. The study drew on the perspectives of 150 water leaders from across the country, including 22 direct phone interviews. The top capacity need identified by the survey was for training and support to enable groups to more effectively communicate and engage the public around initiatives aimed to protect and restore freshwater in Canada.

The results also indicated that:

1) networking and collaboration between water oriented organizations across provinces, territories and the country needs to be strengthened;
2) there is a need to develop skills for effective civic participation, public engagement, and understanding of water science
3) directly affected communities facing urgent water issues require more support to confront challenges, collaborate, and network with other organizations.

Out of this research a founding steering committee was established to oversee the establishment of a national organization to unite and train Canada's non-profit freshwater community and to support broader engagement in the Canadian public around freshwater issues. This founding committee was comprised of Lindsay Telfer (Director, Freshwater Alliance), Tim Morris (Gordon Fdn, and Chair, Steering Committee), Tony Maas (WWF-Canada), Danielle Droitsch (NRDC), and Kat Hartwig (Living Lakes & Wildsight). For the Alliance's first year of operations, 2012, the steering committee developed an initial strategic approach for the Alliance that was encapsulated by three key functions: train; unite; and mobilize.

Train – capacity development and training for water groups and leaders to fill critical needs identified in Canadian waterscape report including communications and public engagement; understanding water law and policy; and fund-raising.

Unite – supporting new networks and coalitions of diverse groups seeking to take action on fresh water protection.

Mobilize – providing the tools to networks and coalitions to effectively engage and mobilize the public to support fresh water protection.

Just prior to 2012, the Alliance was pleased to find an institutional home at Tides Canada Initiatives, allowing the fledgling project to build internal capacity to launch activities. Tides Canada Initiatives provides a shared administrative platform for initiatives and was keen to support the establishment of the Alliance. Becoming a Tides Canada Initiative has given the Alliance important stability allowing a focus instead on strategic and program development.

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