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Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund

Why the Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund

Draining 13 million acres across four states, the Delaware River is the source of drinking water for 15 million people, a web of diverse plant and animal life, a recreational destination, and the foundation of the region’s economy.

The river has become much cleaner since the 1970s, after the federal Clean Water Act regulated major pollution sources, like sewage and factory waste. But today contamination still enters the watershed from thousands of smaller sources, carried into streams and groundwater by runoff from roads, construction sites, suburbs, cities, farms, and logged and mined lands (see white paper, Investing in Strategies to Accelerate Conservation and Measure Impact in the Delaware River Watershed).

About the Fund

Launched in 2014, the Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund seeks to ensure abundant, clean water through support of land protection and improved land use planning, as part of the broader Delaware River Watershed Initiative, a coordinated effort involving 65 organizations working together to protect and restore clean water in the Delaware River watershed. The Initiative, generously supported by the William Penn Foundation, supports land protection, restoration, and water quality monitoring in eight regions of the watershed. The William Penn Foundation has also commissioned an assessment of the contribution of capital investments in protection and restoration to ensure water quality.

Through the Fund, OSI provides three types of grants. More information about each of these grant types and instructions on how to apply can be found in our cloud-based RFP Resource Library.

  • Capital Grants for the purchase of land and easements to permanently protect important watershed lands;
  • Transaction Grants to jumpstart land conservation efforts; and,
  • Catalyst Grants to integrate water quality science into strategic conservation or forest management plans, such as Open Space Plans, ordinances, or other mechanisms for the protection and stewardship of water resources. OSI encourages proposals that address climate change, flood hazard, and/or water justice.

The Fund also makes short-term, Low-Interest Loans to bridge gaps in public or private funding for land protection projects.

The Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund is generously supported by the William Penn Foundation.

Impact of the Fund

Since the launch of the Fund in 2014, OSI has approved Capital and Transaction Grants totaling $13.3 million for 85 projects that will preserve over 25,000 acres of land. These projects are expected to protect 136 miles of forested stream banks, 14,400 acres of headwaters, 9,200 acres of stream buffers, and 4,200 acres of wetlands. Read more about recent projects.

Complementing these land protection efforts, OSI has made ten Catalyst Grants to integrate water quality and climate science into conservation and stewardship plans. For an example of planning work supported by the Catalyst program, Open Space and Flood Protection Plans developed in two townships in Warren County, NY.

Geographic Focus Area

Projects are eligible anywhere in the Delaware River watershed.

Priority will be given to projects that build on previous DRWPF land protection work and advance the DRWPF goal to protect forested water resources such as headwaters, active river area, wetlands, and streams.

Before applying, applicants should contact OSI’s Bill Rawlyk, [email protected], to determine the eligibility of a proposed exceptional project.

Capital and Transaction Grants - Eligibility and Grant Criteria

To be eligible for capital or transaction grants, projects must meet the following requirements:

  • Be located within the Delaware River watershed. Preference will be given to projects that build on previous DRWPF work and the extent that they protect water resources such as forest, headwaters, wetlands and active river area. To check the location of your project you may use the OSI Applications screening tool found HERE. At least 90% of the project and 90% of the area within 100 feet of water bodies must be in natural land cover. Qualifying land cover excludes mowing or grazing or other disturbances that would prevent forest regrowth. Projects with natural cover below the threshold must either a) apply for funding only for the portion of the property with 90% natural cover, or b) demonstrate that 90% or more of the area will revert to qualifying land cover.
  • Impacts from upstream pollutant sources and surrounding land uses do not override the project’s contribution to water quality.
  • Be spearheaded by an organization with the capacity and financial ability to execute the transaction and ensure long-term stewardship and management of the property consistent with the Fund’s objectives.
  • OSI welcomes and encourages projects that return land to Indigenous management and ownership.

Forestland Capital grant projects must also meet these additional eligibility requirements (not required for Transaction grants).

Capital Grant Criteria

OSI evaluates eligible Forestland projects against the following Grant criteria:

  1. Be located within the Delaware River Watershed;
  2. Achieve permanent protection through fee purchase of land or a conservation easement;
  3. Land Stewardship: Degree to which the project meets the Fund’s stewardship goals for the grant fund. See OSI Conservation Easement and Stewardship Standards;
  4. Conversion pressure: Type and extent of conversion pressure on the project and surrounding parcels;
  5. Transaction Feasibility: Likelihood that the project will succeed and close before December 1, 2025, based on status of negotiations, purchase agreement, status of due diligence; funding secured for the project; applicant’s fundraising plan and experience in fundraising; and the applicants' experience in completing land transactions, financial health, and accreditation status;
  6. Leverage: The extent to which the proposed transaction will secure sufficient funding to meet or exceed OSI’s financial match requirements; and
  7. Co-benefits to water quality: Additional benefits of the project such as flood reduction, community benefits, habitat protection, landscape connectivity, partnership building, ecotourism, or new financing mechanisms.

Grant Awards

OSI makes grants to qualified land conservation organizations through a competitive process with the assistance of an advisory committee of experts from the region with knowledge of hydrology, land protection, planning, natural resources, and philanthropy. OSI staff and advisors review and make recommendations on all grant applications.

Although there is no minimum or maximum grant size, Capital Grant awards are typically between $75,000 and $450,000 but may exceed that amount on a case-by-case basis for a project of large scale and high watershed resource value. Transaction Grants are capped at $25,000, unless otherwise agreed upon with Fund staff. Catalyst Grants typically range from $10,000 to $35,000.

Conservation Easements and Stewardship Standards

To ensure permanent protection of the land’s natural resource values and maintain or enhance water quality, capital projects must meet the Fund’s Conservation Easement and Stewardship Standards. OSI staff will review conservation easement and/or management plan language prior to distribution of grant funds. Forest management plans are required for all Forestland Protection capital grants.

Financial Match for Capital Projects

The Fund will prioritize capital projects that bring a 3:1 or greater financial match, meaning that for every dollar awarded by the Fund there is at least three dollars in additional capital funding. Funds will be allocated to projects that do not meet this match threshold in a manner that maximizes the stated outcomes of the fund.

Donations, grants, and, in some cases, land can serve as match. Prior to grant distribution, grantees must provide a detailed accounting of all matching sources. See here for a more detailed description of match requirements.

No match is required for Transaction or Catalyst Grants.

If a project receiving a Transaction Grant applies for and receives a Capital grant, the Transaction Grant amount will be considered as part of the Capital grant when calculating match ratio for the Capital Grant.

Next Steps to Apply

OSI is accepting applications to the Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund for Forestland Proposals beginning March 11, 2024, through 5:00 pm EST April 22, 2024. Award decisions will be made in July 2024.

All grant applications must be submitted through OSI’s online grant portal. Before preparing a proposal, applicants are encouraged to contact Before preparing a proposal, applicants are encouraged to contact OSI Senior Project Manager, Bill Rawlyk at 908-642-4747 or [email protected].

OSI is continuing to consider proposals for Transaction Grants as well as Catalyst Grants on a rolling basis. Find an overview of the Transaction Grants here, and an overview of the Catalyst Grant program here.

If you have any questions about the application process or details of the Fund, please view a pre-recorded applicant webinar at this link. The webinar provides a broad range of information on the application process, eligibility, grant and scoring criteria and match rules.

If you prefer to speak directly with us regarding your application and/or potential project, please contact our team. For Capital and/or Transaction Grants, please reach out to Bill Rawlyk, Senior Project Manager, at 908-642-4747 or [email protected].

For information about Catalyst Grants, please contact Hallie Schwab, Conservation Planning Manager, at 929-405-3294, or [email protected].

Please sign up here to receive a notification for the Request for Proposals and other Fund updates.

Catalyst Program Inquiries

Hallie Schwab

Conservation Planning Manager

(929) 405-3294

Capital Fund Inquiries

Bill Rawlyk

Senior Project Manager, Mid-Atlantic

(908) 642-4747

Administrative / Foundant Grant Portal Inquiries

Yasemin Unal-Rodriguez

Conservation Capital Program Associate

(646) 578-0268


Neil Jordan

Director of Geospatial Strategy

(212) 290-8200

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