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).

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 and now entering a second phase, 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:

    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 RPF Resource Library.

    • Capital Grants for the purchase of land and easements to permanently protect important watershed lands;
    • Transaction Grants to jump start land conservation efforts and,
    • Catalyst Grants to integrate water quality science into open space and other regional plans to accelerate watershed protection by state, county and municipal governments.

    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 now has $11 million available to support land acquisition; not more than $2.2 million will be allocated for Farm Buffer Grants.

    OSI accepts applications for Transaction Grants and Catalyst Grants on a rolling basis.

    Impact of the Fund

    Since the launch of the Fund in 2014, OSI approved Capital and Transaction Grants totaling $11 million for 64 projects that will preserve over 24,000 acres of land. These projects are expected to protect 124.4 miles of forested stream banks, 14,557 acres of headwaters, 8,353.6 acres of stream buffers and 3,463.5 acres of wetlands. Read more about recent projects.

    Complementing these land protection efforts, OSI has made six Catalyst Grants to integrate water quality science into conservation plans covering four counties and three municipalities. For an example of planning work supported by the Catalyst program, see our case study on the Sussex County Open Space Plan.

    Capital and Transaction Grants - Eligibility and Grant Criteria

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

    • Be located in an eligible Phase 2+ focus area. To identify whether a project is located in an eligible geography, download (1) the Map and Data Guide and (2) check your parcel location with the data in FieldDoc or the OSI Map Package (large download, unchanged from 2018). Forestland Projects must be in a DRWI or Phase 2+ focus area with land protection as an approved strategy. Farm Buffer Projects must be in a DRWI Phase 2+ focus area with land protection or restoration as an approved strategy. Note: On a case-by-case basis, OSI will consider projects outside of a DRWI focus area if the cluster organizations determine the project is of exceptional significance to water quality. Only one such project per cluster will be permitted in each Phase (see more information on “exceptional projects” in the Frequently Asked Questions document).
    • Achieve permanent protection through fee purchase of land or a conservation easement.
    • 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.
    • The applicant must be a member of a DRWI cluster or be pre-approved by the William Penn Foundation and/or cluster partners.
    • 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.

    Forestland and Farm Buffer Capital grant projects must also meet these additional eligibility requirements (not required for transaction grants). 

    Capital Grant Criteria

    OSI evaluates eligible Forestland and Farm Buffer projects against the following Grant criteria:

    1) Cluster Performance Metrics: The extent to which the project furthers the cluster plan by advancing the performance metrics.

    2) Aggregation of Impact: Extent to which the project builds on previous Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund land protection projects.

    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 on time based on: status of negotiations, purchase agreement and 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.

    7) Co-benefits to water quality: Additional benefits of the project such as flood reduction, 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. OSI will distribute at least $500,000 in each of the eligible clusters. No more than $2.42 million will be allocated for Farm Buffer Grants. Transaction Grants are capped at $25,000, unless otherwise agreed upon with Fund staff. Catalyst Grants 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.

    Financial Match for Capital Projects

    The Fund gives strong preference to capital projects with a 3:1 or greater financial match, i.e., for every dollar invested by the Fund there must be three other matching dollars. If two projects supported by the fund have been completed in a focus area, the match requirement for the third and subsequent projects will be lowered to 2.4:1 as an incentive to encourage aggregation of projects in focus areas.

    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.

    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

    All grant applications must be submitted through OSI’s online grant portal. Before preparing a proposal, applicants are encouraged to contact OSI staff.

    Capital Grants: OSI will issue Requests for Proposals for Capital Grants twice annually. The next RPF will be announced in November 2021.

    To complete Capital Grant applications, grantees must use FieldDoc. Information and instructions are available within the application and in our cloud-based RFP Resource Library. (Includes both editable Word documents and PDF’s as needed. PDF’s are for informational purposes only.)

    Transaction Grants: OSI considers proposals for Transaction Grants on a rolling basis.

    Catalyst Grants: OSI considers proposals for Catalyst Grants on a rolling basis. An overview of the Catalyst Grant program online application is available here.

    Sign up to be notified about future Capital Grant rounds.

    Catalyst Program Inquiries

    Hallie Schwab

    Conservation Planning Coordinator


    Fund Inquiries

    Bill Rawlyk

    Middle Atlantic Field Coordinator


    Administrative/Database Inquiries

    Yasemin Unal-Rodriguez


    (212) 290-8200 x1311


    Neil Jordan

    Conservation Information Manager

    (212) 290-8200

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