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.
Impact of the Fund
Since the launch of the Fund in 2014, OSI has approved Capital and Transaction Grants totaling $14.6 million for 77 projects that will preserve over 27,000 acres of land. These projects are expected to protect 149.6 miles of forested stream banks, 15,800 acres of headwaters, 10,300 acres of stream buffers, and 4,500 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.
Capital and Transaction Grant Opportunities
(1) Capital Grants
The Fund makes two types of capital grants: Forestland Capital Grants and Farm Buffer Capital Grants.
Forestland Capital Grants apply to parcels that are currently, or will be restored to, at least 90 percent natural cover; Farm Buffer Capital Grants support the protection of the forested areas along the streams of active farms that are either permanently protected or will be protected.
Both Forestland Capital Grans and Farm Buffer Capital Grants cover a portion of the cost of purchasing land or easements and may also cover transaction costs, including cost of appraisals, surveys, title, Farm Conservation plans, environmental assessments and non-staff legal expenses, with the latter not to exceed 2% of the parcel’s Fair Market Value. If such transaction expenses are defrayed by another source before closing, the capital grant will be reduced accordingly.
The Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund now has $6.3 million available to support land acquisition, of which no more than $1.25 million will be allocated for Farm Buffer Grants.
(2) Transaction Grants
Transaction Grants provide early support for forest and farm buffer land protection projects that are not ready to apply for a capital grant. Transaction Grants can cover the cost of one appraisal, title report, and environmental assessment, as well as the cost of drafting a Farm Conservation Plan (if applicable).
OSI will distribute Transaction Grants within two weeks of grant approval. Transaction Grant grantees should complete their projects either with subsequent support from the Fund or other funding sources.
Within six months of transaction grant approval, grantees must either apply for a Capital Grant or demonstrate they can complete the project without the Fund’s support. For Transaction Grant projects that later receive a Capital Grant, the Transaction Grant will be considered part of the total grant and subject to capital match requirements.
Neither Capital nor Transaction Grant funds may be used to pay interest on loans, staff time, mileage, travel expenses, stewardship and fundraising costs, or general overhead. Note also that projects which close before the proposal deadline are not eligible for funding.
Geographic Focus Area
The Fund awards capital grants for land protection in designated focus areas within the following five watershed clusters: (1) Pocono and Kittatinny; (2) Upper Lehigh; (3) Schuylkill Highlands; (4) Kirkwood-Cohansey; and (5) New Jersey Highlands.
“Exceptional Projects”: The Fund may support one project per cluster in Phase 2+ that is outside of the focus areas if it is of exceptional significance to water quality in the cluster. Please refer to the Frequently Asked Questions document in the Resource Library for more information. 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 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 map packages provided by OSI in the Map and Data Guide (large downloads updated for 2021 to include Phase 2+ focus area revisions and additions). 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).
- 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 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.
- OSI welcomes and encourages projects that return land to Indigenous management and ownership.
Forestland and Farm Buffer Capital grant projects must also meet these additional eligibility requirements (not required for Transaction grants).
- Meet the Match Requirements.
- Meet OSI Conservation Easement and Stewardship Standards for water quality, and
- Must be completed within 18 months of receiving notification of OSI’s grant award.
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
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 $1.2 million will be allocated for Farm Buffer Grants. 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 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 and after the fourth and subsequent projects further lowered to 1:1 as an incentive to encourage aggregation of projects in focus areas.
If your project is of large scale and high quality, defined as being both over 500 acres and exceeding 20% on three or more metrics targets for the focus area, the match requirement and maximum grant amount will be considered by the Fund on a case-by-case basis.
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.