Volunteers planting trees to protect watershed lands.

Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund

Photo Credit: Aidenn Lair

OSI is spearheading an ambitious land protection effort in the Delaware watershed to maintain and improve water quality. Our Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund aims to preserve 30,000 acres of forestland in critical headwaters and to advance scientific tools and public policies that help secure clean, abundant water.

Why Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund

The Delaware River Basin pumps the lifeblood of East Coast: Draining 13,000 acres across four states, it’s 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 controlled major pollution sources, like sewage and factory waste. But today contamination 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.  

In 2015, the Delaware River Watershed Initiative of the William Penn Foundation brought together 40 conservation and educational organizations, including OSI, in a coordinated effort to protect water quality and quantity in the Delaware. A linchpin of this effort – led by OSI – is to preserve forests in the headwater that soak up stormwater and filter pollutants. Our Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund also supports open-space planning and policy innovation to promote water resource protection by state, county and municipal governments.

Impact of the Fund

The Delaware River Watershed Fund was established with lead support from a $9 million grant from the William Penn Foundation, OSI's Delaware Watershed Land Protection Fund makes loans and grants to qualified organizations for land acquisition through competitive grants

As of 2016, the Fund supported 13 projects that preserved more than 4,000 acres of forestland containing headwater streams, wetlands, and groundwater recharge areas. Projects also protected exceptional wildlife habitat and endangered and threatened species. Several of the places we helped protect – such as the 550-acre Mosiers Knob, which was transferred to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area – will be open to the public for hiking and passive recreation.

Catalyst grants from the Fund allowed scientists to create watershed datasets and develop analytic tools to target land conservation efforts to the places most effective for keeping water clean. Our grants also spurred organizations to engage public agencies in water protection through land conservation planning and policy innovations.

In 2016, OSI produced A Watershed Moment, revealing the importance of the Delaware River and efforts to save the watershed for the more than 15 million residents relying on its drinking water.

Grant Opportunities

The Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund supports capital projects to permanently protect lands that conserve water quality and quantity. We also make grants and loans to qualified land conservation organizations.

The Fund provides Catalyst Grants to nonprofits for conservation and open space planning that furthers water protection by state, county and municipal governments, as well as Science Grants to translate hydrological concepts and develop datasets that identify critical water resources for land protection.

Geographic Focus

Based on an analysis showing specific watersheds where land protection or restoration could deliver significant returns, the William Penn initiative targets eight smaller watershed clusters (see map) that ultimately feed into the Delaware River. The Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund awards capital grants for land protection in five of those clusters: Pocono and Kittatinny; Upper Lehigh; Schuylkill Highlands; Kirkwood-Cohansey; and New Jersey Highlands. Catalyst grants projects can take place in any part of the Delaware River Basin.

Grant Awards

OSI makes grants and loans to qualified land conservation organizations through a competitive process with the assistance of an advisory board of experts from the region with knowledge of hydrology, land protection, planning, natural resources, and philanthropy.

OSI staff and the Fund’s review and make recommendations on all grant applications.     

Although there is no minimum or maximum grant size, capital awards are typically between $75,000 and $450,000 and catalyst grants range from $10,000 to $30,000.

Through the next two grant rounds, OSI will award the remaining $3.75 million in capital land protection grants. It is anticipated that, overall, a minimum of $500,000 will be awarded to qualified projects in each cluster with the remaining funds to be granted to conservation transactions of the greatest need and opportunity across the target watershed clusters.

The Fund also makes short-term low-interest loans to bridge gaps in public or private funding.

Standards for Conservation Easements and Land Stewardship

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 land stewardship standards and guidelines. OSI staff will review conservation easement and/or management plan language prior to distribution of grant funds.

Financial Match

For this Fund, OSI gives strong preference to capital projects with a 3:1 or greater financial match. 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 full details on match requirements

Next Steps to Apply

Capital grants

Please check back in later for upcoming grant cycles.
Sign up
to be notified about future grant rounds.

Catalyst grants

Please check back in later for upcoming grant cycles.
For your information, access the RFP.  All applications must be submitted online

Before preparing a proposal, applicants are encouraged to contact the appropriate OSI staff (below).

To complete the application, applicants must download the GIS Map Package and Guide, with detailed steps for assessing the project’s conservation value and examples of the maps that applicants are required to produce. For assistance with the map package or with GIS, please contact Neil Jordan (below).

What You Can Do

Donate to support OSI’s work

Become a part of our mission to safeguard at-risk places through your tax-deductible gift.


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