NEW YORK, NY (Feb. 17, 2022) – Seeking to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the Delaware River Watershed, the Open Space Institute (OSI) today announced the creation of its Delaware River Watershed Revolving Fund (DRWRF). The program will provide short-term, low-cost loans to accelerate land protection and restoration, develop trails, and support environmental education centers focused on watershed protection in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware.
The William Penn Foundation, which supports projects that protect and restore the Delaware River Watershed, provided $2.6 million to capitalize DRWRF. The first project funded through the DRWRF will apply cover crop seedlings to 11 farms in northwestern New Jersey to stem soil erosion into the Delaware River Watershed. The effort by New Jersey Resource Conservation and Development, Inc. (NJRCD) will impact 1,250 acres of farmland in the New Jersey Highlands region.
The newly-created DRWRF is a program of OSI’s Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund, also capitalized by the William Penn Foundation, which is aimed at ensuring abundant, clean water throughout the Delaware River Watershed via land protection and improved land use planning. To date, some 22,000 acres have been protected by OSI’s Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund since its launch in 2014.
Approximately 15 million people, including the residents of Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and New York City, rely on the Delaware River Watershed for drinking water.
“Through low-cost loans, this program will assist conservation groups to complete important projects that might not get done or be completed at greater cost,” said Bill Rawlyk, OSI’s Mid-Atlantic Field Coordinator. “We look forward to supporting other organizations achieve critical conservation goals elsewhere in the basin.”
“An analysis of financing gaps for conservation in the Delaware River Basin indicated the need for low-cost, flexible capital,” said Stuart Clarke, Watershed Protection Program Director. “OSI’s new revolving fund will address this gap and make affordable financing available for more conservation projects, especially by small and local organizations. Given our interest in conservation impact investing in our region, the William Penn Foundation was very pleased to utilize a program-related investment to help initiate the fund.”
Loan to New Jersey Resource Conservation and Development, Inc.
OSI’s first DRWRF loan, in the amount of $77,000, will support a project in the New Jersey Highlands, an 800,000-acre region designated by the State of New Jersey as an area critical for conservation of water and ecological resources.
Within the Highlands region, the project is located in the valley of the Musconetcong River, an important tributary of the Delaware River and source of drinking water for several communities in northern New Jersey and along the smaller Lopatcong Creek.
Specifically, OSI’s loan to NJRCD will cover the costs of purchasing cover crop seed and applying the seed from the air to farms in Warren County, New Jersey. NJRCD anticipates repaying the loan with funds from the federal National Resource Conservation Service’s Environment Quality Incentives Program.
Cover crops such as winter rye and clover germinate after a main crop is harvested and have proven effective in preventing winter soil erosion and reducing sediments from cropland entering streams that can erode water quality. To date, NJRCD has successfully completed cover crop seeding projects with 44 farmers in the NJ Highlands on 5,427 acres of land with $538,608 in federal funding.
Creation of the Delaware River Watershed Revolving Fund
The DRWRF is an outgrowth of an analysis of potential financing needs in the Delaware River Basin conducted by consultants for the William Penn Foundation. The assessment indicated a need for low-cost, flexible capital to facilitate the deployment of permanent public and private grants funds.
Additionally, the DRWRF will accelerate ongoing work by organizations receiving William Penn funding by removing financial barriers, including temporary lack of funds, or fronting the costs of necessary planning, to jumpstart and complete projects.
The DRWRF represents a continuation of OSI’s conservation lending in the region. Through its New Jersey Conservation Loan Fund, a $3.5 million revolving fund created in 2003 with support from the William Penn and Geraldine R. Dodge foundations that operated for a decade, OSI made 16 loans totaling $9.2 million that have helped protect more than 10,000 acres of open space in New Jersey, including greenbelts in Allentown and Frenchtown and key parcels in the Pinelands and Highlands.
Additionally, the New Jersey Conservation Loan Fund helped a number of organizations -- including the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Morris Land Conservancy, D & R Greenway Inc., the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, and the Unexpected Wildlife Refuge -- close important land conservation projects.