OSI to protect critical lands for drinking water in Delaware River Watershed

PHILADELPHIA, PA – April 1, 2014 – The William Penn Foundation has announced a $35 million multi-year grant initiative to protect and restore critical sources of drinking water for 15 million people, many of them in major Northeast cities including New York, Philadelphia, Camden, NJ and Wilmington, DE. More than $10 million of the funding has been awarded to the Open Space Institute, which will award bridge loans and regrants to support exemplary land conservation projects throughout the watershed. 

The Penn grants will fund an unprecedented collaboration of leading conservation organizations who will align their work to protect land, restore streams, test innovative approaches in ecologically significant places, and monitor results over time. Along with OSI, organizations partnering with the Foundation on the initiative include the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and more than 40 additional national and regional groups.

Projects supported by the grants will permanently protect more than 30,000 acres, implement more than 40 restoration projects, pilot new incentives for landowners and businesses, provide replicable models for other locations in the watershed, and develop long-term water quality data for the Delaware River watershed at an unprecedented scale. OSI’s primary role in the initiative is to award $9 million in capital land protection grants for projects that permanently protect lands critical to protecting water quality and quantity in six of the eight regional “clusters” of sub-watersheds.  OSI will also support promising research and modeling efforts to apply watershed science to land protection.

“We are honored and privileged to partner with both the William Penn Foundation and so many exemplary organizations with a shared commitment to protect this spectacular watershed,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “It will take the combined effort of these and many other stakeholders to ensure that the watershed continues to produce clean water for so many.”
Constituting approximately 25 percent of the total Delaware River Basin across four states, analysis has shown that investment to protect or improve water quality in the cluster areas could deliver significant returns. These watershed clusters representing different geographic areas of the Delaware River basin are identified as follows: Pocono and Kittatinny, Upper Lehigh, NJ Highlands, Schuylkill Highlands, Philadelphia Upstream Headwaters, Brandywine Christina and Kirkwood Cohansey Aquifer.

The entire Delaware watershed covers more than 13,500-square miles spanning New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. In addition to being a major source of drinking water, the watershed supports an array of water-related economic enterprises valued at $25 billion per year, as well as hemispherically significant habitat. Deforestation from commercial, residential, and energy development, chemical runoff from farms, and storm water runoff in cities severely threaten the health of the watershed.

OSI and other partner agencies will also work with public and private entities to generate increased funding for watershed protection. The $9 million to be regranted by OSI is intended to leverage a minimum of an additional $27 million in other public and private financial support to help implement projects. Each dollar regranted by OSI must be matched by three additional dollars. 

“We hope that this effort will galvanize interest and bring forward partners who want to join us,” said Kim Elliman, OSI’s president and CEO. “We invite landowners and businesses to work with us to find new ways to protect the watershed that rely on incentives and creative solutions to complement the work of government. So much is at stake; without significant additional investment, greater scientific understanding, and increased coordination across the watershed, one of our most important national resources, relied upon by millions of people across four states including half of New York City and all of Philadelphia, will continue to degenerate.”

This commitment of private funding to the Delaware River will complement the delivery of federal and state conservation programs to make the most of taxpayer dollars and to accelerate the pace of restoration and protection.

“Healthy landscapes with working farms and forests in the Delaware River watershed produce abundant food and fiber and support vibrant rural economies. They also provide clean water, clean air, and valuable wildlife habitat that benefit their own communities and urban neighbors,” said Jason Weller, chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.“ This partnership highlights how a cooperative approach for applying conservation activities on private and public land is essential for everyone in the watershed—whether they live in urban or rural areas.”

"EPA values collaborative initiatives like this that help organizations build greater capacity and leverage critical resources needed to tackle the next generation of water protection issues," said EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. "This new initiative will support efforts led by other active partners, such as the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, in advancing science, research and restoration work to protect the entire bay and river watershed. Building healthy and resilient watersheds is essential to protecting our nation's water resources, and ensuring a sustainable future for the communities that depend on them."

The William Penn Foundation partnered with a team of scientists from the Academy of Natural Sciences (ANS) to systematically determine where and how to allocate funds for optimal conservation impact while also laying the groundwork for future investment. OSI identified key environmental and advocacy nonprofit organizations that work in the watershed in order to match expertise and capacity with project needs. 

Restoration and preservation efforts in these sub-watersheds not only contribute directly to the water quality in the Delaware Basin, but will also serve as incubators for cultivating a wide range of effective approaches for expanding investment across the watershed, and ultimately in other river basins across the country.

Andrew Johnson, senior program officer for Watershed Protection at the William Penn Foundation, stated, “We look forward to making this work and data available to the public and hope to identify new evidence-based methods for avoiding or mitigating key stressors threatening water quality in major metropolitan areas, specifically urban storm water runoff, agricultural pollution, loss of forests in essential headwater areas, and aquifer depletion.”

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