Research & Policy

OSI’s Catalyst Grants Aim to Ensure Water Quality in the Delaware River Basin

To complement and extend the impact of strategic land protection, OSI and conservationists in the Delaware River Basin are helping towns and counties integrate water quality information into their planning efforts.

Land protection is an effective and direct way to protect watersheds. To complement and extend the impact of strategic land protection, conservationists in the Delaware River Basin are helping towns and counties integrate water quality information into their planning efforts that identify and guide priorities for conservation. OSI provides Catalyst Grants to support such efforts.  

With a $35,000 grant, New Jersey Future (NJF) is working to enroll New Jersey towns in a federal program that reduces flood insurance costs for homeowners if their towns improve management of their floodplains.

NJF is working to expand participation in the Community Rating System (CRS), a voluntary federal program that encourages improved floodplain management. Towns that enroll in the program and take steps to mitigate future flooding can secure a reduction of up to 15 percent in residential flood insurance rates. Ninety communities are currently participating in the program in New Jersey.

By creating a financial benefit for homeowners, CRS is incentivizing improved planning by towns. And the savings can be significant. For example, in Hamilton Township in Central New Jersey, residents in flood-prone areas will receive this year a $350 reduction in their flood insurance. Total community-wide cost savings are expected to be about $103,000.

While most of the communities participating in CRS are larger municipalities in coastal areas where sea level rise has exacerbated flooding, New Jersey Future is focusing its efforts on helping smaller inland communities within the Delaware River Basin enroll in the program.

“The need to protect floodplains is no less urgent, and arguably more important for water quality, says Abigail Weinberg, OSI’s Director of Research. “OSI’s Catalyst Grant is helping these communities cut through the complicated enrollment process. In the end, towns will be encouraged to make smart, long-term decisions to reduce the impacts of flooding, while local rate payers see a reduction in their flood insurance bills.”

“The low hanging fruit is done, those communities are already in the program,” said Peter Kasabach, New Jersey Future’s executive director. “We want to create a model with a pilot community that will put everything they need at their fingertips and make it easier for other towns to enroll.”

Not every community can realize enough benefits to residents to undertake the process of enrolling. But for those that do, Kasabach said, CRS can be a springboard to more substantive action. “It can open the door to undertake bigger things such as easements,” he said.

Floodplains are just one type of land important to protect for water quality. Broadhead Watershed Association (BWA) in eastern Pennsylvania is the recipient of a $28,000 OSI Catalyst Grant for the development of a tool to help Monroe County and local towns in the Poconos incorporate water quality data in their land protection plans.

Here, BWA has a tool that is critical to conservation as part of an effort to improve land use planning in the region. The initiative has produced a tool that helps county and town officials identify priority lands for surface water protection and acquire recharge potential.

The tool may be particularly helpful for municipalities trying to determine the watershed value of specific parcels. Following the model of Sussex County, NJ where a previous Catalyst grant funded a watershed overlay to the county’s open space plan, the tool provides data and maps showing a range of factors including land cover, location of buffers, and soil erodibility, and how to apply them to specific tracts of land. The tool takes into account unique features of recharge in Monroe County, which is located in the transition zone for glaciation.

The County is considering incorporating the tool as an addendum to their Open Space Plan. And several towns with land acquisition programs have inquired how to use the tool to target some of their funding to protect lands to ensure water quality.

While some members of the planning commission expressed concern that the tool was designed to “limit growth,” BWA officials at suggest otherwise.

“Our goal is to identify those lands most critical for protection to ensure water quality and also identify areas where smart growth is acceptable,” said Bob Heil, BWA’s executive director. “By using good science, we think we can have both.”

 OSI’s Watershed Catalyst Grant Program is made possible through the generosity of the William Penn Foundation.

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