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Delaware Watershed Project to Protect Drinking Water for 15 Million People

PHILADELPHIA, April 1, 2014

woman with notebook in stream

Academy technician documents characteristics of the stream. For full caption and more images, click here.

The William Penn Foundation announced a $35 million multi-year initiative to protect and restore critical sources of drinking water for 15 million people, many in major cities including New York (NY), Philadelphia (PA), Camden (NJ), and Wilmington (DE). The grants 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. The organizations include the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Open Space Institute and more than 40 additional national and regional partners.

The projects 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 watershed at an unprecedented scale. 

The Delaware River 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.

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 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 Delaware River Watershed is a critical resource for communities in New Jersey, New York, and the entire region," said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. "Every day, millions of people depend upon the watershed as a source of drinking water, for agricultural uses, and for recreation. Preventing pollution from entering the Delaware River and its watershed is the single most effective strategy to ensure that the watershed is protected."

The Foundation partnered with a team of scientists from the Academy of Natural Sciences, to systematically determine where and how to allocate funds for optimal conservation impact while also laying the groundwork for future investment. George W. Gephart, Jr., President and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences, whose staff of scientists will oversee the watershed monitoring, stated, “This is an extraordinary opportunity for our nationally renowned water quality scientists to work hand-in-hand with leading conservationists who know these geographies inside and out.”

Laura Sparks, Chief Philanthropy Officer of the William Penn Foundation, explained that the monitoring data provided by the Academy of Natural Sciences, will enable WPF and other foundations to make more informed, evidence-based decisions going forward. Sparks continued, “We are eager to use the data collected to inform real-time adjustments, analyze the potential of these projects across the watershed, and magnify those results to catalyze widespread action grounded in high-quality science."

Open Space Institute, nationally known for its strategic protection of large landscapes, identified key environmental and advocacy nonprofit organizations that work in the watershed in order to match expertise and capacity with project needs. Kim Elliman, President and CEO of the Open Space Institute, added that the scale of the initiative requires developing more partnerships and attracting more scientists, advocates, and funders. Elliman continued, “We hope that this effort will galvanize interest and bring forward partners who want to join us. 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.”

The initiative identifies eight regional “clusters” of sub-watersheds, constituting approximately 25 percent of the total Delaware River Basin across four states, where analysis has shown that investment in targeted efforts to protect or improve water quality could deliver significant returns. 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.

"The dynamic partnership enabling this historic initiative has created a whole much greater than the sum of its parts," said Jeff Trandahl, Executive Director and CEO of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. "Through on-the-ground restoration projects, we will work with this talented group of partners, as well as federal partners including the U.S. EPA, USDA and the Department of Interior, to scale up the impact of this work."

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.”

William Penn Foundation

The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that close the achievement gap for low-income children, ensure a sustainable environment, foster creativity that enhances civic life, and advance philanthropy in the Philadelphia region. In partnership with others, the Foundation works to advance opportunity, ensure sustainability, and enable effective solutions.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Chartered by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores the nation's fish, wildlife and habitats. Working with federal agencies, corporations, foundations and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 4,000 organizations and committed more than $2.1 billion to conservation projects. Learn more at

The Open Space Institute

The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural and historic landscapes to provide public enjoyment, conserve habitat and sustain communities. OSI has protected more than 116,000 acres in New York State. Through its Northern Forest Protection Fund and Conservation Capital program, OSI has assisted in the protection of an additional 2.2 million acres from Quebec to Georgia. Please visit for more information. 

Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Founded in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is a leading natural history museum dedicated to advancing research, education, and public engagement in biodiversity and environmental science.

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