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Delaware River Watershed Initiative Builds on Early Successes, Additional $42M from William Penn Foundation

Academy receives $3.2M grant

PHILADELPHIA, April 4, 2018

During a press conference today, the William Penn Foundation announced more than $40 million in new funding for the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), which stands among the country’s largest non-regulatory conservation efforts to protect and restore clean water. The DRWI is a collaborative effort involving 65 non-governmental organizations working together at an unprecedented scale to protect and restore clean water in the Delaware River watershed, the source of drinking water for 15 million people in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. As the lead funder to date, the William Penn Foundation’s investment in the DRWI now totals more than $100 million.

Leadership by public agencies and NGOs at the state and local levels is critical to continuing the momentum of environmental gains achieved over the past several decades. The DRWI's bottom-up approach represents a strategic path forward for the Delaware River watershed and other major watersheds across the country; it is a nationally significant model that demonstrates the power of an organized, independent, NGO-driven approach that encourages partnership among the public, private and philanthropic sectors and is rooted in local communities.

In the Delaware River watershed, about half of the pollution in the system’s waterways is the result of nonpoint source pollution from myriad places, therefore inherently difficult to address through regulation alone. Rapid population growth and resulting urban and suburban sprawl are driving significant impacts to the watershed by shrinking and fragmenting forests that are critical to protecting clean water. Runoff from paved surfaces and agricultural fields carry pesticides, chemicals and other toxins into our streams and rivers. These growing problems will threaten drinking water for millions of people every day if left unaddressed. –

“When we led the creation of the DRWI, our intent was to serve as a catalyst for accelerated watershed protection in our region,” said Janet Haas, Board Chair of the William Penn Foundation. “We wanted to build a framework that would harness the enormous capacity of conservation organizations to work together on a shared approach, and to see whether that critical mass could affect greater change. The result is a model that will not only have an effect in the Delaware River watershed, but also will provide a model that can be replicated in other watersheds tackling similarly complex issues.”

Launched in 2014, the DRWI mobilized local and regional organizations to collaborate at an unprecedented scale in an effort to accelerate conservation. The DRWI is guided by strong science and data; partners methodically assess water quality by monitoring more than 500 sites in the watershed. The resulting data drives decision-making. Over the past four years, DRWI partners have initiated projects that collectively will strategically protect 19,604 acres and restore an additional 8,331 acres to reduce the impacts of pollution. Partners have also leveraged $72.7 million in additional public and private funds. The effort has also resulted in major collaborations to better target conservation, share data, and develop new modeling and monitoring tools with both regional and national applications.

Equipped with the learning and data from the past four years, organizations receiving this additional $42 million, three-year investment will build on the initial successes of the initiative to protect and restore an estimated 43,484 additional acres and continue science-driven, data-informed efforts to secure clean, abundant water in the watershed.

“Our extensive monitoring produces real-time data on water quality, and the tools developed through the DRWI have essentially created a feedback loop where we can analyze the potential impacts of projects across the watershed in order to pinpoint areas of greatest potential change, and measure whether our efforts had an effect on the water,” said Roland Wall, Senior Director for Environmental Initiatives at the Academy of Natural Sciences. “Eventually, we can amplify those results to mobilize widespread action grounded in high-quality science.”

The Delaware River basin is a densely populated region, providing drinking water to over 5 percent of the U.S. population. Yet it still contains many famously beautiful landscapes—the Catskills, Poconos, Delaware Water Gap, New Jersey Highlands and Pinelands, and the historic Lehigh, Schuylkill, and Brandywine River Valleys. The challenges to clean water facing this 13,500 square mile watershed are diffuse, and there are many things private landowners and local municipalities can do on their own to help solve these problems. The DRWI is addressing widespread sources of pollution that collectively have major impacts on water quality in our rivers and streams: erosion and runoff from deforested acres in the basin headwaters; polluted runoff from agricultural fields; flooding and polluted stormwater from developed areas; and depletion of the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer in southern New Jersey.

The DRWI assembles strong players in the conservation field in the Delaware Basin, and provides them with strategic opportunities and resources to work together in specific geographies within the watershed to accelerate conservation. Together these partners are addressing complex issues by protecting land, restoring streams, testing innovative approaches in these geographical “laboratories,” and monitoring results over time. To complement their on-the-ground conservation work, partners are working side-by-side to improve planning processes, develop new sources of revenue, and involve local communities and municipalities through communications.  

A steering committee of leading conservation organizations comprising the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Open Space Institute, and the Institute for Conservation Leadership provides technical assistance to 60 additional national and regional partners.

“What is being tested through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative – both the collaboration and the marrying of strategies that can be measured through water quality improvements – could have implications for generations to come,” said Dianne Russell, President of Institute for Conservation Leadership. “Working together, partners are connecting each other’s strengths and abilities to concentrate their efforts, resulting in both tangible change and the weaving together of relationships and capacities that will have other benefits to the environment and the people in the Delaware River Basin. The approach being tested in these ‘laboratories’ has the potential to expand to other locations across the watershed and beyond in the future.”

“Protecting headwaters forests, which absorb, store and recharge ground water and filter out pollutants, is the first and best way to ensure clean water in the Delaware River Basin,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of the Open Space Institute. “The Open Space Institute is pleased and honored to join with the region’s land trusts as we intensify our collective efforts to protect important forestland in places like the Upper Lehigh, the Schuylkill Highlands and Pine Barrens, and riparian forested buffers on farms. By targeting our efforts and leveraging other private and public investments, we can help maintain the extraordinary natural infrastructure that keeps our water clean and sustains a rich ecosystem as well as vibrant recreational economy in this unique place.”

“NFWF launched the Delaware River Restoration Fund to foster water quality improvements and habitat restoration in targeted regions of the watershed in 2014,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO, NFWF.  “A major part of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, since the Fund’s inception, we have invested $8.5 million in 55 projects, leveraging over $28 million in additional conservation resources, for a total conservation impact of more than $36 million in just four years. We are proud to be a part of this dynamic partnership and look forward to the next three years of delivering restoration in the Delaware watershed.”