Local organizations leading new wave of progress for clean water protection.
A group of local organizations are working together to lead a major project to protect clean water in the Middle and Upper Delaware River region in Pennsylvania and New York, as members of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI, www.4states1source.org.).
The William Penn Foundation announced more than $40 million in new funding for the DRWI, which is among the country’s largest non-governmental conservation efforts to protect and restore clean water. The DRWI is a first-of-its-kind collaboration involving 65 non-governmental organizations working together to protect and restore the Delaware River and its tributaries, which provide drinking water for 15 million people in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
At a time when the federal government is redefining its role in environmental protection, leadership by public agencies and NGOs at the state and local levels is more important than ever to keep our water clean. Federal policies over the past several decades such as the Clean Water Act have successfully reduced pollution in waterways nationwide, yet recent rollbacks of protections, and budget cuts for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, threaten to slow or reverse progress. The DRWI’s bottom-up approach represents a strategic path forward for the Delaware River basin. It is a nationally significant model that demonstrates the power of an organized, independent, non-profit-driven approach that encourages partnership between communities and the philanthropic sector.
In New York, collaborative partnerships have fostered new opportunities for local communities to enjoy their local protected natural areas and public spaces. Local land trusts like the Delaware Highlands Conservancy and Orange County Land Trust have collaborated with local municipalities and partners to offer educational events reaching people of all ages. Looking ahead, partners are exploring opportunities for continuing to engage the community in efforts to protect local streams and waterways through associations and community groups.
At its 2014 launch, the DRWI catalyzed local and regional groups to accelerate conservation efforts. The DRWI stands out as a basin-scale program driven by non-profits and guided by science. In just over three years DRWI partners have strategically:
• Initiated projects that will protect 19,604 acres and restore an additional 8,331 acres, and
• Monitored and sampled water quality at more than 500 sites across four states.
This additional $42 million, three-year investment builds on initial successes to protect and restore an estimated 43,484 additional acres and continue science-driven, data-informed efforts to secure clean, abundant water in the basin. The Initiative provides a replicable model that can be used to improve water health across the country.
Threats to the Delaware River basin are significant, demanding a concerted response from private landowners and local officials to protect our natural resources. The DRWI is tackling widespread pollution sources that harm clean water in our rivers and streams: erosion and runoff from deforested acres in headwaters; polluted runoff from agricultural fields; flooding and polluted stormwater from cities and suburbs; and a depleted aquifer in southern New Jersey. These growing problems will threaten drinking water for millions of people every day if left unaddressed.
“By design, The Delaware River Watershed Initiative aligns the work of 65 organizations in the watershed to accelerate conservation,” said Andrew Johnson, program director for Watershed Protection at the William Penn Foundation. “The Initiative is rooted in the strength of these organizations individually and in their ability to collaborate using science to target the most important places for conservation. Together they are protecting and restoring those places, measuring the impact of their efforts on local streams, and learning collectively to improve their work.”
“The Orange County Land Trust is proud to be a partner in this exciting, multi-state initiative,” said Orange County Land Trust Executive Director James Delaune. “Orange County is home to three vital tributaries of the Delaware River: The Neversink River, the Basher Kill, and the Mongaup River. Protecting and restoring buffer lands and floodplain habitats around these tributaries is not only important to the communities living alongside them, but to the 15 million individuals that rely on the Delaware River as their source for drinking water,” said Delaune.
Partners working collaboratively in the Middle and Upper Delaware River region include the Brodhead Watershed Association, Delaware Highlands Conservancy, East Stroudsburg University, Natural Lands, Orange County Land Trust, Pocono Heritage Land Trust, the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, and The Nature Conservancy – Pennsylvania.
About the Delaware River Watershed Initiative
The Delaware River Watershed Initiative is a collaboration of 65 leading nonprofit organizations that have developed shared action plans to reduce four priority threats to clean water. Informed by science, the Initiative is working in eight targeted areas, where analysis indicated that interventions could significantly safeguard or improve clean water. Together, these eight areas constitute 25 percent of the river basin and include portions of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. For more information, including a list of all participating organizations, visit www.4states1source.org