Watershed Protection

Investing in Strategies to Accelerate Conservation and Measure Impact in the Delaware River Watershed

The Delaware River watershed provides drinking water to over 15 million people, critical habitat for plants and animals, including many threatened and endangered species, and recreational and economic enterprise valued at $10 billion per year in direct wages. Water quality and associated economic, environmental and social values have improved dramatically since the 1950s when the lower portion of the river was declared a dead zone during parts of the summer due to excessive inputs of domestic and industrial waste. The question today is how to ensure that progress continues in the face of persistent and growing threats to water quality.


Recognizing the challenges facing the watershed, over 40 of the leading conservation groups in this 13,000 square mile region are pursuing a 10-year strategic initiative focused on water quality through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, a conservation program advancing a combination of place-based work in watershed protection, restoration, education, collaboration and innovation through collective impact.


This paper serves as an invitation for broader strategic investment to accelerate watershed protection and restoration; it also is a springboard for stakeholders to set an agenda for ensuring that the Delaware River watershed delivers clean water for humans, plants and animals. The paper identifies eight “clusters” of subwatersheds, constituting approximately 25 percent of the total Delaware Basin, where analysis has shown that investment in water quality could deliver significant returns. Diverse geology, land use, development patterns, population density and environmental stressors are present throughout these subwatershed clusters. Focusing conservation actions in these places contributes directly to local water quality, and by fostering experimentation and innovation, it also cultivates a wide range of effective approaches for scaling up investment across the Delaware River watershed and beyond.


Published: January 2016
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