Watershed Protection


Posted: Monday, September 18, 2017
Source: William Penn Foundation

As Future Federal Support for Environmental Protection Remains Uncertain, the Foundation’s Watershed Protection Funding Supports Local Research, Policy, Education and Conservation


PHILADELPHIA – The William Penn Foundation recently awarded $17 million in grants to accelerate the protection and restoration of the Delaware River watershed, the primary source of drinking water for more than 15 million people. Thirty five grants to local and regional non-profit organizations will carry forward this critical work as support in Washington for laws protecting clean water appears at risk.


As a consequence of reduced federal involvement in environmental protection, it is likely that state and local governments will need to accept increased responsibility to maintain momentum around existing clean water regulations to ensure laws that have been protecting clean water for more than 40 years – and the progress made over that time – are not compromised.


The Delaware River and its tributaries lie within four states: Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, each of which has partnered with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to implement the Clean Water Act (CWA) and other laws designed to eliminate pollution and protect sources of drinking water. These waterways are cleaner now than they have been in decades, largely a result of the CWA; locally, the Act played a major role in restoring clean water in the Delaware River after decades of industrial pollution had rendered stretches of it in the Philadelphia area a “dead zone.” In light of proposed rollbacks of critical elements of clean water regulation at the federal level, state and local governments must now play a more prominent role in protecting their water sources, working alongside non-governmental organizations and the private sector, both of which are in a position to advance effective policy and practice on this front.


“The Foundation’s Watershed Protection Program is a strategic, science-informed approach to conservation, based on the power of the collective impact of organizations working locally to protect or restore priority waterways, from the Catskills and the Poconos to the Delaware Bayshore,” said Andrew Johnson, Program Director for Watershed Protection at the William Penn Foundation. “We deliberately focus our grantmaking on specific threats to clean water in specific places within the larger system to achieve a critical mass of effort on research, advocacy, on-the-ground conservation, and building a constituency for clean water. We award more than $30 million each year toward watershed protection to continue the forward momentum on addressing environmental issues, even as federal support hangs in the balance.”


The recently approved grants support conservation and constituency building at the state and local levels, as well as efforts to promote enforcement of existing environmental regulations. The grants include:

Encouraging Local Engagement and River Access

  • Grants to Berks Nature, Schuylkill River Greenway Association, and the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education will enable each to implement outdoor recreational and educational activities on rivers and trails, and advance development of key segments of Circuit Trails that parallel rivers, streams, and canals, engaging thousands of people who value clean water.
  • Funding for East Falls Development Corporation will support construction of a river landing on the Schuylkill River, immediately upstream of the Falls Bridge, providing new public access to the river for kayaking and canoeing easily reached via the Schuylkill River Trail.
  • Grants to Philadelphia City Rowing and On the Water Consortium of CultureTrust Greater Philadelphia will increase public access to water and youth-focused environmental education programming on rivers in Philadelphia and Camden.
  • Grants to Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Tree Foundation, and Camden City Garden Club will increase constituency support for clean water in Camden, NJ, through the development of new Circuit Trails and public parks near the Delaware and Cooper Rivers, outreach and education about clean water, and water quality-focused programs for youth and families.
  • Grants to Delaware Greenways and Delaware Nature Society will substantively increase the recreational use of riverside trails and expand The Circuit in Delaware; support outreach to engage trail users in watershed education programs; and build broad public support for improved clean water policies in Delaware. 


Informing Policy

  • Two grants to National Wildlife Federation:
    • One will provide continued support for the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, which is a leader for collaboration, advocacy, and shared learning among its 100 member organizations.
    • The second underscores the importance of cooperative efforts by the four watershed states—Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York—and will enable NWF to mobilize people across the watershed who engage in water- and trail-related outdoor recreational and educational activities in an effort to encourage the governors of the four states to develop a shared vision for protection of the watershed.
  • A grant to the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices will establish a water policy institute that will provide research and analysis to governors and their staffs, and a grant to River Network will continue to promote coordination, alignment, and collaboration among state agencies, research institutions, and NGOs across the four watershed states. A grant to Partnership Project, Inc. will allow for rapid analysis and public education for emerging federal policy changes threatening water quality in the Delaware River watershed.
  • Three grants will support efforts to engage in permitting processes in Pennsylvania and New Jersey portions of the watershed, including grants to Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future and Clean Air Council for advocacy, permit analysis, and legal strategies to advance implementation of key provisions of the Clean Water Act; and New Jersey Future for technical assistance to municipalities and developers to encourage adoption and implementation of local policies and practices that will increase the use of green stormwater infrastructure to reduce pollution.
  • A grant to the American Sustainable Business Institute will educate business leaders in the watershed about the importance of clean water and help bring their perspectives to policy debates in the region.


For a full list of approved grants, visit http://www.williampennfoundation.org/view-grants.


The William Penn Foundation’s Watershed Protection Program supports work across the four-state Delaware River watershed and is designed to encourage effective, collaborative, ground-up conservation approaches which empower non-governmental organizations to work toward clean water in local waterways. The program takes a multi-faceted approach to clean water by funding basin-wide research and new monitoring technologies that help advance scientific practice and inform policy, data gathering and analysis, advocacy, on-the-ground conservation in eight strategic focus areas of the watershed, and development of a regional constituency for watershed protection.


Even as the future of the federal government’s role to protect clean water is uncertain, research shows that Americans are more concerned about water pollution than they have been in 15 years. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans are worried “a great deal” about the pollution of drinking water, and 57 percent are worried about the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs(1). According to the survey, this concern is widely shared across racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups. The concern about drinking water is of particular relevance in the Delaware River watershed in which large urban populations including those of Philadelphia, Camden, Trenton, Wilmington, and more than half the population of New York City obtain their water from the river system.


“There is clear evidence that the federal role in driving protection and restoration of clean water in the Delaware River watershed has had positive impacts on the river and its tributaries, benefiting hundreds of local communities and millions of people,” said Johnson. “In the face of a federal pull-back from this important work, it is imperative that the states, local governments, and local conservation organizations redouble efforts to protect this vital resource.”



About the 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 increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families, 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. Since inception, the Foundation has made nearly 10,000 grants totaling over $1.6 billion. The Foundation’s assets totaled approximately $2.3 billion as of December 31, 2016.


About the William Penn Foundation’s Watershed Protection Program

The William Penn Foundation’s Watershed Protection Program aims to protect and restore the Delaware River watershed, ensuring an adequate supply of clean water within this 13,500-square-mile system which provides drinking water for 15 million people across four states. The program focuses its more than $30 million annual grantmaking budget on building effective networks and fostering collaboration among environmental conservation organizations to maximize collective impact. Program grants support local and regional non-governmental organizations focusing on research, policy and advocacy, environmental education, trails, and on-the-ground conservation in the watershed. The Foundation awards grants that are intended to catalyze additional funding sources, and works closely with other private regional and national funders to advance water quality.



(1) The latest data from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted March 1-5, 2017. http://www.gallup.com/poll/207536/water-pollution-worries-highest-2001.aspx