WAYNE & PIKE COUNTIES -  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).

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 Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.

Not only government

At a time when the federal government is redefining its role in environmental protection, leadership by public agencies and non-governmental organizations at the state and local levels is more important than ever to keep our water clean, according to DRWI leaders.

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.

Accomplishments

At its 2014 launch, the DRWI catalyzed local and regional groups to accelerate conservation efforts. The DRWI is 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.

In the Upper Delaware River region of Pike and Wayne Counties, initial funding has supported the protection of lands like Tri-Angle Farm, 50 forested acres in Pike County with a mixture of hemlocks, oaks, and maple trees providing important habitat for a variety of wildlife.

The hemlocks provide important shade over the stream that runs through the property—a tributary of Dingmans Creek, whose clean waters flow directly into the Delaware River and is designated as a high quality cold water fishery for the habitat it provides for trout.

Most importantly, the property is adjacent to the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and close to the Delaware State Forest and a nearby network of other privately conserved properties. This protected property now helps to create a corridor of unbroken, protected habitat which is important for the safe nesting and migration of birds and wildlife.

In addition, in Wayne County, 200 forested acres recently protected will also protect the water flowing from Lake Elizabeth into the Lackawaxen River and eventually to the Delaware River—while the lands remain in private ownership.

Inspired others

These successes have inspired others to take action to protect their land, and the Delaware Highlands Conservancy and its partners look toward the next phase of funding support with plans to protect thousands of additional unfragmented acres of forests, lakes, and wetlands among the Little Bushkill Creek in Pike County, with additional funding support provided by the Forest Legacy Program.

Protected forest lands provide clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, and sustainable local jobs in the Upper Delaware River region, while conserving an important part of our region's history for future generations.

What is next

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.

65 partners

“By design, The Delaware River Watershed Initiative aligns the work of 65 nonprofit 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.”

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.

For more information, including a list of all participating organizations, visit www.4states1source.org.