Check Out What the William Penn Foundation Is Doing to Deal With Farm Runoff

Pennsylvania farmers put everything from manure to chemical pesticides on their fields, which, in turn, flow into drinking and recreation water sources downstream. With an ambitious mandate to preserve and protect the Delaware Watershed, the William Penn Foundation is helping bridge the gap between farmers and municipalities. (See: William Penn Foundation: Grants for Conservation.)

The foundation recently announced a $100,000 grant to help pay for the Lancaster Farmland Trust to visit local farms and take a long, hard look at the water pollution situation. "We know that farmers are doing a lot of good things on their property that municipalities don't know about," said Stephanie Smith, municipal outreach coordinator for the Lancaster Farmland Trust. "This is an opportunity to do the assessments and to understand what's out there."

The foundation made this same outreach in the West Lampeter Township, where all but one farmer was fine with the site visit. You see, the trust isn't a regulatory agency, but rather a nonprofit organization that has long-standing relationships with local farmers. Federal and state agencies are putting the pressure on municipalities to clean up the excessive phosphorous and sediment in the Pequea Creek Watershed and the Chesapeake Bay. These site visits will last an average of ten minutes, and the resulting assessments will provide documentation of management practices already happening—without actually revealing any farmers' identities.

The William Penn Foundation has been a long-time supporter of the Lancaster Farmland Trust nonprofit. In 2012, Penn awarded $330,000 in grant money to the Lancaster Farmland Trust and Lancaster County Conservatory to improve water quality in key sections of farmland and forest. One of the funder's priority giving area is watershed protection, and these efforts extend state-wide.

Grantees are selected based on the potential for a proposed project to significantly improve water quality across the region’s watersheds, as well as the applicant’s capacity to implement the proposed work, secure desired outcomes, measure change and progress, and contribute to collaborative or cooperative efforts with other key stakeholders. The foundation's environmental staff measures success by monitoring the following conditions watershed-wide:

  • Dissolved oxygen, which is an indicator of urban and agricultural runoff
  • Biological indicators, like the presence of specific macro-invertebrates and fish species
  • Stream status, to see if waterways meet the designated uses assigned under the Clean Water Act
  • Landscapes, to ensure enough forest and wetland cover is provided

To learn more about applying for a similar grant, check out the Penn Foundation's Watershed-Wide program page. Inquiries and applications for this grant program are accepted on a rolling basis, with proposal submission deadlines in March, June, September, and November.