William Penn Ramps Up Its Fight To Protect the Delaware Watershed

The William Penn Foundation tends to focus on activities within the Greater Philadelphia region. However, what goes on outside the city often has a big impact on what happens within it. Declining water quality in the Delaware River watershed could affect Philadelphia’s drinking water (not to mention that of other cities, like Camden and even New York), and the William Penn Foundation has been super-focused on this threat. Now it's stepping up its effort to protect the Delaware River watershed, with a major new $35 million multi-year initiative that will fund a collaboration of conservation groups. 

The Delaware River watershed starts in upstate New York and runs down to the mouth of the Delaware Bay. Threats to the river include pollution and runoff created by logging and poor agricultural practices, aquifer depletion, and the upcoming possibility of hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas.

Penn's big new push aims to protect more than 30,000 acres of land, back 40 restoration projects, set up a wide-ranging water quality monitoring program, and create incentives for businesses and landowners to protect the watershed. The initiative will buy land in sensitive areas to create easements that will prevent developments in the watershed that could lead to declining water quality. Funding will also be used to remove dams, eradicate invasive species, repair leaky septic systems, and educate the public.

That's a big agenda, and there are a lot of players in the mix. The foundation will work with over forty national and regional partners including the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Open Space Institute. Partners will also include universities, conservation groups, citizens’ groups, local land trusts, and government agencies.      

Pilot projects are planned throughout 25 percent of the watershed’s 13,500 square miles. The projects will emphasize the connection between land protection and water quality, and will range from the banks of the watershed’s creeks and tributaries to lands miles from the river itself. Some officials are saying the initiative is unprecedented for a single watershed, considering the size of the investment and the number of partners participating.

One thing is clear: This is very much the culmination of years of work by the William Penn Foundation in the Delaware River watershed, work which has pulled nearly every lever you can think of to make progress in this area, from research to advocacy to directly protecting land. Now Penn is taking it all to the next level.

Given that 15 million people rely on the Delaware watershed for drinking water, this definitely looks like money well spent.