May 02 2018

Delaware River Watershed Initiative Builds on Conservation Successes

HLT leading new wave of progress for clean water protection

View of the Delaware River from the Milford Bluffs preserve.

Hunterdon Land Trust is leading clean water protection efforts in the northern Hunterdon County area by partnering with many collaborators as a member 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 nongovernmental conservation efforts to protect and restore clean water. The DRWI is a first-of-its-kind collaboration involving 65 nongovernmental organizations working together to protect and restore the Delaware River and its tributaries, which provide drinking water for 15 million people in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware.

At a time when the federal government is redefining its role in environmental protection, leadership by public agencies and nongovernmental organizations at the state and local levels is more important than ever to keep our water clean. 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, nonprofit-driven approach that encourages partnership between communities and the philanthropic sector.

“Here in Hunterdon County, working with local partners, we’ve been able to protect more than 8,900 acres that are critical to healthy creeks, streams and rivers,” said Patricia Ruby, executive director of HLT. “Together with our partners, we aim to preserve 500 acres in the next three years in the northern Hunterdon County area. This will have a lasting impact to protect our clean water, so that it’s swimmable, drinkable and fishable for years to come.”


At its 2014 launch, the DRWI catalyzed local and regional groups to accelerate conservation efforts. The DRWI stands out as a basin-scale program driven by nonprofits 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.

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.

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

“We want to protect the landscapes that provide clean water for current and future generations,” Ruby said. “In many places, that means preserving forested lands that filter pollution before it reaches high quality streams flowing into the Delaware River Protecting the water here today helps ensure our community can rely on clean and healthy water sources in the future.”


About the Delaware River Watershed Initiative:
The Delaware River Watershed Initiative is a collaboration of 65 leading nonprofit organizations that have developed shared action plans to reduce four priority threats to clean water. Informed by science, the Initiative is working in eight targeted areas, where analysis indicated that interventions could significantly safeguard or improve clean water. Together, these eight areas constitute 25 percent of the river basin and include portions of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. For more information, including a list of all participating organizations, visit

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