Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund

Delaware River Watershed cluster map Overview

The Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund (the “Fund”) supports projects that permanently protect lands that conserve water quality and quantity in the Delaware River watershed.

The Fund achieves its mission by providing grants and loans for land conservation transactions that 1) are located in watersheds that have the ability to produce high quality ground and/or surface water 2) contribute to water quality through protection of streams, headwaters and other important recharge areas and 3) protect sites vulnerable to erosion and ground water pollution.

The Fund also helps to raise visibility of watershed conservation issues in the Delaware River basin and promote and pilot, where possible, innovative conservation financing tools and practices. The Fund seeks to attract additional capital for priority acquisition projects and test, advance, and raise the visibility of innovative preservation practices. 

Capitalized with a $9 million grant from the William Penn Foundation, the Fund is being administered by the Open Space Institute.  OSI will make capital grants and loans to qualified organizations for land acquisition through a competitive process that is guided by an advisory board comprised of experts from the region with knowledge of hydrology, land protection, planning, natural resources, and philanthropy. In fall 2014, OSI will also provide Catalyst Grants to improve the practice of watershed protection through efforts that distill, apply and pilot model watershed science to on-the-ground conservation initiatives.

Geographic Focus

The Delaware River Watershed Initiative, created with seed funding from the William Penn Foundation, has identified eight “clusters” of sub-watersheds, constituting approximately 25 percent of the total Delaware River Basin across three states, where analysis has shown that investment in targeted efforts to protect or improve water quality in specific streams and rivers could deliver significant returns. These watershed clusters representing different geographic areas of the Delaware River basin are identified as follows: Pocono and Kittatinny, Upper Lehigh, New Jersey Highlands, Schuylkill Highlands, Philadelphia Upstream Headwaters, Brandywine Christina and Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer.

The Fund will focus this initial grant round on a subset of five clusters in which land protection can be implemented as part of a conservation strategy:  the Pocono and Kittatinny; Upper Lehigh, Schuylkill Highlands; and parts of the Kirkwood-Cohansey Aquifer and the New Jersey Highlands.  In subsequent rounds, the Fund, in cooperation with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, will accept funding requests in relevant clusters for easements on actively farmed parcels that are also implementing restoration plans.

Application Process

All applications must be submitted through OSI’s online application. Prior to beginning an application, please review Grant Eligibility and Grant Criteria below.

Proposal development requires use of the Mapping Data Guide and Map Package. (Downloads)

We encourage applicants to contact Bill Rawlyk, OSI’s Mid-Atlantic Field Coordinator, before preparing a proposal.

Application Deadlines

Capital Grant applications will be accepted from May 8, 2014 through July 16, 2014. 

To apply click here. (online application)

To be notified about future grant rounds, please sign up here.

GIS Analysis and Maps

To complete select portions of the application, you will need to download the OSI Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund GIS Map Package and review the Mapping and Data Guide, Map samples, and Data Documentation Report.

The Guide provides detailed steps for assessing the project’s conservation value for the application and samples of the maps that you will be required to produce and upload. The Data Documentation Report provides definitions, methods and data sources for all of the data in the map package.  

Grant Fund Webinar

An informational webinar on OSI’s Delaware River Watershed Protection Fund will be held from 1:00 to 2:30 on May 14, 2014. 

To view the webinar click here.


To be eligible for funding, projects must meet certain threshold criteria that are being finalized and will focus both on science and transactional feasibility. Qualifying projects will then be evaluated based on their context, their ability good quality ground or surface water and other variables that will be clarified.

Program Eligibility

Grants may be used to acquire permanent conservation easements and fee interest in land. These grant funds are not to be used for staff time or other non-capital project expenses, including endowments, except in extraordinary circumstances.

Grants are available on a competitive basis to qualified nonprofit organizations. Though the Fund will not provide direct grants to public agencies, nonprofit groups that are eligible for funding are encouraged to work in partnership with public agencies on transactions.

Grant Eligibility

To be eligible for funding, projects must meet all of the eligibility criteria below. (Note: these criteria focus on forested landscapes; specific criteria will be developed for projects on agricultural landscapes for future grant rounds.

  1. Lie within one of the 5 designated watershed clusters eligible for Round 1 of the Delaware Watershed Land Protection Fund.
  2. Projects must have 90% or more natural land cover, including forested, shrubland, open water or wetlands. In the event that projects fall below this threshold, applicants must demonstrate that restoration after acquisition will result in the return of natural cover to 90% or greater.
  3. Achieve permanent protection through fee purchase of land or a conservation easement.
  4. Meet or exceed OSI conservation easements standards (See standards below for conservation easement projects). Leverage at least three additional dollars for every dollar granted by the Fund.
  5. Be spearheaded by an organization with the capacity and financial ability to execute the transaction and ensure long-term stewardship and management of the property consistent with the Fund’s objectives.
  6. Be completed within 18 months of receiving notification of OSI’s grant award.

Grant Criteria

Projects that have qualified based on the above eligibility requirements will be evaluated against the following criteria: 

Surface and Ground Water Quality

Watershed Context
: Characteristics relevant to surface and ground water quality for the HUC 12 where the project is located, as indicated by:

  • Percent of impervious surface in the HUC 12,
  • Percent of protected non-agricultural land in the HUC 12,
  • Percent of the HUC 12 in first order stream headwaters,
  • Score for ability to produce good quality surface water,
  • Score for ability to produce good quality ground water,
  • Kirkwood-Cohansey Cluster Only: Low Flow Margin Value for the HUC 11, and 
  • Surface and Groundwater Withdrawals in the HUC 11.


Site Resource Evaluation: Extent to which the project contributes to producing good quality and quantity surface or groundwater as evaluated through:

  • Site specific recharge - percent of project falling into high, medium and low aquifer recharge classes;
  • Linear feet of project adjacent to streams;
  • Percent of the project in Headwaters;
  • Active River Area (ARA) and wetlands;
  • Stream quality based on available biological sampling from state, county, EPA or other assessments.


Site-Level Vulnerability: Degree to which the project area is likely to be developed and if developed will negatively impact the water quality, as evaluated by

  • Current land cover on the property,
  • Conversion pressure, zoning, current development patterns and other local knowledge,
  • Erosion risk - Percentage of project in high, medium and low erodibility classes (not applicable for Kirkwood-Cohansey Cluster),
  • Ground water vulnerability – percent of the project in with high, medium of low DRASTIC scores (not applicable for Kirkwood-Cohansey Cluster),
  • Salt water intrusion - Applicable only to Kirkwood-Cohansey Cluster,

Ecological benefits: Strong ecological benefits to protecting the water quality on the site, as indicated by:

  • Critical habitat or ecological communities found on the property, potentially including TNC terrestrial or aquatic climate resiliency characteristics.
  • Landscape Connectivity:  Project size and proximity of the property to existing protected land and consistency with established planning efforts.

Catalytic Value:Potential of the project to illustrate the importance of watershed conservation, watershed planning; catalyze constituency or funding for watershed protection; or demonstrate innovative approaches to watershed protection.

Stewardship: Evidence of a stewardship plan for the long-term conservation of the property that is consistent with the long-term protection of water quality and quantity.

Financial Match: Prospect for 3:1 or greater financial leverage (see match requirements below).


The Fund’s investment in selected land conservation projects will achieve one or more of the following:

  • Protect watershed lands critical to conserving water quality and quantity (i.e. lands that have a strong ability to produce clean and abundant surface or ground water or that if developed might produce high sedimentation or ground water pollution)
  • Protect critical aquifer recharge areas in targeted clusters
  • Protect agricultural lands where conservation outcomes to protect water quality and quantity can be achieved
  • Advance the understanding and practice of land conservation for watershed protection.


Through funded transactions, the Fund seeks more broadly to:

  • Promote the connection between land conservation and watershed integrity for human uses in the Delaware River basin.
  • Highlight successful examples of watershed protection in selected sub-watersheds of the Delaware River Basin that can provide models for protection work elsewhere.
  • Strengthen or develop new constituencies and partnerships for conservation.
  • Pilot, where possible, innovative funding mechanisms.
  • Attract new conservation funding to the Delaware River basin.
  • Help facilitate citizen engagement and education in the Delaware River watershed including volunteer water monitoring and engagement of local governments on land protection.

Eligible Uses of Grant Funds

Grants may be used to acquire permanent conservation easements and fee interest in land. Grants may also be applied to cover transactional costs, including cost of appraisals, surveys, title, environmental assessments and non-staff legal expenses, with the latter not to exceed  2% of the parcel’s Fair Market Value (FMV).

These grant funds may not be used for endowments, stewardship costs, staff time, fundraising, or other non-capital project expenses.

Grants are available on a competitive basis to qualified nonprofit organizations. Though the Fund does not provide direct grants to public agencies, eligible nonprofit groups are encouraged to work in partnership with public agencies on transactions.

Funding and Awards

OSI Staff and the Fund’s Advisory Committee review all grant applications and, based on that review, staff makes recommendations to OSI’s Conservation Capital Committee. Projects must close within 18 months of OSI’s grant approval.

Through multiple grant rounds, OSI will award $9 million in capital land protection grants on a competitive basis to qualified organizations for projects that permanently protect lands critical to protecting water quality and quantity in the Fund’s targeted watershed clusters. It is anticipated that a minimum of $500,000 will be awarded to qualified projects in each cluster with the remaining funds to be granted to conservation transactions of the greatest need and opportunity across the target watershed clusters.

OSI plans to initiate two rounds of grantmaking per year over the next three years. Once OSI has approved a grant, we will provide the grantee with a checklist of items required for OSI to prepared a grant agreement. 

If applicable, the grantee must provide documents pertaining to each project phase and match parcel. When all required information and documents are received, OSI will forward a grant agreement to the grantee. OSI will release funds at the time the transaction closes.

The Fund will also make available short-term low-interest loans to bridge gaps in public or private funding.

More about OSI's Loan Program.

Conservation Easement Standards

OSI staff will review conservation easement language prior to distribution of grant funds to ensure that the easement meets the Fund’s goals. OSI will work with grantees to provide guidance in a timely manner. Conservation easement provisions should ensure protection of the project’s natural resource values and resiliency characteristics. Active forest management and farming are allowed in some instances but must be secondary purposes to conservation of natural resources on the property.

Easement provisions must, at a minimum, include the following:

  • Enforceable standards for permanent protection of natural resource values;
  • Workable monitoring and enforcement provisions;
  • Process for communication between the easement holder and landowner;
  • Provisions ensuring sustainable forest management, if vegetation management is allowed;
  • A stewardship or management plan process; and, baseline documentation provision.

To the extent practicable, conservation easements that allow commercial timber harvesting should require Forest Stewardship Council certification.

Grant Amount and Matching Requirements

Although there is no minimum or maximum grant size, awards are typically between $75,000 and $450,000.
OSI will give strong preference to projects with a 3:1 or greater financial match. This means that the Fund will provide no more than ¼ (or 25%) of the total project costs. Prior to grant distribution, grantees must provide a detailed accounting of all matching sources.

The following qualify as matching funds:

  • Public funds (federal, state and local) and private funds from individuals and foundations used for the acquisition of fee interest or a conservation easement on the subject property or on lands that are within the project area.
  • Transaction/soft costs, including appraisals, environmental assessments, title exams and insurance, recording fees, transfer and real estate taxes, survey costs that are not reimbursed by another source, property carrying costs and fees for outside counsel.
  • 100% of the value of a donated conservation easement or bargain sale on the subject property and 50% of the Full Market Value of eligible Match Properties.

Match Property Eligibility

To be eligible as match, property must:

  • Be within the same HUC 12 as the subject property
  • Score high for recharge or include at least 50% of its area in Active River Area (ARA)
  • Have been conserved by the applicant or with significant involvement by the applicant
  • Be a part of a larger plan that includes the subject and match properties to conserve the watershed
  • Close prior to the closing of the subject property but not more than one year before date of the submission of the application
  • Have not received a Delaware Watershed Protection Fund grant for its protection.

The following do not qualify as matching funds:

  • Ecological or land restoration dollars,
  • Stewardship endowments and land management expenses,
  • Staff time, travel or expenses.


Download a PDF copy of the application here.

All applications must be submitted through our online service HERE.


General Information and Application
Yasemin Unal-Rodriguez

Science, Data, and Catalyst Grants
Abigail Weinberg

GIS Assistance
Gillian Mollod

Pennsylvania and New Jersey
Bill Rawlyk, Mid-Atlantic Field Coordinator