Delaware River Watershed Initiative Builds on Conservation Success

Philadelphia – More than $40 million in new funding announced Wednesday by the William Penn Foundation (WPF) will support the second phase of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI). Already among the country’s largest non-governmental conservation efforts to protect and restore clean water, the DRWI is a first-of-its-kind regional 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.

DRWI partners are organized geographically into eight local working groups, each focused on water quality issues specific to their respective communities. In suburban Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) is leading a collaboration of community-based watershed organizations and technical experts from Temple and Villanova Universities, which has been working since 2014 to protect clean water through research and targeted, data-driven interventions. With the renewal of DRWI funding, this work can now continue for another three years.

Collectively the suburban Philadelphia collaborative has built $4.7 million of new stormwater control measures at dozens of sites across the watershed. Projects have slowed and infiltrated polluted stormwater, stabilized stream banks, and restored forest buffers along streams that act as natural filters. Additionally, partners have monitored water quality at 108 sites, trained more than 300 volunteers as stream monitors, and rallied thousands of citizens to donate 9,000 hours at clean-ups, tree plantings, and clean water educational events.

At a time when the federal government is redefining its role in environmental protection, leadership by public agencies and NGOs at the state and local levels is more important than ever to keep our water clean. Though federal policies such as the Clean Water Act have successfully reduced pollution in waterways nationwide over the past several decades, recent rollbacks of protections, and budget cuts for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, threaten to slow or reverse progress. In the face of these challenges, the DRWI’s bottom-up approach represents a strategic path forward for the region,
demonstrating the power of organized, independent, nonprofit-driven cooperation among communities and the philanthropic sector.

“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.”

Across the Delaware River basin, WPF’s strategy of catalyzing cooperation among local and regional groups has already yielded remarkable results. 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.

“WPF’s leadership has really established a new paradigm in watershed protection,” said PEC President Davitt Woodwell. “We are thrilled to be a part of it and look forward to even greater success in the coming years.”

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.

“The upstream suburban Philadelphia team is excited to build on past success as we focus more on restoration projects and outreach strategies to improve our communities and reverse decades of water quality degradation,” said Patrick Starr, executive vice president of PEC. “The Delaware River Watershed Initiative is a powerful catalyst for working together more effectively to achieve maximum impact and lasting change that will benefit current and future generations.”


The upstream suburban Philadelphia collaborative comprises six watershed conservation organizations, two regional environmental nonprofits, a multi-municipal collaborative, and two academic partners. The region includes parts of five watershed areas, encompassing 36 municipalities and approximately 400,000 residents.

Collaborative partners include the Darby Creek Valley Watershed Association, Eastern Delaware County Stormwater Collaborative, Friends of Poquessing Watershed, Lower Merion Conservancy, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Pennsylvania Resources Council, Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust, Temple University, Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership, Villanova University and Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association.

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

About the Pennsylvania Environmental Council The Pennsylvania Environmental Council is a statewide organization that brings people, government, and business together to find real world solutions for environmental challenges. These solutions bring about sustainable communities, protect our water resources, and address energy and climate issues. PEC was founded in 1970 and serves the entire state through offices in Philadelphia, Luzerne, and Pittsburgh.