NJ groups join 4-state effort for clean water in Delaware River

Delaware River Watershed Initiative began in 2014


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— Eighteen conservation and environmental organizations working in New Jersey and the William Penn Foundation gathered in Trenton today to announce bold actions 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. This work aligns land preservation, ecological restoration, and community engagement strategies in a four-state Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), an overall partnership of more than 65 NGOs supported by more than $40 million in funding. In New Jersey, the areas of focus include the most significant water resource regions of the State: the Highlands and the Pinelands.

At a time when the federal government is redefining priorities for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, leadership by public agencies and NGOs at the state, regional 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 environmental protection, threaten to slow or reverse progress. The DRWI’s grassroots 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, non-profit-driven approach that encourages partnership between 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.”

The DRWI was launched in 2014 as a basin-scale program driven by non-profits 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.

“What is truly remarkable is the high level of collaboration that went into the planning of this initiative and will continue for the next three years as we implement the plan,” said Elliott Ruga, policy director, New Jersey Highlands Coalition. “For example, an organization with expertise in community outreach and policy advocacy can catalyze new interest in and opportunities for land preservation or restoration projects that partner organizations skilled in those strategies can follow through on. Having developed a plan that integrates proven strategies by aligning complementary skills of our partner organizations will allow us to achieve far more than if we were 18 organizations working on different projects within the same geographic region.”

“New Jersey’s forests and farms play an important role for the communities and natural habitats of the Delaware River. Through this initiative, New Jersey Audubon and its partners are encouraging private landowners and agricultural producers to adopt good management practices, including the use of cover crops, reducing tillage, creating pollinator habitat, implementing forest stewardship, and reinforcing stream buffers with native plants,” said Kristen Meistrell, project coordinator for Stewardship, New Jersey Audubon. “Through this effort, we are restoring wetlands and streams and enhancing forest health, while improving water quality, building soil health, and creating wildlife habitat on working lands.”

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.

“People and wildlife need clean, abundant water,” said Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “Preserved forests and natural lands help purify water, reduce stormwater runoff and prevent flooding. The more preserved lands in a watershed the more likely it will be that surface and groundwater is clean, plentiful and can support healthy communities. We're extremely grateful to the William Penn Foundation for its generous investment in protecting land, clean water and public health in New Jersey.”

“The Pinelands plays an important role in the health of the Delaware River,” said Jaclyn Rhoads, assistant executive director, Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA). “The Pinelands aquifer contributes about 12 percent of all base flow to Delaware River tributaries and provides essential dilution to the water pollution coming from urban centers throughout the basin. PPA and its partners are encouraging Pinelands community members to implement green stormwater infrastructure projects, educate their municipal officials about stronger ordinances to protect our water resources, and learn about policies needed at the regional and state level to ensure clean and abundant water is available for future generations.”

“The genius of this movement to protect and restore the Delaware River is that it engages and mobilizes the people who rely on and love the watershed,” said Jennifer Coffey, executive director, Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC). “ANJEC serves as a resource for municipalities who want to improve community engagement and strengthen local public policies to reduce flooding and drought while protecting and restoring sources of clean drinking water. New Jersey has too much water except for when we don’t have enough of it, and there are simple practices communities can put in place to help break the intensifying cycle. ANJEC is pleased to partner with municipalities across the Garden State to construct raingardens, protect stream buffers, and improve local laws governing development and redevelopment.”

Organizations collaborating in New Jersey include:

American Littoral Society; Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions; Hunterdon Land Trust; The Nature Conservancy, New Jersey Chapter; The Land Conservancy of New Jersey; Musconetcong Watershed Association; Natural Lands; New Jersey Audubon; New Jersey Highlands Coalition; New Jersey Conservation Foundation; North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development; Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Inc.; Pinelands Preservation Alliance; Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program; South Jersey Land & Water Trust; Trout Unlimited; The Trust for Public Land; Wallkill River Watershed Management Group.

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 www.4states1source.org.



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