UPPER DELAWARE REGION — The Common Waters Fund, a forest-to-faucet initiative facilitated by a partnership of regional stakeholders, completed three funding rounds in its first year of operation, distributing over $575,000 to 90 private forest owners in Monroe, Pike and Wayne counties in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Sullivan counties in New York, and Sussex County in New Jersey. Together these landowners represent nearly 40,000 acres of high priority forestland.
The fund, which is coordinated by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, owes its success in part to leveraging the expertise of its local partners. “The program itself and the application procedures are simple,” said Susan Beecher, area coordinator of the fund. “We’re working with area conservation districts and foresters who are familiar with the local landscapes and resources. Together, we mapped priority forest areas in the Upper Delaware, identified best management practices for forest stewardship and created a funding mechanism for private forest landowners.”
The program was created to direct funds into the areas of the Delaware watershed that are most important for clean water and steady stream flows. Most lands here are privately owned and threatened by development, so a key strategy is to provide incentives to landowners to keep their forests intact and healthy. The fund accepts applications on a quarterly basis. The next deadline is February 1.
“Healthy forests act as natural filters for rainfall, and help mitigate flooding and erosion,” Beecher said.
That’s good news for the 16.2 million people who depend on the Delaware for drinking water supplies, agriculture, food production, generation of electricity, industrial uses, recreational facilities such as ski slopes and golf courses, and recreational activities including fishing and white-water canoeing and kayaking. These uses contribute some $25 billion annually to the local economy. The Delaware’s fresh water also keeps salt water out of the wells in downstream cities like Philadelphia, Camden, and Trenton and numerous New Jersey suburbs.
The fund also works with regional land trusts to permanently protect forests. “We have over a dozen conservation easement applications and are excited to provide funds to help landowners and land trusts defray the legal expenses of placing a conservation easement on their property,” said fund director Stephanie Pendergrass.
Initial grant funding was received from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The Common Waters Fund is seeking additional support from foundations, corporations and organizations across the Delaware Basin, especially those whose businesses rely on clean and abundant water supplies. Visit www.commonwatersfund.org  or call Pendergrass at 202/797-6530.