The Nature Conservancy and the University of Delaware Partner on an Innovative Market-based Funding Mechanism for Brandywine-Christina

Part of $35 million investment by William Penn Foundation in Delaware River watershed to protect drinking water for 15 million people

Wilmington, Delaware | April 04, 2014

Under a grant from the William Penn Foundation, The Nature Conservancy in Delaware (TNC) and the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency (WRA) are conducting a feasibility study on the implementation of a “water fund” for the Brandywine-Christina watershed. At its most basic level, a water fund is a mechanism for downstream beneficiaries to invest in upstream conservation and restoration measures designed to secure freshwater resources - both quality and quantity – for people and nature.

The grant is part of a $35 million multi-year initiative by the William Penn Foundation to protect and restore critical sources of drinking water for 15 million people. The total set of grants fund an unprecedented collaboration of leading conservation organizations who will align their work to protect land, restore streams, test innovative approaches in ecologically significant places, and monitor results over time.  

“We couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity,” said Richie Jones, TNC’s Delaware State Director. “The William Penn Foundation’s bold and unprecedented initiative squares perfectly with The Nature Conservancy’s global priority of securing freshwater, our science-driven, whole-watershed-scale approach to conservation and our recognition that collaboration is vital to accomplishing meaningful and lasting change.”  

During the first year of the project, TNC and UD will assess the feasibility of a water fund for the Brandywine-Christina, including a review of case studies, technical analysis, engagement of an advisory panel, interviews with key stakeholders, and the preparation of a final report with detailed recommendations.  

The Brandywine-Christina watershed provides over 100 million gallons of drinking water a day to more than half a million people, including approximately 60% of Delaware’s residents. The watershed covers 565 square miles, crossing Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland.  

“The Brandywine-Christina provides real and significant economic benefits to Delaware and Pennsylvania,” explained Jerry Kauffman, Director of the University of Delaware Water Resources Agency. “The value of drinking water alone in the Brandywine-Christina is $276 million, and when you add additional economic benefits such as agriculture, water quality, and recreation, the value of the watershed is over $1.6 billion. Improving the health of the watershed will support jobs and is essential for economic growth. Our hats are off to the William Penn Foundation for this incredibly important initiative.”  

Legacy pollutants, nutrient overloads, failing septic systems and urban runoff have rendered the great majority of streams, rivers and lakes in the Brandywine-Christina watershed unsafe for swimming and fishing, let alone drinking without substantial processing and treatment. Lack of consistent and stable funding is one of the biggest obstacles to progress in restoring the watershed. UD and TNC are hopeful that a water fund may help solve that problem by allowing strategic, science-driven prioritization of restoration projects and creative financing options to provide capital sufficient to meet water quality goals (swimmable, fishable, potable) by 2025.  

William Penn’s $35 million investment in the Delaware River Watershed features eight “clusters” of sub-watersheds, constituting approximately 25 percent of the total Delaware River Basin across four 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. Restoration and preservation efforts in these sub-watersheds, like the Brandywine-Christina water fund work, not only contribute directly to the water quality in the Delaware Basin, but will also serve as incubators for cultivating a wide range of effective approaches for expanding investment across the watershed, and ultimately in other river basins across the country. 


About The University of Delaware Water Resources Agency

The University of Delaware dates to 1743 and is one of two colonial Land Grant colleges and top research institution. The mission of the Water Resources Agency is to provide water science and policy assistance to governments in Delaware, the Delaware Valley, and along the Atlantic seaboard through the land-grant public service, education, and research role of the University of Delaware.



The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at To learn about the Conservancy’s global initiatives, visit To keep up with current Conservancy news, follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Richie Jones
State Director
The Nature Conservancy
(302) 654-4707 or (302) 584-4650

Jerry Kauffman
University of Delaware Water Resources Agency
(302) 831-4929 or (302) 893-1571


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